October 25, 2018
Head west by northwest to experience this set of captivating lakes in the Connecticut Berkshires. By Malerie Yolen-Cohen; Photography by Caryn B. Davis
On a spin around Lake Washining (better known as “East Twin Lake”) in Salisbury, Mary Ouellette, the manager of O’Hara’s Landing Restaurant, points out an elongated island that serves as a summer camp for the American School for the Deaf. The cigar-shaped landmass, Isola Bella, with its Instagram-worthy stone tower, just halfway into the lake, making the waterbody appear a lot smaller than it really is. At about 1 ½ miles in diameter and 859 acres, East Twin is the largest lake in the Connecticut Berkshires, and just one of several that have tempted vacationers and fishermen for over half a century.
Who even knew that Connecticut had a Lake District? Nestled amid lush, green hills, these small, cobalt-colored basins in the extreme northwest corner of Connecticut are ideal for fishing, tubing, waterskiing, swimming, paddling or just hanging out on the water. And hardly anyone outside of the area knows about them, which is just fine by the folks who live or have second homes here.
HOME TO THE STARS…
There’s a laidback sensibility in the town of Salisbury that harks back to a bygone era. Neighborhood kids congregate in the dwindling sunlight to talk, fish or simply play, while adults walk their dogs and engage in actual face-to-face conversation with neighbors. There’s not an electronic device in sight.
Before he died, Paul Newman was a frequent visitor to the Salisbury village of Lakeville, where he raced cars at Lime Rock Park. Meryl Streep, Kevin Bacon, Daniel Day Lewis and Oliver Platt all have homes in the surrounding countryside. Here, unpretentious glitterati leave their glitter in Hollywood or New York City, preferring the area’s spectacular scenery to that of the Hamptons.
AND BIG FISH
The 350-acre Lake Wononscopomuc, better known as “Lakeville Lake,” is small but deep, and famous for its abundance of fish. Bass spawn naturally in the lake, and the Connecticut Bureau of Natural Resources also stocks it with trout. Pickerel, yellow perch and sunfish are other species of interest. In 1918, a 29-pound, 13-ounce trout was pulled out of Wononscopomuc—a record that still stands.
The only place to launch a boat (10 horsepower or less) on the fish-rich Wononscopomuc is at Town Grove Park, in the Lakeville section of Salisbury. A public park ($10 use fee, $10 launch fee), Town Grove also has a small beach with lifeguard, a small store and a fishing pond for kids. With restrictions on motor power and no towing of skis or other flotation devices allowed, Lake Wononscopomuc is also the perfect choice for paddlers who want to enjoy a quiet afternoon.
The vibe is a bit different about six miles north, at Lake Washinee and Lake Washining, together known as “Twin Lakes.” The two lakes are connected by a small inlet beneath a bridge, and West Twin (Washinee) can only be accessed by kayak or rowboat.
Washinee buzzes with Jet Skiers and speedboats (speed is restricted to 35 mph and 6 mph in certain areas) on hot days, and features the area’s only full-service marina, the aforementioned O’Hara’s Landing. Locals meet for breakfast or lunch at the home-kitchen-casual O’Hara’s Restaurant, which is also an enduring favorite among boaters who, besides those engaging in watersports, often fish, canoe, kayak, swim or just cruise around before stopping in to refuel.
You can launch your own boat at O’Hara’s Landing for $15, or rent anything from kayaks and canoes ($20 per day) to small fishing boats ($65 per day) to 12-person pontoon boats ($450 per day). The marina also sells bait and tackle. For those with small car-top boats, there’s also a small state launch—the East Lake Boat Launch—around the corner from O’Hara’s. It offers limited parking and a shallow, murky put-in area, but it’s free.
Though boating will likely take up most of your time, it seems that everyone who visits the area manages to find their way to what was Paul Newman’s “home away from home”—Lime Rock Racetrack, just a few miles from Lakeville Lake. Newman last raced on this 1.53-mile course at age 82, a year before he died, and the place still sees swashbucklers of a similar age taking the wheel of high-performance cars.
Various prestige car clubs rent the track for a few days for big boy “driver’s ed,” and of course Lime Rock hosts important races. Yet the vibe remains friendly, inclusive and welcoming, especially towards drive-by tourists who hear the roar of the engines and just want to gawk for a while. Unless there’s a big race, you can enter for free.
