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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 
Trail heads:  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:  6 miles
Elevation Gain:  1,797 feet
Trail head:  Under Mountain Trail head 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 trail head 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: 5.4-miles loop (1 mile of it is on the dirt road on the way back) 
Elevation Gain:  1,078'
Trail head:  The only way to access the trail head 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 trail head
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' 
Trail head: 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
Trail head: 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 trail head 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/Trail head:  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.
Trail head:  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.  
Trail head: 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. 


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