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Thursday, December 31, 2020

A Year in Review - 2020

2020 was a year we will never forget. It was full of some of our biggest life moments which also happened to take place during such a scary time. 2020 will always be remembered as the year of the pandemic, the crazy election, the forest fires, the floods, the black lives matters movements, and so many other challenging events. At the same time, we will also remember it as the year we got married, bought a house, found out we were pregnant, and spent a lot of time at home together.  It's hard to have such conflicting feelings about a "year" - to have so many happy memories taking place in a year that was so brutal for many. 

Nonetheless, I write this post every year (you can read my recaps for 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014), and this year was an important one to look back on.  It was always my favorite post to write, acknowledging the importance of looking back and being thankful for all the memories made - an important and oh so necessary exercise in gratitude especially this year. I am thankful for all the memories, thankful for the growth, appreciative of all the happy memories but I am so excited to put this challenging year behind us. Before we welcome 2021 and all the changes (and uncertainties, let's be honest) that the new year will bring, let's look back at 2020... the good, the bad, and the ugly. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Bucket List Worthy Adventures

2020 has been a tough year for us all.  Elections, pandemic, sinking economy, forest fires, and the list goes on. If you escaped 2020 with your job, your health and your home, then you probably at least fell victim to the social impacts of this isolating year.  Holidays were canceled, weddings postponed, time with friends and family vanished, and vacations put on a standstill. 

If you love to travel, then it's been a challenging year of planning and isolation.  Ever since the pandemic hit, we shifted our gears to local travel to adventures around New England when it was safe in the summer. With the increasing cases and the second surge in the fall, we really stuck to traveling within our state lines (and it's a small state guys...).  It's been challenging with so many unknowns and omeone who loves to plan (me, me, me) can't really plan anything.  Truth be told (and the unpopular but likely truth) is that we don't know how "normal" 2021 will really be.  Vaccines are on the way but with so many individuals to vaccinate and so many unknowns, 2021 is starting to look pretty isolating too.  So instead of planning adventures for 2021 - I'm trying to stay somewhat positive and focus more on the bigger picture - building my bucket list.  

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Outdoorsy Girls Guide To: HOUSE PLANTS

Okay, so this might seem like a weird one in the OGG series and fine, it sort of is - But let's be honest... it's winter in New England and early December is just ugly stick season. The green is gone save for the evergreens and it's dark at 4:30. I am spending much more time inside than I want to and I miss being outside in the sunshine. It's also 2020 and the coronavirus is on the rise so we are all home a lot more than we are used to. 

COVID, winter, lack of greenery.... cue the plant collection. 
Let's face it... Crazy Plant Girl is so 2020. 

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Gillette Castle State Park - Haddam, CT

Gillette Castle State Park

Gillette Castle just sort of surprises you. You are in the quiet town of East Haddam in Connecticut, strolling along the Connecticut River, and boom, this castley fortress-looking structure just jets out along the cliffside. It's a private residence turned state park (1943) and it's everything whimsical and confusing - railroad, tunnel, and castle included. Grab the kids and the dogs and head to East Haddam for a fun family-friendly adventure along the Connecticut River. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Myx Fitness Review - the BEST Peloton Alternative

It's 2020 and we are living through the pandemic.  Gyms were shut down for the beginning half of 2020 and while they are open now, they come with the risk of spreading the infection and the requirement of mask-wearing.  I don't know about you, but taking the risk of an indoor workout on shared equipment was a no-go for me, nevermind trying to do cardio in a mask.  Add in some HUGE benefits of an at-home system (no driving required), a monthly fee that goes towards the investment of a piece of equipment instead of gym access, and 24-hour access in your own home (especially convenient with kids and pets), it's a no brainer. 

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Wallpaper Stair Risers - Stairway Transformation

This is not a home improvement blog, nor will it ever be one. But, 2020 has been one whacky year and a lot of us are doing less traveling and more adventures into home improvement. If you've been following around on Instagram, you probably know that we bought a fixer-upper in May of this year. It's a 1978 classic center stair colonial tucked away in the woods at the edge of a preserve. We fell in love with the neighborhood (a cul-de-sac off a cul-de-sac) and the access to the trails (a 1-minute walk to the cul-de-sac) and decided this insane project was worth the hassle. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Outdoorsy Girl's Guide To: HIKING GEAR

Outdoorsy Girl's Guide To

H I K I N G   G E A R 

Welcome to the fourth post in my Outdoorsy Girl's Guide (OGG) series.  The OGG guides are designed to cover introductory posts to some of my favorite outdoor topics that still serve to educate and entertain even the most experienced outdoorsy gal.  So far, we covered the OGG to Poison Ivy, the OGG to Trail Signs, and the OGG to Hiking Alone.  Today, we are talking about hiking gear - really, the stuff to get you started.  

