Since childhood, my love of the outdoors has always been a part of me. And as an adult, I hope to share that passion with my own children.
So, I offered this challenge to my family, to join me in exploring the hidden treasures and more popular gems Connecticut and the surrounding region have to offer.From hiking to biking to kayaking, I hope my window into the outside world inspires you to explore as well.
DEVIL'S HOPYARD STATE PARK
Between its iconic waterfall and its mysterious folklore, Devil's Hopyard State Park in East Haddam is one of the more popular hiking spots in the state. And such distinctions truly live up to its promise.
Even in November, the parking lots were packed with visitors anxious to explore. I chose the lot closest to the top of Chapman Falls. Of course, the sight is one of the park's biggest draws. I could hear the roar of the water tumbling down the huge boulders as soon as I left the car.
So, before heading out on my hike, I spent some time circling the falls enamored by its 60-foot drop over a series of stone steps. Many of the pothole formations made in the stone here give life to one of a handful of tales as how the park got its name. One particular story focuses on early settlers who found such formations a mystery. They attributed the strange stones to the Devil himself, saying he was so angry to get his tail wet in the water, he burned holes in the stones with his hooves.
There are other mythical tales such as this, and they only add to the park's allure. But, so does the trail system that spans this 860-acre parcel of land. And, there are a handful to choose from. For me, the orange ‘vista' trail seemed most promising according to the kiosk stationed at the top of the falls. So, I set off down the road for a short distance before spotting the unmarked trail I needed to kick off my two-mile journey.
The landscape here is craggy with rocks pushing up every which way before leading you steeply downhill onto the forest floor. About 50 yards in, I spotted the orange trail I was seeking marked with a directional stake in the ground. The accompanying markers on the trees are also quite visible and easy to follow.
The trek from here steadily climbs uphill as it makes its way to the promised vista. The trail is a bit rugged to maneuver especially with layers of leaves underfoot to disguise the roots and rocks below. But, if you move along nice and steady, you can quickly gain ground.
Besides the falls themselves, I found this stretch to be popular with other hikers on the trail as well. I saw families, groups of children, and couples with dogs all traipsing down from the higher vantage points before me. But, as I made my way deeper into the woods and farther up the hill, the crowds soon dispersed.
After about 20 minutes, I arrived at my next destination at the top of the ridge. Once there, the trail offers choices. An offshoot to the left brings you to the viewpoint promised. From here, you are able to witness the geological history of how the valley before you was formed. It highlights the combination of continental collisions and glacial modifications that helped form it. The view is worth the extra mileage.
After taking this brief reprieve, I headed out on the main loop that would bring me back to the falls. As before, this part of the hike doesn't disappoint. At one point, a massive ledge formation erupts from the hillside. This is known as the “Devils Oven” and offers up a cave-like opening that is symbolic of – what else – but an oven.
Heading further down to the forest floor, the path eventually runs parallel to the Eight Mile River. This portion of the hike is also enjoyable. Sitting by the babbling water offered me a chance to rejuvenate and enjoy a moment of solitude before heading back.
And, within a matter of minutes, the trail began to bustle once again. As dogs played by the water and children ran through the covered bridge, others stood mesmerized as the falls thundered down on the rocks below. Further proof as to why people are drawn to this devil's playground.
Directions: Take CT-9 to Exit 7, left at the end of the ramp onto Route 82 east/154 north. Take a right at the first light and follow the signs.
From I-395, take Exit 80 west. Take a right onto Route 82 west. Take a right onto Hopyard Road and follow signs.
Trail Difficulty: Moderate
Trail Distance: 2 miles