Visitors of New Haven County, Connecticut, are wont to find plenty of free things to do in Waterbury, the county’s second-largest city.
After all, Waterbury and its nearby communities led an industry survey on the Top 10 Most Affordable Suburbs in the U.S.
This city spreads over 29 square miles, with the 40-mile Naugatuck River cutting across.
The name Waterbury aptly refers to the numerous streams that flow in the city’s valley location, with the waters emptying into the Naugatuck River.
The wonderful location isn’t the only source of delightful activities for Waterbury visitors and residents.
The roots of Waterbury can be traced as far back as 1674, and it was erstwhile known as the “Brass Capital of the World” and rival to the famed Swiss watchmakers.
Learn more about why it’s so affordable to enjoy life in this city through the following list of free things to do in Waterbury, Connecticut.
Visit the Lewis Fulton Memorial Park
Lewis Fulton Memorial Park is a historic public park on Cooke Street, sprawling over 70 acres north of the city center.
It was named in memory of the son of William E. Fulton, president of the Fulton Foundry and Machine Company, who bankrolled its land purchase and development in the 1920s.
Originally the site of a reservoir, the park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and flaunts a rolling landscape and scenic vistas amid trees and meadows.
Its acreage likewise charms visitors with its streams, ponds, and old stone walls holding ground in its woodlands.
Lewis Fulton Memorial Park's design harnesses the former reservoir’s rolling terrain and natural setting to full advantage.
Formerly known as Waterbury’s Central Park, this facility is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and consists of three sections, including an athletic area.
Greenwood Avenue separates this area from the park’s other sections, with one featuring grassy areas and walking trails circling two ponds.
Anglers visiting this park can fish in its upper pond stocked with trout.
Fulton’s third park area features a playground, warming hut, and a swimming pool.
Stroll on the Naugatuck River Greenway
The Naugatuck River Greenway, set for 44 miles along the river’s banks, includes a two-mile section in Waterbury.
A stroll on this stretch will take you from Plats Mill Road and South Main Street to South Leonard Street and South Main Street.
You can park your vehicle at the Greenway’s river bank access on South Main Street.
Taking the Greenway in Waterbury offers picturesque views of the river, a Connecticut destination for fishing and canoeing or kayaking.
The Greenway’s trail in Waterbury features several amenities, including covered and open picnic tables, bike racks, and an outdoor theater.
Repeat visits to the Naugatuck River Greenway are worthwhile, as local agencies actively maintain and develop its 44-mile stretch.
In Waterbury, the city’s students, the Police Athletic League, and volunteers formed a Waterbury Brigade in 2018 to oversee the maintenance and development of the Greenway in the city.
Similar efforts are in place for the Greenway at the towns of Thomaston and Naugatuck, adjacent north and south of Waterbury, respectively.
Build Sand Castles on Lakewood Park
Sprawling over 142 acres off Lakewood Road and Farmwood Road, Lakewood Park is Waterbury’s largest park.
The park is also bordered by woodlands and the Great Brook Reservoir and features a sandy beach where kids can play and build sand castles.
The facilities in Lakewood Park park include a pavilion, picnic tables, a basketball court, two handball courts, and walking trails.
Visitors can fish in the park’s lake, which Connecticut’s Department of Environmental Protection stocks with trout.
Swimming in this lake, however, is prohibited because of concerns about its waters’ quality.
Take the Kids to Waterville Park
Waterville Park lives up to its name and is a delight for kids, with its splash pad and playground.
This is an expansive park at nearly 28 acres fronting Waterville Street and bisected by Boyden Street.
Adults will have a great time here too with its sports facilities.
Waterville Park has tennis courts, basketball courts, a ballfield, and a bike rack.
On-street parking is available near this park, where you can also enjoy a pleasant walk by the woodlands along Hancock Brook.
Explore the Hancock Brook Trail
The Hancock Brook Trail is a 4.3-kilometer out-and-back trail that starts from the Blue Stone Quarry on the northern terminus of Sheffield Street.
A moderately challenging route, this trail is popular not only for hiking and running but also birdwatching.
Tackling this trail, ideal from April through September, begins with a pleasant stroll along scenic Hancock Brook.
The trek’s highlights can be enjoyed atop two bald rock outlooks.
Signage provides guidance across private property right-of-ways and easements along the Hancock Brook Trail.
Soak up History at Hamilton Park
Hamilton Park is one of the historic landmarks in Waterbury, the oldest park in the city, and the site of one of Waterbury’s first brass mills.
Established in 1898 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this park spreads over 93 acres.
East Main Street, Silver Street Expressway, Idlywood Avenue, Hamilton Park Road, and the Mad River flank it.
The historic character of this park can be best appreciated at its Cobblestone Arch Bridge on Park Carriage Road.
The park also retains on its southern edge the remnants of the Waterbury Brass Mill.
Hamilton Park offers several sports facilities, including a swimming pool, tennis courts, baseball fields, football and soccer fields, and basketball courts.
The park’s section, a relatively undeveloped wooded area, serves as a bird sanctuary.
Hike at Bucks Hill Park
Bucks Hill Park is another attraction in Waterbury that showcases the city’s countryside feel.
Located on the southeast quadrant of North Main Street and Montoe Road, this park spreads over nearly 17 acres.
Chase Brook and its 2.6-kilometer trail cut across this park, offering an easy hike along woodlands.
Besides this trail ideal for walking, hiking, and running, the park also provides several sports facilities.
Park visitors can choose from three tennis courts, two basketball courts, four baseball/softball fields, two bocce courts, two soccer fields, and a football field.