I get asked a lot of questions about my gear from the shoes on my feet to the pack on my back.  Before I get into any specifics, let me start by saying that building a "gear stash" times a whole lot of time and research.  What works for one person may not work for you.  Some pieces of gear need to stand the test of time, and sometimes you need to do something over and over (and over) again before you know exactly what piece of gear you need.  

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Stonington, Connecticut - My Favorite Corner of New England

There are a few places that really grab my soul.  Places that make me smile when I walk down the sidewalks and drive down the roads.  

Stonington Borough... it's that for me. 

I love the town in a way that's deep and devoted, in a love that's a borderline obsession.   I have so many memories here, memories that started long before I stole the zip code.  I fell in love with a new hobby here and new people.  Those lat and long coordinates at the end of the road where the pavement meets the sand. I learned the best way to spend a hot New England summer night was in the water at the Waylands Wharf or rocky walks along the jetty.  I learned the Manhattans at Noah's are absolutely lethal and that the fish and chips Friday at the Portuguese club is the best deal in town. I learned how to enjoy being home, how to garden, and how to unclog a dishwasher. I fell asleep to a foghorn on most days and woke up to the most brilliant sunrises over the water, best seen from the bathroom (the toilet to be exact).   I watched my neighborhood combine forces and joined in the plowing parties when winter storms dumped so much snow on my favorite town.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Our Wedding (recap and video) - August 9th, 2020 - Maine

The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 really forced people to rethink how they were able to get married.  Truth be told, we always wanted to elope and COVID actually made it easier for us to do just that when we explained our intimate and not-so-inclusive plans to friends and family.  

It was always in our plan to skip the big party and instead, focus on the real meaning of the day to us.  The wedding industry felt like far too much for me... too much glitz and glam, too much of people spending astronomical amounts of money on a day they barely get to enjoy while trying to greet their 200 guests.  Invoices for food and decor easily adding zeros without question just because the word "bride" was involved.  

According to The Knot 2017 Real Weddings Study, couples spend an average of $33,391 on weddings.  Depending on where you live, this number can be even higher.  Your average wedding in Connecticut is $47,435.  Over forty-seven thousand dollars for a day. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Heublein Tower/Talcott Mountain, Simsbury - CT Best Hikes

This weekend, the calendar will mark the start of November and the (almost) end of the year. 2020 has been a good year but it's been a hard year. It's been hard to plan, hard to travel, hard to see the people you love. We have embraced seeing people outside and in a socially distanced way from outdoor movie nights to a walk in the woods. Adam and I had plans to stop at a store in West Harford, Connecticut and while we were in the area, wanted to stop and see a friend. We decided the best way to (safely) spend some time together was on a hike and when in the West Hartford area in the fall, hike up to Heublein Tower.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Wittenberg Mountain - Phoenicia - Catskills, New York

Adam and I have been trying to balance our love for the outdoors with our need to finish this damn house. If you are new to KW, we bought a complete fixer-upper in May and have spent the last 6 months taking down walls and rebuilding them back up. In all honesty, it was well-timed with the virus and everyone being homebound but it has also been a strain on my love of the outdoors and long weekends in the mountains.

We made a fair compromise with the trails and our renovation when we decided Saturday would be spent in the Catskills (close enough for a day trip, far enough to be in mountains) and work on the house Sunday (Garage/Basement cleanout day!)  We left early on Saturday morning armed with coffee and packed sandwiches, excited to spend the day in the Catskills, and enjoy a new hike on new trails.  I did some quick research online looking for a medium level hike between 4 and 10 miles with some decent elevation gain (and a view!) and stumbled on Wittenberg and Cornell Mountain.  

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

This not That (Littleton and Route 116) - Fall in New Hampshire

One of my favorite topics on Katie Wanders is a "this not that" sort of series.  It basically takes some of your popular spots and trips and gives you a much better less-crowded alternative. This post is featuring two of these things because when you hit a spot in one of its peak seasons, you need to learn to adjust. 