Curiously, this faraway corner of Connecticut is known for its fantastic restaurants, shops and inns, plus a tiny museum that showcases the region’s obscure history as an iron mining and manufacturing center that supplied cannons and munitions to George Washington’s army during the American Revolution. You can learn more at the tiny Salisbury Association Museum inside the 1833 Salisbury Academy Building, built of handmade bricks and beautifully maintained.
Stores, a bakery, the museum sand a funky new restaurant can all be found on Main Street in Salisbury. There’s a great selection of reasonably priced home accessories, gifts and clothing cultivated from the owner’s world travels at Passports. Next door, the Salisbury General Store has a tinge of old-fashioned Florida souvenir shop (minus the coconut monkeys), along with “period” children’s toys and sundries. It’s presided over by a hometown pharmacist.
First thing in the morning, locals and tourists alike gather at Sweet William’s Bakery and Coffee Shop for ethereal ginger-apricot scones, croissants, cookies, flavored coffee and freshly squeezed lemonade. Next door, Sweet William’s Desserts and Scoops doles out Bette Midler’s favorite brand of creamy cold stuff: Kingston, New York-based Jane’s Ice Cream, seemingly made of 1,000-percent butterfat.
Thirty years ago, The Woodland on Route 41 was a shake shack, but eventually became the local hangout it is today. Trendy places come and go, but “everyone ends up here,” says one patron who lives nearby. The chef does wonders with a range of food, including specials like the Caprese salad on a baguette, sushi and, of course, burgers.
With a new chef and positive reviews from the New York Times, Morgan’s at the Interlaken Inn is a huge draw, excelling in seasonal farm-to-table cuisine. Far from a “captured- audience” hotel restaurant, even locals make a beeline here. Speaking of the Interlaken Inn, it welcomes trailer-boaters who wish to stay overnight in Connecticut’s northwest corner. A $5 million renovation has put this resort back on the “stay” list. Rooms have been updated, with eye-catching bathrooms, and there’s plenty of waterfront and land-based amenities, such as a heated outdoor swimming pool, tennis courts and a lakeside beach and dock with canoes and kayaks.
Connecticut Lakes Names & Numbers
Restricted to boats with motors of 10 horsepower or less. No towing of skis or other floatation devices allowed.
Three waterskiers per boat, 35 mph limit except 6 mph limit within 200 feet of vessel or dock except when taking off or landing a waterskier. Also, 6 mph limit from 1/2 hour after sunset to 1/2 hour after sunrise. Waterskiing activity to run counterclockwise on east and west halves of East Twin Lake.
Only full-service marina in the lakes region. Offers a launch ramp ($15 daily fee, includes trailer parking), bait and tackle, and rentals of canoes, kayaks, rowboats and pontoon boats.
EAST LAKE DEP BOAT LAUNCH
Suitable for kayaks and car-top boats only. Very shallow. Limited parking.
SALISBURY TOWN GROVE PARK LAUNCH
Access to Lakeville Lake (Wononscopomuc Lake). $10 to launch. $10 per person for use of beach and park.
MARY PETERS MEMORIAL PARK
Small dirt ramp providing access to Lake Wononpakook.
Reasonably priced home accessories, gifts and clothing from around the world.
SALISBURY GENERAL STORE
Old-fashioned toys, sundries, souvenirs and a real hometown pharmacist.
WHERE TO EAT
Boater-friendly breakfast and lunch spot at the marina of the same name.
Start the day right at this popular bakery and coffee shop.
The spot for sushi and creative takes on American classics such as steak, tuna, pork chops, salmon and more in a casually chic atmosphere.
Fine dining at the historic White Hart Inn.
Fresh, farm-to-table focus, at the Interlaken Inn.
THINGS TO SEE & DO
LIME ROCK PARK RACEWAY (860) 435-5000
Watch car racing at the same track frequented by Paul Newman.
SALISBURY ASSOCIATION HISTORIC MUSEUM (860) 435-0566
Artifacts and exhibits relating to the history of the region, including its role as a canon manufacturing center during the Revolutionary War