Washington Depot among west-central CT locations for outdoor fun in foliage season

Foliage season daytrips are abundant in Connecticut, and the west-central stretch of country road Route 47 from Washington to Woodbury is tailor-made for a weekend outing.

The inviting section called Washington Depot is known for its art appreciation, evident in the reputation of the Washington Art Association and Gallery, which is near the Hen’s Nest Gallery and a good starting place for the day’s exploration, Marty’s Cafe.

We headed south to the Steep Rock Preserve, a 998-acre destination with lovely and mostly level hiking trails following the Shepaug River bank and also steeper trails to hillsides above offering nice views. There’s a former rail tunnel through rock and a pedestrian bridge over the river among the hiking loops that range from under a mile to four miles.

Another attraction in October is the first-in-five-years opening of the amazing sculpture garden at Hogpen Hill Farms by design guru (and Yale prof) Edward Tufte. Hogpen Hill, a 234-acre tree farm and artscape across from his home, is Tufte’s personal sculpture garden where he builds impressionistic sculptures out of mixed media and hard data.

“All data visualization resides on the flatlands of paper and display screens,” Tufte said in an email exchange. “Landscape art works are a celebration of seeing in real space. Air is a material just like steel and stone.

“I started making landscape art 40 years ago,” he said. “Eventually, I started showing artworks at museums and galleries, put together 234 acres at Hogpen Hills Farms, an outdoor world of seeing, walking, joy.”

The site will be open for 16 days in October, but it will cost you to see a Winnebago mounted like a spaceship taking flight or the stone megalith formations along five miles of walking trails. Tickets per car (four people or less) are $80, available at edwardtufte.com/tufte/hogpen-hill-farms.

Also nearby: Kent Falls is the west and Morris (where South Farms has turned into a new outdoor concert location) is to the east.

Food choices are very good in this area. The White Horse Country Pub & Restaurant on Route 202 in nearby New Preston (south of Lake Waramaug), is popular with locals and the older crowd (and has a solid outdoor patio), including an hour wait at 4 p.m. on a Sunday. It’s on a busy road, so be careful entering and exiting.

We ate instead at another strong choice, the G.W. Tavern in Washington Depot, enjoying a busy but relaxed doutdoor patio where we ordered $16-$18 orders of fried oysters, fish and chips and a pulled pork sandwich, along with $8 pints of Great Falls Brewing Co. IPA.

If you’re looking for an even-more upscale and maybe overnight experience in the area, check out the Mayflower Inn & Spa in Washington, where chef April Bloomfield is beginning her residency by opening a new restaurant there called The Garden Room. She follows Victoria Blamey, who wrapped her residency recently. The Garden Room will feature ingredients from local farms, and Bloomfield has reimagined the historic property’s more casual Tap Room with more of a British tavern freel, reflecting her experience opening New York City’s first gastropub, which earned a Michelin star, according to a Mayflower release.

jamarante@nhregister.com; Twitter: @Joeammo