Monday, October 5, 2020

Mt. Major Hike - Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire

If you need to know anything about me, it's that I am a planner.  I love to plan trips, weekends, hikes, my day, you name it.  Going into the weekend, I had a list of 48ers I wanted to tackle but instead, we altered plans.  The only glitch was Adam also had a list of things he wanted to do.  The new unplanned plan for the weekend was Adam had a day to pick what to do, and I would pick the second day.  The only issue with my shot at compromise was my day was the second one which involved some very sore legs after Adam's day and a 4.5-hour drive back home.  

1) All hiking aside, this was my first time staying at a bed and breakfast and I really wanted to try the breakfast (10/10, excellent decision).  
2) Staying for scheduled breakfast meant missing an early start at any of the trailheads - necessary for a parking spot during a fall hiking weekend in the Whites.  
3) On top of our later start, our legs were sore from hiking the Franconia Ridge so another big hike was also off the table.  
4) Judging by an attempted drive through Lincoln, I knew the smaller/shorter hikes would be mobbed 

And so, we totally changed our plans and decided to pack up after breakfast and start heading south. 

I typed in "Best Hikes in New Hampshire" and started reading through the list of hikes outside of the Whites.  I quickly came across a name I had never heard, "Mt. Major".  This hike took you up to a peak overlooking Lake Winnipesaukee and at a 3.5-mile hike gaining about 1,100 feet of elevation, this wouldn't kill our sore legs.  This hike also offered lovely views at the cost of just a short detour from our ride home - it all looked promising.  And so, we pulled up to the trailhead to see about 200 cars lining the road and sighed as we realized you can't really escape the crowds of New Hampshire during leaf-peeping season.  

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Franconia Ridge Loop, New Hampshire (Fall 2020)

When we were planning out hikes for the weekend, I had a list in my head of some good options.  There is the 48 4,000 footer list (of which I had only conquered 14), there was the 52 with a view list, and a bunch of other hikes that looked like great options for this ragtag group. 

What I didn't plan was to repeat any of the hikes I had done before - definitely not one of the really hard ones.  Of course, this is exactly what I ended up doing.  Adam mentioned a few times that he had always wanted to hike the ridge, Franconia Ridge that is.  I told him I really REALLY didn't want to repeat a hike, that I would do it if he really wanted to, but it was like last resort bottom of my list.  I told him "I'm sure you could find a friend to come up and do it with you" and listed about 4 more excuses.  I could tell he really, really wanted to do this hike I would be a trooper and drag myself up, across, and down this ridge for a second time.  And so, this is how I ended up hiking Franconia Ridge for the second time, again with very little hiking conditioning. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Kinsman Lodge (the best bed and breakfast) - Franconia, New Hampshire

Every year, as summer fades to Autumn and the end of September rolls around, I jump in my car and head north. I usually head to Vermont to mountain bike and hike around the Kingdom but with COVID-19 and the travel restrictions in Vermont, we decided to change things up a bit and head to the Granite State instead.  We booked a last-minute AirBnB with a credit we had, a little discouraged at first to see the limited dog-friendly options near the Whites.  I had Adam expand the search to a two-night stay and suddenly, the most perfect place showed up in our browser.  

Monday, September 28, 2020

The Lobster Shack - East Haven - Lobster Roll Tour Stop #6

It took me a few summers to finish my lobster roll tour.  For starters, tasting lobster rolls is an expensive hobby.  Lobster rolls generally cost anywhere from $18 to $20 (usually without sides) and while insanely delicious, aren't always filling.  Geographic location also made it a little more time consuming as we sample lobster rolls as far east and Noank and as far west as East Haven.  If there was ever a time to eat lobster rolls - now is it.  The crowds are gone after Labor Day, COVID-19 has forced us to dine al fresco, and it just felt like the perfect time to spend a Friday night chowing down lobster rolls along the water (and head to IKEA when it is least busy).  

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Chauncey Peak Loop Hike (Giuffrida Park) - Meriden, CT

Lately, I have been feeling insanely lucky for the luxury of being able to hike on a Tuesday morning.  You see, I spent my whole life working at least one job (often two, sometimes three).  I did my duty working weekends, working two jobs a day, working through graduate school, so on and so forth.  I always had the goal of starting my own company and making my own hours.  You've heard the saying, you are either working hard to make your dreams work or making someone else's.  My plan was to gain my Licensed Environmental Professional certification and then start my own Phase I company.  When the coronavirus struck and my work from home priveledges were revoked, for my safety and my sanity, I decided going back to the office was not an option and it was now or never to start that company.  And so, my little environmental consulting firm was born and so was my ability to make my own schedule.  It's been slow to start which makes me even more thankful for this hard-working husband of mine who works long hours to help pick up the slack.  With my newfound freedom and flexibility, I was able to dedicate more time to Katie Wanders an even better, more time for tackling busier Connecticut hikes during the week.  

