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Outdoor Activities

A Day Of Hiking and History At Gillette Castle

Written by Ryan Sylvestre

Gillette Castle has an interesting backstory that most residents are unaware of. Located in East Haddam, this amazing structure took five years to build with plenty of blood, sweat, and tears throughout the process.

The property and castle overlook the Connecticut River, making for a great day of outdoor activity and beautiful views. Here’s everything you need to know about spending a day at one of Connecticut’s’ coolest landmarks.


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Gillette Castle History

sherlock

The actor famed for portraying Sherlock Holmes, better known as William Gillette, built his estate on the border of East Haddam and Lyme. Gillette lived there for 18 years between the years of 1919-1937.

I have to say he had great taste. He built his house on a 184-acre plot in the middle of the woods overlooking the water. Perfection in my mind. After passing away, the state purchased the property and invested their money in upgrading the castle and the surrounding area to include hiking trails and a visitor center. The visitor center has a video on a loop about the history of the property that I highly recommend checking out.

Gillette designed the house by himself and watched every step of the process over the 5-year build. The castle itself is over three stories high in some parts of the house. This 24,000 square-foot home has 24 rooms. It has been said some structural best practices were thrown out the window back when this house was being built. In order for the state to open the castle up for tours, a lot of work had to be done to make sure the house was safe.

Gillette really played into his character when putting the finishing touches on his house. Some unique features include

  • Trick locks on doors – making every lock a puzzle to get into
  • Wooden light switches
  • Secret doors and passageways – one near the doorway where he would startle his guests
  • Built-in couches
  • Secret bar
  • Mirrors to help him see visitors from his bedroom

Gillette really made this house his own when adding all of these interesting special touches. Not that the house isn’t already unique, but these additions really show his creative spirit.

Things To Do In Gillette Castle State Park

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Check Out The Inside

The Castle is open daily from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm starting on Memorial Day and closes Labor Day. You can check out the visitor center to buy tickets and brush up on your history before you head over the castle.

I have been to the property a few times but have only gone in the castle once. I need to plan a trip back soon because once was not enough. There is so much to see inside that it truly cannot be done with just one walk-through. It really makes you think about the time and effort it took to build. Make sure to explore outside the castle and try to imagine this being the view you wake up to!

Hiking At Gillette Castle

There are a ton of cool trails that take you all over William Gillette’s old estate. The trails are basically a big loop around the entire property. The last time visited the park, I started the loop at the back side of the castle overlooking the water. I took a right and headed down a path that looked as though it followed the water. It eventually pulled away from the riverside and took me deeper into the woods.

After following this around for quite some time, I found myself in a parking lot. I continued to follow the trail all the way around and eventually finished up where I had started. This 2-mile loop really shows why William Gillette fell in love with the area. There are some cool trail features like wooden bridges and ponds scattered throughout the hike.

Camping at Gillette Castle

You can go camping at the Gillette Castle between May 1st and September 30th. Their campsite is apart of 4 campsites that make up Connecticut’s River Camping. You will have to fill out an application two weeks ahead of time in order to get a camping spot so make sure to do some planning!

The campsite allows for 20 campers for $5 per night. Though there are many campgrounds in CT, the Gillette campground offers something truly unique. Being able to spend a night in Sherlock Holmes backyard is something that not a lot of people can say.

Remembering History

However you refer to him, Sherlock Holmes or William Gillette, visiting this compound will blow your mind. Every time I visit I find something new that I didn’t notice before. My favorite thing to do is to stand on what we would probably his “back porch” and look over the river and pretend I live there (like I could ever afford it).

If you go to check out the area, make sure to share some of your favorite parts of the park!
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About the author

Ryan Sylvestre

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