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Monday, August 5, 2019

Bluff Head and Northwoods (Guilford) - Connecticut Best Hikes

I've been working on a "Best of Connecticut" Hike List for some time now.  With great hiking in the Whites of New Hampshire, Greens of Vermont, Berkshires of Massachusetts, and the Catskills and Adirondacks of New York, it's easy to forget that Connecticut has some great options.  While a lot of the trails in Connecticut are on the "walk in the woods" or "not much of a view" category, there are truly some gems in this state.  Would you believe me if I told you can find everything ranging from challenging hikes with elevation to pretty lakes and expansive vistas? Listen up Nutmegers, we have it. 

A hiking spot called "Bluff Head" kept coming up when people talked about some of their favorite local hikes.  Best part?  This hike is actually located in my town.  And so, it had been on my list for a while but life got busy and this hike was constantly pushed to the backburner.  I finally had the time in the middle of summer when I had an injured Adam and a new hiker in town.   I figured this quick hike with great views was the perfect way to show a different side of Connecticut and yes, show off Guilford.  In this town, you can go clamming in the sound before changing into some shorts and grabbing Fido for a hike to the Bluff Head viewpoint.  Extra points if you end the day with ice cream at the llama farm.  

Ocean and a hike with a view.  
You can have your cake and eat it too. 

Northwoods and Bluff Head Preserve cover 500 acres of land protected by the Guilford Land Conservation Trust.  The Bluff Head summit (the viewpoint) is an exposed ridge with beautiful views of Meyer Huber Pond and the surrounding hillsides.  The geology consists of the "Broomstick Ledges", gray schist that was actually once the sea bottom. These outcrops of rock offer some pretty viewpoints of the Connecticut landscape below.  The viewpoint stands at 720 feet above sea level making it the highest point in Guilford. 

Before you head to Bluff Head, there are a few things you should know.  You can get up to the viewpoint pretty quickly at the sacrifice of some steep and unsteady terrain.  Or, you can take a more gradual (but longer) trail to the viewpoint.  Mileage or incline, pick your poison.  And speaking of poison, we did happen to see some of it along the trail.  In fact, Gian, a newbie hiker who I convinced to join us on this quick jaunt, sort of actually fell back into some of the poison ivy on the steeper parts of the trail.  Bad luck, good laughs.  


I gave Gian my secret stash of Tecnu and even after landing in a bunch of the stuff, he never developed the rash (it's all about the elbow grease, you need to scrub the oils off).  The moral of the story? If you want to hike in New England you need a sturdy hiking shoe and a whole lot of tecnu

The trail is part of the Mattabesset hiking trail, a 60-mile trail traveling through the towns of Guilford, Durham, Madison, Haddam, Middletown, North Branford, Wallingford, Middlefield, Meriden and Berlin,  The Matabesset hiking trail is part of the 215 mile New England Scenic Trail (which goes from Long Island Sound in Guilford to the MA/NH border).

Parking:  There is a lot at the Bluff Head trailhead on Rt. 77 about 1/2 mi. north of Great Hill Rd (it should come up on Google Maps).  Once you get off the highway (I-95), follow Route 77 for approximately  8.6 miles where you will see a blue sign and a parking area on your left.  There are no bathrooms at the trailhead.

Kids/Dogs:  Dogs are allowed on the trail (but must be on-leash).  The less steep section (blue orange trail) would be okay for older kids.  The steep blue trail is very steep and may even be tough for some adults.  Also, there are also exposed ledges which would be dangerous for young children.

Pick Your Trail: The trail map was a little confusing at the parking lot.  It seemed to contradict itself on which trail was the steeper shorter and which was the longer trail.  We went with our gut and followed the steep looking trail directly adjacent to the trailhead map/marker (blue trail). 

And then at home doing some research, I found this "The Mattabesett section of the New England Trail over Bluff Head in Guilford has undergone a blaze change. The blue/orange side trail is now the primary route to the top of the ridge and is marked with blue blazes. The old trail has experienced severe erosion and is, at times, unsafe. We encourage hikers to follow the blue blazes to ascend and descend from Bluff Head."

I read this after and followed the steep section of the trail (now mislabeled but you can clearly see the difference at the beginning of the trail).  We did end up following the blue/orange trail for a little bit once we reached the first viewpoint by accident.  I quickly realized this was taking us back down so we turned around and made our way back to the blue trail that follows the bluff.   

Trail 1: Blue-Blazed Trail - Direct, Short and Steep *Marked "M" on the map.
The trail immediately to the west of the parking lot, marked with light blue blazes, very steep for the first 300-yards.  You will get to your first overlook with views to the east.  Stay straight on the blue trail and do NOT turn left onto the blue and orange trail (heading to the left/west) and back down the trail.  The blue trail continues north along the bluff until you reach the view of the green landscape and the very green Meyer Huber Pond.  Turn around at the viewpoint as the trail is part of the Mattabessert and NET and you can follow it all the way to New Hampshire.  Be careful coming down the steeper section of the trail.  The Blue-Orange trail is the recommended route. 
Distance: Shorter/blue option, 1-mile to 1.25-miles round trip 

Trail 2:  Blue/Orange - More Gradual, Longer Distance  *Marked "B" on the map.  
The second trail from the parking lot is more gradual, reaching the bluff after about one mile of walking.  This trail leaves the parking lot on the dirt road on the south side of the lot and is marked by light blue blazes with an orange dot in the center.  It continues along the dirt road – an old town road called Fire Tower Road – until it turns right (north) off the road onto a foot trail which leads to the main blue trail.  It basically does a big loop west, cutting down on the elevation over distance, before ending and joining the blue-blazed Mattabesett Trail which takes you to the vistas.
Distance: Longer, less steep option 2-miles 

It was a hot humid day but the quick short hike with the dogs to this pretty viewpoint was exactly what we needed. A bit of a scramble but worth it to be able to hike to some views fairly close to the shoreline of Connecticut. With the heat, we planned this late in the day, armed with a bottle of water and headlamps with the hope of making this a fun little sunset hike.  And then I realized it was an east-facing viewpoint and this would actually be a perfect morning sunrise hike. 

Guilford, thanks for the views and I can't wait to see the sunrise from the highest point in town.  

Other Connecticut Best Hikes

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