Thursday, September 17, 2020

CT/NY border to Tenmile River Shelter (AT Backpacking)

Backpacking is something I wish I got into earlier in life.  There's something romantic about carrying everything you need on your back to spend the night in the woods.  Once you escape the campgrounds or roadside camping areas, it's hard to go back to the noise and the crowds.  When you commit to carrying everything you need on your back, you weed out a lot of the people.  It's not as simple as going out for a hike, you do need to invest in some staples that allow you to sleep under the stars comfortably and safely.  Like all of my hobbies, they are uniquely my own, skills and interests acquired and invested into throughout my adult life.  My family wasn't the backpacking type and their idea of camping involves a large RV at a developed campground.  I had to do a lot of research, save up, invest in gear, and find some likeminded friends to hike with.  When you do invest in the gear and find your tribe, there's nothing like setting up your camp somewhere in the woods far from any road or roaring generators.  While I love an epic adventure deep into the Whites of New Hampshire, it doesn't always have to be 30 miles into the wilderness, 3 miles into the woods was plenty for us.  

Monday, September 14, 2020

Pine Knob Loop Hike - Sharon, Connecticut

Pine Knob Loop is a hiking trail in the northwest corner of CT that I kept hearing about.  I heard it was short, sweet, and scenic and Adam had hiked it several times.  We planned a weekend up in the northwest corner of Connecticut and I added this quick hike into our plans. 

f i r s t    i m p r e s s i o n s 

All in all, I thought it was a nice hike along a pretty section of woods and a stream with a nice viewpoint.  I liked that it was short and sweet and something that would be family-friendly or something easy to tackle with other plans in your day.  My only gripe was in an area of so many amazing hikes, this wouldn't be my first choice.  

Friday, September 11, 2020

A Day Trip to Block Island

Block Island is a popular getaway well known by New England natives.  The island is shaped like a pork chop and is 7 miles long and 3 miles wide.  Rhode Island claims the land that sits in Block Island Sound, nine miles off its coast in the Atlantic Ocean.  Like the Cape, the Hamptons, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, Block was formed from glacial deposits as the glaciers receded during the last ice age.  

If you are looking to get away from home, if you are looking to feel far away without the hassle or a plane ride, Block Island is it.  A one hour jaunt on the high-speed ferries from several New England ports transports you to a charming Island that feels a lot like Bermuda.  

I've spent a week on the island, I've gone out for a weekend (here is a weekend guide), and I've gone over just for the day.  Today we are talking about the latter, Block Island in a Day - a guide to seeing the highlights with a round trip same day ferry ticket.  It is perfect for anyone short on time or someone who wants to see Block on a budget because lodging on the island can be pretty pricey.   

To make the most of the day, you need to take the first ferry out and plan to take one of the last ferries back.  We caught the 9am ferry out of Point Judith and we were on the island by 10am.  We decided on the 5pm ferry back, arriving in Point Judith by 6pm in time to wind down and make dinner before ending the day. 

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Sunset (and wedding photos) at Otter Point - Acadia National Park, Maine

Caddilac Mountain in Acadia National Park is famous for its sunrises.  Hoards of people hike or drive their way to the top of the mountain to watch the sunrise on the eastern seaboard, a claim to fame for being the first sight of sunrise in the continental United States from October to March at least. 

But what you hear less about is a killer sunset in Acadia National Park.  If waking up two hours before sunrise to drive or hike up a crowded mountain isn't how you want to spend your morning, you can catch the other end of the deal - sunset at Otter Point.  

When we were planning our wedding photos with Kat of Swell and Stone, she had the idea of pairing an afternoon hike of The Beehive with a stop at Otter Point after our hike to catch the sunset.  