Bucks Hill Park, in addition, offers a gazebo, a playground, and a water spray pad.
Enjoy the Brass City Jazz Fest at Library Park
Calendar a visit to Waterbury in early August to enjoy its Brass City Jazz Fest.
This annual event was launched in 2018, with an affiliate of the Waterbury Regional Chamber, Main Street Waterbury, as one of its prime movers.
This free outdoor jazz festival is traditionally held at Library Park on Grand Street in downtown Waterbury.
Its organizers tap an all-star jazz lineup for this festival, attracting audiences of all ages.
Solo performers and bands are included in the Brass City Jazz Fest's jazz musicians line-up.
Catch the Juneteenth Festival
Join Waterbury in celebrating the annual Juneteenth Festival centered on African-American culture.
This annual celebration, a state holiday in Connecticut, was first held in Waterbury in 2018.
The Waterbury event is open and free to the public and traditionally held on the grounds of Hamilton Park on Hamilton Park Road.
The celebration’s highlights include a music concert featuring local artists.
Dancing, games, a history walk, art, and photo booths are also part of Waterbury’s Juneteenth Festival.
Have Fun at the Waterbury Arts Fest
Waterbury Arts Fest is touted as the signature summer event in the city, drawing thousands of visitors each year.
This arts festival in Waterbury’s downtown area is typically held for two days in early July.
More than 100 artists exhibit their masterpieces during this annual event that the nonprofit Revitalizing Waterbury organizes.
A Friday Night Block Party precedes the festival’s art show and offers live music and dancing.
The Waterbury Arts Fest also includes a beer garden and food trucks offering gourmet fare.
Other Things to Do Nearby
Paddle on the Naugatuck River
Paddlers bringing in their canoes or kayaks can access the Naugatuck River from just outside the southern boundary of Waterbury.
This access point, located in the city’s suburban town/borough of Naugatuck, is on the north end of Platts Mills Road at its intersection with South Main Street.
The annual Naugatuck Valley River Race notably fires off from this access point, with canoe and kayak paddlers racing south to Beacon Falls.
Parking for vehicles is abundant at this Platts Mills Road river access point.
Paddlers launching from here must be cautious as a rapid and breached dam is upstream of this access point.
With waters potentially treacherous, paddlers of Naugatuck River would be well advised to first observe from the land the downstream river conditions.
Gear Up for Adventure at Peterson Park
Peterson Park is located on Mad River Road in the town of Wolcott, just seven miles northeast of Waterbury.
The Mattatuck Trail, one of the most challenging Connecticut hikes, starts from this park.
This trail for hardy hikers stretches for 35 miles heading northwest to the Mohawk Mountain in the town of Cornwall, where it links with the legendary Appalachian Trail.
If you’re not up for that adventure, the 65-acre Peterson Park offers other exciting facilities.
Peterson Park provides paved walking trails around its open space, two large play areas, and a playscape for children.
It also offers facilities for picnics, basketball, tennis, volleyball, rollerblading, and skating.
Hike to Spruce Brook Falls
Spruce Brook Falls is located in Naugatuck State Forest, about nine miles south of Waterbury.
The ravine leading to the falls can be accessed from the state forest’s parking lot off the east terminus of Spruce Brook Road.
Several trails enable access to the falls, with the Spruce Brook Loop one of the shortest.
This trail runs about two kilometers and can be negotiated in about 35 minutes of moderately challenging walking.
Hikers completing the loop will encounter six different falls along Spruce Brook.
A hike on this side of the Naugatuck State Forest also traverses two overlooks providing views of the Naugatuck River Valley.
Besides Spruce Brook Falls, the Seymour Reservoirs and the High Rock Shooting Association Rifle Range are other points of interest in this state forest.
Trek up Black Rock Loop
Black Rock Loop is an out-and-back trail traversing its namesake state park in Watertown, about eight miles north of Waterbury.
This trail starts and ends at the park’s unique footbridge on Black Rock Pond off west of Thomaston Road.
A trek along Black Rock Loop, which melds with the Mattatuck Trail, offers a delightful feeling of seclusion in the wilderness.
The highlight of this trail is its eponymous rock face, Black Rock, with overlooking views of Watertown, Thomaston, and parts of Waterbury.
Besides trekking on the Black Rock Loop, the 444-acre state park also provides camping, fishing, and swimming opportunities.
Have Family Fun at Southford Falls State Park
Southford Falls State Park is a family-oriented park accessible from Quaker Farms Road in Southbury, about 10 miles southwest of Waterbury.
Open year-round free of charge, this state park spreads over 169 acres which was the former site of the iconic Diamond March Company.
Scenic waterfalls on the Eight Mile River stand out on the northwest end of this park.
Visitors of this park can enjoy picnics, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, and jogging during summer.
Southford Falls State Park is a popular winter destination for sledding and cross-country skiing.
Pets on leashes are allowed in this park’s trails and picnic areas.
Visits to this park can extend to the nearby Larkin Bridle Trail, which stretches over 10 miles.
This trail follows an abandoned railway extending from Kettletown Road in Southbury northward to Whittemore Glen State Park on Route 63 in Naugatuck.
Taking this trail can open access to points of interest not only in Southbury and Naugatuck but also in Oxford and Middlebury.
Waterbury is an ideal destination for those who want the most in their vacation at the least cost possible.
This city and its suburban towns retain much of Connecticut’s natural attractions, where many activities can be enjoyed for free.
Try these free things to do in Waterbury, Connecticut, to make the most of your trip!