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.
AIR LINE TRAIL
It doesn't matter if it's the dead of winter or at the peak of summer, The Air Line Trail that runs from East Hampton through Thompson has a little something for outdoor enthusiasts of all types.
The linear trail is part of Connecticut's Rails to Trail park system. There are two sections, divided into north and south. Together, the trail spans close to 50 miles.
Originally, this entire corridor was part of the Air Line Railroad dating back to the 1870s. It connected train traffic from New York to Boston. Now, the trail draws hikers, bicyclists, joggers and even folks on horseback.
I began my journey in East Hampton as part of the southern section of the trail. Here, there are several places for parking next to a cranberry bog that once produced the fruit back in the 1920s and 30s.
The path is well paved and easy to travel on. So, it shouldn't be too surprising to see people on the trail despite the frigid temperatures. The scenery is also varied. A pond can be seen peeking through the trees on the right side of the trail about a quarter of a mile in. It's a prime area for some of the area raptors, including peregrine falcons that I've witnessed here on trips past.
As you head farther north on the trail, walls of sheer rock begin to line the path. Water is continuously flowing over the craggy stones and tiny streams run parallel to the pavement below. And if you aren't in a rush, the icicles peppering the walls are worth closer inspection.
As the hike reaches the one-mile marker, you find the surrounding woods around you begin to drop in elevation. There are additional trails marked for hikers who want to explore the more rugged conditions. But, if you continue on the Air Line, you'll soon be greeted by another worthy treat, the bridge known as the Rapallo Viaduct.
Built in 1873, it served as a railroad bridge spanning about 1,400 hundred feet and sitting 60 feet above Flat Brook. By 1913, the bridge required fill because of the weight of the freight trains in use. As you approach the viaduct, you can see some of the old train tresses still poking out of the ground.
It's also a great opportunity to take advantage of the great vantage point you have to view the marsh below and the natural surroundings all around you.
After taking a moment, I decided this would be a great spot to turn around and head back to my starting point; in all making my hike about two and half miles long. For those with a partner, taking two cars to make this a linear hike is also easy to achieve. Many find themselves parking a vehicle at one lot and taking another to a more distant lot on the trail.
Regardless, there is no wrong way to explore the trail. And, the variety it offers makes this path unique to anyone that uses it. In fact, I'm ready to tackle the next section as soon as I can.
Parking: Take CT-66 in East Hampton to CT-196. Turn left onto Flanders Road. Take the first right onto Smith St. The parking lot is on the left.
Trail Difficulty: Easy
Trail Distance: 2.5 miles (from Smith Road lot to Rapallo Viaduct and back)