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Beehive Trail (in a wedding dress) - Acadia National Park

The Beehive Trail in Acadia National Park is famous for its insane views, interesting terrain, and traverse across iron rungs. Let's just say the Beehive Trail is short, steep, and oh so sweet. There are handholds and ladders where you need it and while there are narrow ledges and spots that are a bit trickier, it isn't nearly as terrifying as the Precipice Trail. Of course, this hike took us about four times longer than it should have because we decided to tackle the trail in some special yet abnormal hiking attire. Adam wore his wedding suit all while carrying my bouquet in our pack. Let's not forget that he also had to help me manage ladders, rungs, and climbs in a fitted wedding dress (train included). 

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Precipice Trail - Acadia National Park's Terrifying Trail

This is probably "post number 243" where I tell you how much I hate heights and then I go on some insane hike that tests my limits and my fears. People are often confused about my fear of heights as they see me standing on top of a mountain summit all the time. You see, I can deal with one edge, but I need one side of safety to feel well, safe. Steep cliffy trails - I can manage. A trail like Angel's Landing where there are steep drops on both side? I am happy to wait back at the quitter's corner. But more often than not, I try to push myself and my fear of heights when traveling somewhere new. This hike in this part was no exception. 

The Precipice Trail is one of Acadia National Park's most famous trails. After we had a taste of the Beehive Trail, we were so excited to travel among the parks rung and ladder trails. We hiked the Beehive Trail for our wedding photos and we were blown away by the amazing views and technical aspects of the trail. We hiked the Beech Cliffs trail to get on another iron rung trail while we waited for the Precipice Trail to open "some time" that day.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Beech Cliff Trail - Acadia National Park

We had just finished hiking the Beehive (in full wedding attire) just the day before.   It's easy to say we were in love with the park and were swooning over Acadia's iron rung trails that combine tricky hikes with sweeping views of coastal Maine.  Beehive blew us out of the water and I guess you could say we were quickly becoming rung trail junkies.  These famous trails offer hikers a chance to hike along cliff edges and up steep rocky paths to mountain summits via sets of iron ladders and rungs.  Our next plan was the most famous and challenging of the rung trails.  We set out bright and early for the Precipice Trail first only to realize the trail was closed with an opening date of "some time today".  Instead, we hiked a more tame iron rung trail with the intention of completing the Precipice Trail hike first thing tomorrow morning.  This little detour is how we found ourselves on the quiet side of the park and up the ladders to the views along the Beech Cliff Trail. 

Friday, August 21, 2020

Jordan Pond Loop Hike - Acadia National Park, Maine

 It feels like a lifetime ago that Courtney and I packed up our dogs Olive and Leni alongside our camping gear and summer clothes into my (then) boyfriend's Subaru. We had originally planned this trip with the guys but when work and commitments prevented them from joining, we decided to head north without them for a girls weekend in Acadia National Park (lady dogs included).  Acadia National Park is the only national park here in the northeast and simply put, is a New England treasure.  We had talked about making this long weekend happen and finally put our words into action as we drove north along the coast of Maine.  We stopped in Portland, Maine for a lobster roll and traveled farther north along the scenic route, driving route 1 all the way into Bar Harbor, Maine.  

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Portland, Maine - Ways To Explore

In mid-July, we packed up the car (and the dogs) and headed north to spend a little bit of time in my favorite New England city - Portland, Maine.  It wasn't my first or even fourth time to Portland and it's a place I never get sick of.  

I guess you could say I love Portland in so many different ways.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Mount Phillip Loop Hike - Rome, Maine

There are many times I am grateful to be a Connecticut resident.  Mid-summer during the COVID-19 pandemic is definitely one of them.  While other states were opening up their bars and welcoming spring breakers in May, Connecticut kept a tight hold on its restrictions.  Indoor restaurants did not open until mid-June and social distancing and mask rules were strictly enforced.  Being a Connecticut Resident was is like having a European passport and being able to leave your borders.  A lot of New England states are allowing Connecticut residents, the land of lobsters included.  Maine's travel restrictions include a 14-day quarantine or a negative COVID test taken within 72 hours to enter it's state lines.  However, there is an exception for New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York.  Here in Connecticut, we have been very careful as we have been working on the house with my father who is high-risk.  Our safe habits and our license were golden tickets and we (responsibly) traveled to the state of Maine to spend a little bit of time in Portland and see our wedding venue.  Oh, and this lovely little hike which was in the middle of these two places.  

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

New Haven Pizza Tour

Let me start this post by saying I am not a food blogger.  

