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Highland Lake is a 444-acre lake nestled in the Berkshire Mountains of Litchfield County near the city of Winsted, Connecticut. Known as a resort lake due to well developed upscale homes on most of its shoreline, the crystal-clear water is also valued for its fishing, boating, swimming and water skiing opportunities.
Highland Lake began as an impoundment on the Mad River. In 1860, the town of Winchester constructed a dam across the river for flood control and later hydroelectric purposes. A unique feature of this dam is its spillway. During high water, the overflow from the lake washes over the top of the dam and across a major street. Traffic using the street must drive through the water. The construction of the dam raised the lake approximately 10 feet from its original height. Today the lake has a maximum depth of 63 feet and stretches for three miles when at full capacity.
Highland Lake is composed of three bays logically named First, Second and Third Bay. Although mostly lined with permanent and summer residences, a forested area that is part of Burr Pond State Park is located on the west side of the southern end of Third Bay. To gain access to the water, visitors can use a state boat launch located on First Bay on the northern end. Second Bay is the shallowest section of the lake and also has some of the best fishing. Fish in the lake include largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, yellow perch, Atlantic salmon, and kokanee trout. Note: Although most fish taken from Connecticut lakes and streams are safe to eat, refer to the Connecticut Fish Consumption Advisory (link below) before eating fish caught from any Connecticut waterway.
For families who like to camp, several private campgrounds can be found near Burr Pond State Park to the south of Highland Lake and Platt Hill State Park to the west of the lake. Platt Hill State Park has been closed for a number of years, but the area is still used for hiking and wildlife viewing. Camping is also available at the American Legion State Forest located east of Highland Lake. For non-campers, vacation rentals and private real estate on Highland Lake are abundant; additional lodging is available in the city of Winsted.
For additional outdoor recreation, the Mad River Reservoir and Rugg Brook Reservoir are located northwest of Highland Lake and offer wildlife viewing and hiking. South of Highland Lake is Paugnut State Forest and Sunny Brook State Forest. Paugnut State Forest is part of a 2,410-acre contiguous park and forest complex that includes Burr Pond State Park and Sunny Brook State Park. Popular activities include hiking, mountain biking, hunting and cross-country skiing. Burr Pond State Park is a great place to spend a summer afternoon. Burr Pond offers fishing, boating and swimming and the surrounding area is great for hiking. The Wolcott Trail is a scenic 2.5-mile relatively flat trail that circles Burr Pond.
East of Highland Lake is the American Legion and Peoples State Forests. These two forests offer camping, mountain biking, hiking, hunting, picnic facilities, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling trails. The West Branch of the Farmington River, designated as a Wild and Scenic River by the National Park Service, is the focal point of the heavily forested land and offers river-based recreational activities including trout fishing, canoeing, kayaking and tubing.
West of Highland Lake is Crystal Lake, a primary source of drinking water for the town of Winchester. The 145-acre sparking lake is also known for its boating and excellent trout fishing. The city of Winsted, located within the town Winchester, is just east of Highland Lake. The town is noted for its stately Victorian, Greek Revival, Neo-Classical, Ecclesiastical, Queen Anne and Colonial Revival homes. The Main Street area is lined with inviting shops and restaurants. For children there is a skateboard park, a huge Playscape park, ball fields, and miniature golf with batting cages and go carts. Winsted also provides the area with complete shopping facilities
15 minutes south on Route 8 is the City of Torrington, the largest city in Litchfield County. Visitors to Highland Lake will find Torrington to be a mix of retail and tourist attractions. The downtown area is a thriving cultural center, boasting the Warner Theatre and the renowned Nutmeg Conservatory. Antique dealers, art houses, art deco architecture and small specialty shops makes the area appealing for residents and tourists alike. There are also a number of city parks and hiking trails that allow visitors to truly enjoy the beauty of the area.
The scenic wooded hillsides and reputation for outstanding fishing make Highland Lake a great vacation destination or just a beautiful and quiet location to retire to and have fun. Paddle the quiet water, hike the scenic hills and end your day watching the setting sun cast its colors across the lake.
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