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.
Stout Family Fields & Penwood State Forest
Just the other day – I conquered a mountain. Well, not quite. But, after tackling 4 trails, hiking 6 miles of terrain, and catching a glorious view from atop a cliff – it sure felt like it.
And why not? I wanted to try out first hand one of the more than 220 outdoor spots being highlighted in this weekend's Connecticut Trails Weekend – by far one of the largest trail events of any state.
This one at Penwood State Forest in Bloomfield caught my eye. And so, I began my exploration at the edge of Stout Family Fields – located at the end of a cul-de-sac on Stone Hill Road. The property belongs to the Wintonbury Land Trust. And, on this picture-perfect day, the field was something out of “Little House on the Prairie”.
I had my faithful dog Sampson with me on this adventure. And, we began it with a climb up the small hill and straight across the meadow. A makeshift path, trimmed low among the field's tall grasses and wildflowers, made it easy to navigate.
We quickly made our way to the edge of Penwood State Park – an 800-acre forest complete with lakes, trees, and an impressive pinnacle that offers a view that goes on for miles. Stumbling upon the Red Trail, our quest began easily enough. We headed right on a trail that goes in either direction.
The path here is a mix of crushed stone and asphalt and passes through some dense forest complete with cool rock formations. Eventually the path curves and spills out onto open fields – where folks can picnic or walk the grounds of a beautifully-landscaped area.
Here, Sampson and I picked up on yet another path that led back to the woods. The trail – which loops through a good majority of the park - is unmarked but, paved – making it easy to follow. And on this leg of the hike, it quickly began its hillside ascent.
The climb definitely wore on us, but the cool breeze and abundant shade came as a welcome relief. That was particularly true after taking a breather by Lake Louise. The Metacomet Trail converges here and a kiosk stands at the crossroads as a guide.
After consulting the map, we followed the boarded walkway for a quick peek at the lake. Quiet and secluded, the site offers visitors a pretty view of the water and surrounding marsh.
Hitting the trail again, we made our way closer to the ridgeline. The unmarked trail breaks off onto the yellow path. This brought us closer to the edge of the cliff and with it, promises of a better vantage point.
And, it didn't disappoint. Now, I may have mentioned this before, but I am not a fan of heights. Scratch that. I am terrified of them. So, when I say the trail skims the edge of the cliff here -- I am not exaggerating.
For those that can relate, I found myself frozen in my tracks. But, with the promise of such a spectacular sight, I crept my way along the trail – inching closer to the edge. My fear -- only tempered by the stunning vista from the Cedar Ridge Overlook. This crest sits atop the northerly portion of the Talcott Mountain Ridge and offers a sweeping view of Simsbury far below.
Not one to sit for too long, Sampson began to get antsy. And once again, I followed the yellow path away from the edge and deeper into the woods. Seeking variety, we jumped back onto the unmarked trail and detoured onto connecters that led to the Metacomet.
We explored this rockier path a bit before hopping back onto the paved trail and making our way back down the mountain. Once again, we passed some familiar landmarks on the way. But traveling in the opposite direction gave me a fresh perspective -- and I made sure to take the time to enjoy it.
All said and done, my three-hour hike to Penwood logged in double the miles and sparked a new appreciation for the protected parks and forests unique to Connecticut. One-of-a-kind places just waiting to be explored.
For a complete listing of hikes and events for Connecticut Trails Weekend, log onto ctwoodlands.org/ct-trails-weekend.
Directions: Take I-91 N to Exit 35A/B for CT-218 toward Windsor/Bloomfield. Continue left on Exit 35B. Turn left onto CT-218 W. In four miles, turn right onto CT-189 N. In half-a-mile, turn left onto Gabb Rd. Take slight left onto CT-178 W. Turn right onto Mountain Ave. Take slight right onto Duncaster Road. In about a mile, turn left onto Stone Hill Road. Park at the end of the cul-de-sac that abuts the field.
Trail Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Trail Distance: 6 miles (combined)