If you are expecting colorful perfectly exposed photos featuring and 24 different angles, you must have Katie Wanders confused with another blog.  What you WILL find is cell phone pictures discreetly snapped before diving into a pizza because A) I hate being that person taking photos of food and B) I can't wait long enough to take proper photos - because - pizza.  I can't promise you food blogger photography but I can promise you honest opinions, a humorous recap, and a fun read from someone who really really loves and appreciates good food. 

While KW focuses on travel, I love to share the food I eat and the beer I drink along the way.  Somewhere between the trail guide and travel posts, I started a little series where I do the tough work of taste testing a certain category of food to find you the best of the best. 

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Trolley Trail - Branford, Connecticut

The Branford Trolley Trail is one of those scenic quick little hikes that you probably found on the internet.  The short distance and photo-worthy bridge make this a popular trail for family and photo lovers alike.  It's this pretty little walk through the marsh that takes you to through an iconic Coastal Connecticut landscape, up and over a trolley bridge and to a picturesque little cove on the other side.  It's pretty, its kid-friendly, dog friendly, and it's a great way to stretch your legs while taking in the views.  

Pair it with a trip to the quaint little area known as Stony Creek, add in a mandatory lobster roll by the water, spend some time in the gazebo on the dock and you have yourself the best little excursion on a Summer afternoon.  

Friday, May 22, 2020

Outdoorsy Girls Guide To: HIKING ALONE

This is one of the posts I didn't actually know I needed to write.  As someone who has spent a lot of solo time on the trails, I (naively) thought this just came naturally to a lot of people.

Sure, some people may think twice about entering a trail alone in the woods for fear of getting lost or encountering wildlife as these are more in line with my hesitations when I walk onto a trail.  What I didn't know, was how many people are afraid of other people while hiking alone. I was alarmed by the amount of people asking for tips on hiking alone for this reason. 

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Outdoorsy Girls Guide to: TRAIL SIGNS

Welcome to another week in the Outdoorsy Girls Guide To: ________
(which I am now calling the OGGT)
Today, we are talking about Trail Signs

Even if you consider yourself to be a serious hiker, you can learn something new in this little post of trail sign information.  Sometimes when you are following a trail, it is a very clear path in an open area (think somewhere like the desert).  The trail you are typically following is a 4 to 6 feet wide cleared compacted surface. If it crosses a grass-covered area, you’re likely to see a bare earthen path where the trail is. Trail maintainers will sometimes leave fallen logs along the side of the trail to mark its sides and channel hikers along the intended path.  Other times, you are in a dense section of woods or on a less traveled trail and you need to rely on trail signs to stay on the path.  

So you are out on a hike on your local trails and you see a bunch of blazes on the trees.  Often, its just a single blaze marking the trail you are supposed to follow ahead (hey here's the trail, head straight).  Sometimes, you get a collection of blazes in different configurations and colors.  

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Macedonia Brook - Blue Loop - Kent, Connecticut

The first time I went to Macedonia State Park was November of 2018.  I went on a handful of dates with a lovely man from Milford who was living in New York City during the week, finishing up an orthodontics program at Columbia (let's call him "The Dentist").   The Dentist was an avid outdoorsman and if I thought I liked to ski mountain bike and hike, the dentist was on another level of outdoor recreation, telling tales of his time as ski patrol out in crested butte and winters spent skiing Japan (Japow?).  It was clear we both loved to hike and soon discovered we both loved the quiet corner of northwest Connecticut.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Outdoorsy Girl's Guide To: POISON IVY

Happy FRIDAY and welcome to my first post in the Outdoorsy Girls Guide To ______ series. 
Each week, we fill in the blank with some useful knowledge for playing and staying outside. 

Today's guide is all about identifying and educating yourself about Poison Ivy. 
This post is timely as with the presence of COVID-19, we are seeking the outdoors as an escape now more than ever.  Lately on my morning runs and afternoon hikes, I can see poison ivy popping up e v e r y w h e r e.  So today, we talk about this pesky plant that will ruin any outdoor adventure.  On the topic of contracting and identifying poison ivy, I feel like an expert. If you hike, walk or run with me and have to listen to me point out these leaves 500 times, you are welcome and I'm sorry in advance. 

Friday, May 1, 2020

Best Connecticut Hikes

COVID-19 has changed the way we live. It has changed the way we socialize, the way we go out to eat or see our friends. It changed the way we work, the way we learn, and even the way we play outside. For the first time since I can remember, it seems that even the outdoors are closed.  A lot of communities around the world are closing their doors as they serve as gateways to some of our best outdoor play areas and do not have the resources to help protect a population beyond their local community.  

