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.
JONES MOUNTAIN PRESERVE
Green. It's the first thing that comes to mind upon entering Jones Mountain Open Space Preserve in New Hartford.
From towering trees to moss-covered stones, it is 158 acres of pure magic. As I entered the forest with my dog Sampson, the light rain falling this morning was a true compliment to such a lush landscape.
The trail starts simply enough with a wooden platform at its start. There are a few different paths that wind their way through the woods. But it's the red trail - that follows the preserve's perimeter - that seemed the most challenging.
Almost instantly, I felt cocooned by the forest as we set off on our trek. The trail – peppered with rocks – begins a steady, but upwards climb up the mountain. The path is narrow and fits well with its surroundings -- accentuating the landscape rather than dominating it.
The site here has history, once belonging to the Jones family – one of the first families to settle in New Hartford back in 1670. The town now owns the property with volunteers keeping the trails well-maintained and free of trash.
I found the path well marked, but red blazes are sometimes accompanied by white marks that also appear along the trail. Soon enough, the path evens out and dumps out onto what's known as the Vista Road. This old carriage road was built by hand in the early 1900s. It runs parallel to private land where hunting takes place between October and March. So, be sure to keep on the beaten path.
As we traveled, I could hear the rain fall on the upper canopy of the forest. Luckily, the thick foliage kept us dry for the most part. But, it kept us moving at a pretty good clip to the peak of the mountain to a place known as the ‘bare spot'.
Here, I was witness to a dramatic view of the Farmington river valley below. Rolling hills draped in fog and rain also added a nice touch. Carvings in the boulders at my feet were just as intriguing. Aged over time, you can still make out the letters of names and other words etched in the stone - and in one case what looks to be a date of 1838.
Back on the trail, we rounded the loop, before taking a brief side trip to a small meadow. Here, an unusual structure stands, worn and seemingly, out of place. It looks to be the remnants of what some refer to as the ‘foam dome'. And, it's definitely worth a peek.
Following this side trip, we continued along the carriage road and quickly made our way downhill where we came across a beautiful stone bridge that spans a small brook. It's yet another detail of how magical this forest looks and feels.
As we neared the bottom of the mountain, we came upon a detour. A sign along the red trail points hikers in the direction of the white path that veers left from the road. We took this before quickly turning to our right and onto the yellow trail.
Within moments, the path crosses over onto private property, so staying on the trail is important. This connector is short but wonderfully scenic. Beyond the usual foliage, we passed a quaint, walled pond as well as impressive ruins of a large stone building.
Grateful for the detour, we soon reconnected to the red trail and wrapped up a wonderfully rich hike at the heart of New Hartford -- just as the rain came pouring down.
Directions: Take I-84 W to Exit 39 toward CT-4/Farmington. Continue on State Hwy 508 for a little less than a mile. Hwy 508 becomes CT-4. Stay on CT-4 for a little more than seven miles. Continue onto CT-179 N for two miles. Turn right onto Bridge St. Turn left onto CT-179 N/River Rd. Turn left onto US-202 W for about three miles. Turn right onto Steele Rd. Travel a little more than two miles and past Nepaug State Forest. Gravel parking will be on the right at the trailhead. If you pass Burdick Rd., you have gone too far.
Trail Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Trail Distance: 2.5 miles