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.
Cockaponset State Forest
Finally. Spring is taking hold and the itch to get outdoors is overwhelming. And, with 60% of the state covered by forested land, the possibilities are endless. I took the challenge on my mid-week hike and headed to the Cockaponset State Forest in Chester with my dog Murphy.
Coming in at close to 16,700 acres, the forest is the second-largest in the state - covering land in 11 towns. Named after a Native American chief, said to be buried in Haddam, the park's sheer size and reach can take your breath away.
It opens itself up to activities such as horseback riding and mountain biking. And in the heart of the park, the Chester Cedar Swamp sits - recognized as a National Natural Landmark.
But, it's the park's extensive trail system that caught my attention with about 20 miles of marked trails and another 100 miles available to trek. That, combined with my love of water, led me to Chester's Pattaconk Lake.
In summer, boating, fishing, and swimming rule the day here. But on this morning hike, only quiet greeted us as we set off from the parking area near the bottom of this reservoir.
The stillness enveloped us as we took to the blue and red-marked Pattaconk Trail. Early on, the path was bogged down in mud – which we easily sidestepped. The trail dried out, the rockier it became. But, it was still easy to maneuver as long as we didn't get caught up in any loose leaf litter that peppered the trail.
Soon after, we made our first stop at the small beach by the lake. Relishing in the quiet, I sat down to soak up the sun for a few moments. Murphy played with the small waves as they lapped onto the shore. Although early on in the hike, it was a welcome reprieve before heading back out on the trail.
Once more, the path here became mucky in spots. And with the mud -- came the mosquitoes. Yes, the mosquitoes. Irritating as they were, I was thankful it wasn't mid-summer and much worse.
Leaving the mud and mosquitoes behind, we rounded the other end of the lake. Along the way, we passed through a youth camp where open wooden structures dot the landscape. Once past, the path becomes rocky again as it treks close to the shore.
Along the way, there are plenty of opportunities to get right up to the water. So, take the time if you can. The view alone is worth it.
As the hike nears its end, the woods open up a bit – bringing you to a small dam where the excess water spills over. The trail dips downhill onto the road and leads back to the parking lot.
And as tempting as the other trails seem, they will have to wait another day. I had my fill -- reveling in a hike that left me recharged and ready to return.
Directions: Take Route 9 S to Exit 6. Take a right off the exit onto CT-148 W for about 1.5 miles. Turn right onto Cedar Lake Road. Drive another 1.5 miles. Turn left at the Pattaconk Lake Sign. Parking is on the right.
Trail Difficulty: Easy
Trail Distance: 2.25 miles