A part of this change has been learning to recreate closer to home.  By staying local, we are less likely to spread this virus to different parts of the country, especially to small towns with limited resources that provide access to some of our world-class trail systems.  By choosing less risky outdoor activities, we are limiting the chance of emergencies and injuries that may land us in a hospital, taking up valuable resources during this pandemic.

Instead of epic road trips, camping weekends in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and backpacking trips, we shifted our focus to staying local.  We spent more time on our local trails.  I doubled my road running miles in the month of April and spent more time running my local trails right here in town.  

If you need some inspiration within the Connecticut state lines, this post is for you.  Here is a roundup of some of my favorite Connecticut hikes.  They aren't 4,000 footers, but you can find some beautiful hikes that will take you to castles, waterfalls, vistas and much more. 

Distance:  5.5-miles out and back 
Elevation:  1,273' elevation gained 
Trailheads:  Two ways to get there  - from Fall's Village or from Route 44 trailhead in Salisbury. parking at the Upper Falls Village.  You can do as a point to point with two cars, or an out and back.  The parking area from Falls Village is located at the Great Falls Recreation Area lot (41.96369, -73.37222)
Highlights:  Mount Prospect, Mount Prospect Viewpoint and Rand's View (open field/meadow/farmland and a view of the Northern Berkshires).  

Distance:  2.65-miles round trip
Elevation:  690' elevation gained 
Trailhead:  There is a parking area on the west side of Route 7 just before Housatonic Meadows State Park.  We followed the blue trail on the counterclockwise loop.  It eventually joins the Appalachian Trail for a section before joining back to a blue trail to complete the loop back to your car.  
Highlights:  Short hike that works up a sweat - great view point and a chance to follow the AT 

Distance:  6 miles
Elevation Gain:  1,797 feet
Trailhead:  Under Mountain Trailhead on Under Mountain Road, Salisbury (marked with a small blue oval sign). At the junction of Route 41 and Route 44, take the left onto Route 41 and the trailhead will be on your left in 3.1 miles, shortly after Deep Woods Road. 
Highlights:  A fun hike if you want to "bag a Connecticut peak" relatively easily and hike some elevation in the state.  The trail overall was nice, but a little boring at times.  It was fun to be on the famous Appalachian Trail.  The signage along the entire trail was great (large signs with distances, arrows, etc).  The trail was almost entirely shaded and typical of wooded New England trails.   The elevation will make you work and the distance is short and manageable.  The summit had a pretty view of lakes and other peaks but was very crowded.  A fun hike that allows dogs and would be even prettier in the fall with the changing leaves.  

Distance:  6.5-miles round trip
Elevation:  1,751' elevation gained 
Trailhead: Parking area off Macedonia Brook Road - you can start at the north or south end. Blue trail from start to finish.
Highlights:  Awesome views as you make your way up and around the park. Macedonia Brook, campsites, vista - a beautiful scenic challenging hike. 

Distance: 5.4-miles loop (1 mile of it is on the dirt road on the way back) 
Elevation Gain:  1,078'
Trailhead:  The only way to access the trailhead when the dirt road is closed (closed at the CT/MA border and then further into Connecticut at Riga Road  See my full post for notes on getting to the parking area and trailhead
Highlights:  This one actually covers THREE states, but let's still consider this a local CT hike.  You actually hike the highest point (not summit) in CT while taking in some great views on this fun little loop. 

Dogs Paugussett State Forest Lake Zoar Zoar Trail

Distance: 6-7 miles (closer to 7) for the full loop -  Moderate to challenging in spots - it is longer with some steep and rocky sections. The trail also narrows out along the Housatonic. 
Elevation (Ascent): 1,227' 
Trailhead: We parked at the Lower Paugusset Trailhead at the end of Great Quarter Road in Newtown, CT. There is a small dirt parking lot that probably fits about 12 cars. We started early and by the time we left around noon, the parking lot was full and cars were lining up along the road. There is no bathroom or map at the trailhead. 
Highlights:  Beautiful wooded trail which follows the lake in parts and takes you to "Prydsen Falls" in the Paugussett State Forest which offers a 25-foot plunge and 40-feet of cascades that empty into the Housatonic River. You can walk up to the banks of the river but there is no swimming allowed in this area. 

