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.
East River Preserve
Connecticut's shores are a big draw for many of us who call this state home. But, the shoreline town of Guilford has its own unique pull for folks looking to connect to the outdoors.
Acquired by the town in 2009, East River Preserve is a 600-acre property that showcases an intricate network of marshes, grasslands, and forest. There are two entry points to the preserve; one on Sullivan Drive, the other on Clapboard Hill Road.
I began my hike on the latter, parking on the small lip where the trailhead leads into the woods. I was lucky enough to come here after last weekend's snowstorm but before this week's blizzard. And that layer of snow was just enough to give the forest a magical appearance.
Blazed in blue, the New England National Scenic Trail is one of a handful of marked trails you can find in the preserve. This one runs for the most part close to its left edge. Almost right away, it looped to the left, bringing me to a rocky outcrop. With snow proving slippery and hiding any crags underfoot, I carefully picked my way up to the top.
It's here where I discovered a beautiful vantage point of the East River below. I could see the river snake through the landscape of coastal forest and tidal marshes, all the while, hearing the distant rush of water from a connecting stream. Trust me, it's definitely worth the time to take a moment and drink it all in.
After getting my fill, I carefully picked my way down the path where it soon evened out. Here the trail is well-defined and easy to navigate despite the snow. Soon, I came upon the stream I heard babbling from atop that rocky outcrop. Here, I found the water surging over remnants of a broken dam before meeting up with the tidal marsh.
Further down the path, small, wooden planks allowed me to cross over the stream. The path hangs right, but, instead, I took a small detour heading up the hill to explore. The climb was a bit precarious, but with a sturdy make-shift walking stick, I was able to scrabble my way up to one of a few unmarked paths that can be found here.
I took this trail deeper into the preserve keeping the stream at the bottom of the hill parallel to me. Eventually, the unmarked path I was on met up with the blue trail where I continued my hike until I reached a residential street. I quickly crossed over Duckhole Road, which cuts through the preserve, before hopping back onto the trail.
The landscape here begins to change dramatically. As I headed deeper into the woods, I found large boulders scattered haphazardly about; the trail weaving deftly around these immovable objects. But, maneuvering around these massive rocks didn't make my hike any harder, it just made it more interesting.
For me, this was a good point to turn back. Continuing on the trail, will lead hikers to fields, a footbridge, and a swing past the Foote Cemetery, before reaching another parking lot on Sullivan Drive. But, without a way back to my car, I decided to turn around.
This time, when I reached the fork where the unmarked path meets the Scenic Trail, I chose the latter. Doing so, brought me closer to the stream and in direct view of yet another broken dam that once held back the fast-moving water.
In less than 10 minutes, I retraced my steps and headed back to my car, only to come across a swarm of vehicles crammed into the small lot. It's an obvious testament to the popularity of this preserve and the gems it holds within its borders.
Trail Difficulty: Easy to Moderate (unmarked portions)
Trail Length: 3 miles (round trip)
Directions: Take I-95 to Exit 59, Goose Lane. Take the first left onto Clapboard Hill Rd. In a little less than a mile, parking will be on the left. For the lot on Sullivan Drive, take I-95 to Exit 59, Goose Lane. Turn left onto Goose Lane and go about 1.6 miles. Turn right onto Sullivan Dr. to the lot.