Europeans have lived in the Connecticut area for hundreds of years, and various Indian tribes lived here for thousands of years before that. Throughout this long history, what is now Rocky Neck State Park has been a popular summer destination for families.
Prior to the Great Depression in the 1930s, this Park was basically a large fertilizer factory. But the business left the area, and conservationists created the Park in 1931. These individuals used their own money to buy the property and deed it to the state. Their timing was excellent. The Civilian Conservation Corps began working on state parks nationwide about two years later. Much of their work, including a 750-foot long granite and timber pavilion, still remains.
Rocky Neck State Park has more than just nice facilities. There are a number of hiking trails to explore. Plus, this part of the Atlantic coastline is very diverse ecologically. Saltwater and freshwater come together, so the fishing is excellent as well.
RV Rentals in Rocky Neck State Park
Transportation in Rocky Neck State Park
One of the nice things about this stretch of the Atlantic coast is that everything is close by, yet also somewhat isolated. From New Haven, take either the Connecticut Turnpike (Interstate 95) or the Boston Post Road (Highway 1) east past the Connecticut River. Old Lyme, which is on the River’s east bank, has a nice grocery store and a pub. You can then take the scenic route or the direct route. The Boston Post Road curves north. Just before you get to East Lyme, take Four Mile River Road across the Turnpike and into the Park. If you stay on the Turnpike at Old Lyme, it’s a straight shot to Four Mile River Road. When you reach the intersection, turn south.
From Providence, take Interstate 95 southwest past New London, Waterford, and East Lyme. There’s a Walmart between New London and Waterford. When you pass East Lyme, take either Rocky Neck Con or Four Mile River Road into the Park, The freeway exits are a little wonky, so stay alert.
There is ample parking near the beach. That's where most visitors spend most of their time, where most of the hiking trails originate, and close to the saltwater marsh fishing area.
“Amtrak Beach” received a significant makeover in 2010. There’s now a ten-acre park/beach area, which is about twice as big as it was before. Amtrak expanded the parking lot as well. There’s also a new boardwalk. As a result, this stretch of the beach is quite crowded, especially during high-traffic periods like Memorial Day Weekend.
Campgrounds and parking in Rocky Neck State Park
Campsites in Rocky Neck State Park
Rocky Neck State Park Campground
One hundred sixty sites are open between May and September. Some are in lush wooded areas and others are out in the open, so take your pick. Amenities include a very nice outdoor community fireplace, shower/restroom facilities, lots of drinking water spigots, concession area, swimming pool, and a dump station.
The campground is divided into five loops: the Heron, Egret, Crane, Osprey, and Seagull. Each loop surrounds a toilet and shower block plus a water supply, so you're never too far away from the amenities you need.
Seasonal activities in Rocky Neck State Park
Most people come to Rocky Neck State Park to see something that’s not technically in the Park. For the most part, the beach is smooth, soft, sandy, and white. There are some rocky spots here and there, but that’s how the Park got its name. Typically, the ocean is almost swimming-pool calm. There is a lot of parking. Other facilities include a very nice snack bar, showers, flush toilets (which replaced the old chemical ones), a sheltered picnic area adjacent to a walkway, and an open picnic area that’s right on the water. Water quality is generally high, although the beach was closed for a while in the summer of 2018 after a bacteria scare. No serious illnesses were reported. Lifeguards are generally on duty during the summer, but never take that for granted.
Anglers may fish from the jetty all year long; during the off-season, the beach is open for fishing as well. Most people catch lots of winter flounder, bluefish, blackfish, and striped bass from the aforementioned jetty. Crabbing is allowed at designated spots. Be careful on the jetty, especially at night, as there is a sheer drop. Fishing is also allowed in the saltwater marsh.
Ellie Mitchell Pavilion
This curved stone building is the largest CCC structure in Connecticut. The defunct fertilizer plant which once stood here provided most of the supplies. Workers used locally-sourced granite and timber to fill in the gaps. Overall, this is a good place to be if the weather is suspect. When it gets cool, the Pavilion has eight large fireplaces.
Not many of these bridges remain on the East Coast. In fact, the Northeast Corridor footbridge is listed in the Historic American Engineering Record. The railroad dates back to 1848, and the bridge is almost a hundred years old. Architecturally, it has cool arches and other significant features. It’s an all-around very nice photo op, especially if you get the ocean in the background.
It’s hard to beat a picnic on a warm afternoon in a place where sea salt lingers in the air. In addition to the beachfront picnic areas, there are other areas on the north and south ends of the beach parking lot.
Although it’s not actually a caveman-type cave, Baker’s Cave is still a pretty cool spot. It’s a layered granite rock outcropping not far from the shoreline. Supposedly, a man named Baker, whose first name is lost to history, hid there to avoid military service during the American Revolution. Some patriot, huh?
Another Tory hideout is nearby. But this point is a little further inland and also a very nice overlook. Maybe not the best hiding place in the world.
Rocky Neck State Park Trail
A well-marked, easy to hike, two and a half-mile loop trail that’s about 80 percent wooded. It basically runs the length of the Park from the beach to the abortive shipyard camouflage field. More on that below. Along the trail, the wildflowers are quite pretty in early spring. Even though the area is pretty flat, this trail offers excellent views of both the Atlantic Ocean and the Connecticut River. The views are a little better in late fall and winter when the trees have no leaves.
Not much of this shipyard is left today. But back in the late colonial-early American period, it was one of the most important mercantile points in the area. Four generations of Beckwiths produced fishing smacks, sloops, schooners, and other small craft. Many, if not most, families in the area either built ships or fished from the completed vessels. When the British blockaded Long Island Sound during the War of 1812, the Beckwiths and their neighbors moved the ships further inland and covered them with tree saplings. The plan worked great until the ships began getting stuck in the mud.
Four Mile River Trail
This trail is a good place to view the Park’s diverse ecosystem up close. In early spring, the fresh water and salt water form a really cool estuary. In the autumn, Four Mile River Trail is an excellent birding spot. There are lots of herons and cranes. Also, as mentioned, the bass fishing is very good in the saltwater marsh.