Distance: My favorite loop is 3 miles 
Highlights:  There are few CT places I love more than my local preserve.  It is 2 miles down the road and offers a little bit of everything:  open fields, wooded trails, wide paths by the power lines and views of the lake.  It is exceptional in the fall and you can almost always find a few dogs to socialize with on the weekends.  It's where I go to trail run, walk the fields, take photos, or just sneak away to the woods for a little while.  It is also a section of the Scenic New England Trail which traverses through Connecticut. If you want the place to yourself, try to get there before 8 am. 

Distance & Elevation:  The park is small but believe it or not you can still get in a great 4.5 mile loop hike with over 800 feet of elevation. The Orange route is the largest individual trail and the more challenging hike throughout the main section of the forest leading up to the vista.  For a shorter hike just to see the vista, Foxtown Road leads to a small (unofficial) parking area that cuts to a back entrance to the vista. * The Blue loop also offers a shorter and easier alternative to the Orange trail. Of the trails on the opposite side of the park (across the entrance road). The Green trail is extremely rocky, steep, and not well blazed; while the Yellow is somewhat confusing at times and not as well marked as the other trails. More Info/Source
Trailhead: Devil's Hopyard State Park   366 Hopyard Road  East Haddam, CT 06423
Highlights:  Waterfall, river, covered bridges, vistas, beautiful wooded trail through a state park

Distance: Shorter/blue option, 1-mile to 1.25-miles round trip, Longer, less steep option 2-miles 
Parking/ Trail head:  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.
Highlights:  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).  A short STEEP hike takes you to a viewpoint of the reservoir and North Guilford farmlands.

Distance:  5.5-miles
Elevation Gain: about 930 feet
Parking Area/Trailhead:  Off West Lane - plug 437 West Ln, Berlin, CT 06037 into Google Maps.  There is no formal parking lot but instead, a few spaces at the trailhead and hikers park along the right side of West Lane.
Highlights:  Sweeping views of the reservoir, nice loop in a scenic wooded preserve.  Get there early as the trail gets busy quick.  

Distance:  4.3 miles
Elevation:  1,000+' of elevation
Somehow I ended up following a different trail description for "East Peak/Castle Craig" on the park brochure.  While the brochure advertised 4.3 miles and 1,000', our hike clocked in at 500' and 3.5 miles.  We may have missed a section or turned back to soon but either way, it was fun exploring a new part of Connecticut and forcing myself to leave the cozy nest of the shoreline.  
Highlights:  A hike with 1,000' of elevation gain right in the middle of Connecticut, You can get in a quick blood pumping hike to Castle Craig among the Hanging Hills of Connecticut.   The castle and the hike are in Hubbard Park which is on the National Register of Historic Places.  Vista's, castle, and elevation on a dog-friendly hike. 

Distance:  2.5 miles out and back 
Elevation:  approx. 400' 
Easy to moderate.  Generally family friendly, nice and short.  Little steep sections up rocky areas may be difficult for small children, which can also be very slippery after a rainstorm.
Trailhead:  Wintechog Hill Road -- Take I-95 to Exit 92. Follow Route 2 west. Turn left on Wintechog Hill Road just before reaching Foxwoods Resort Casino. The parking area and trail entrance is on the right.
Highlights:  Short hike with vistas of the reservoir - gorgeous in the fall.  There are some cliffy sections and some great overlooks as you follow the trail to the main overlook.  A lot of the trail is over rock which can get very slippery between rain storms and leaves on the ground.  

Distance: The main loop around the park is a 4-mile wide old dirt road. There are various smaller trails branching off from the main dirt road.
Parking/Trail head:  Take a left at the first light onto Depot Road. Park entrance is at the end of the road and the trail starts from the parking lot. 
Highlights:  Wide easy to follow jeep trail with water views.  You can stop at the beach and there is a nice picnic area/kayak launch by the parking lot. 

Distance: There is a main 3-mile loop hike with plenty of side trails throughout.  
Trailhead: The end of Palmer Neck Road in Stonington, Connecticut.  Keep your eye out for the "castle" on your way to Barn Island.  There are parking spaces for a few cars at the entrance to main loop trail; there is also a large paved parking lot at the boat launch.
Highlights:  Barn Island is a 1,000+ acre preserve in Stonington, Connecticut.  Barn Island has been called the "Wild Coast of Connecticut" and the beauty of this preserve lies in its lack of development. Enjoy trails from wooded paths to open fields and enjoy water views while you walk the preserve.