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.
WOLF ROCK NATURE PRESERVE/SAWMILL BROOK PRESERVE
Sometimes when I set off on a hike, I pick places that highlight a natural landmark or serve as a destination spot. But, I found my trip to two adjacent preserves in Mansfield offered a double dose of treasures to see.
Owned by Joshua’s Trust, Wolf Rock Nature Preserve abuts the town-owned land of Sawmill Brook Preserve. Combined, the properties cover about 188 acres of ridgeline, marsh and woodland – each with its own unique qualities.
With so much to see, I, along with my sister Chris, set off one hot, muggy morning on a sliver of a trail right off Crane Hill Road. The trailhead is easily missed if you’re not paying attention - so, keep your eyes peeled for the sign.
Once we parked on a small pull-off on the side of the road, we headed into the woods. A kiosk with a detailed map offers nuggets of history to hikers interested in learning about their surroundings. It is worth a glance, even if just to orient yourself.
Once we did so, we followed along the blue Nipmuck Trail, and began an almost immediate climb. Here, craggy rocks are scattered across the landscape – reminders of the glacial movements the area witnessed some 15,000 years ago.
It didn’t take long to get to the first real highlight of the hike – Wolf Rock. Known as one of the best landmarks in town, this six-foot boulder is perched on the edge of a 40-foot drop created by the ice from eons past.
According to the trust, Wolf’s Rock once sported an observation tower which no longer exists. But, the rock remains a testament to this region’s natural history which can be traced in deeds dating back to the late 1700s.
Apart from this fascinating history, the views along the ledge here are just as impressive. We took the time to look out among the tree canopies and open fields beyond – reveling in the beautiful view the weather afforded us.
We soon turned back to the trail deciding to follow the yellow-blazed path which marks the Trust’s own trail. This trek took us through the exposed bedrock that populates this land. We also passed an abandoned road that once connected Mansfield Center to this area.
As we neared Wolf Rock Brook, the landscape shifts yet again. Signs of the wet environment pop up everywhere – from the heavy presence of water-based vegetation to the appearance of a wayward frog on the trail.
On this oppressively hot day, we were more than grateful for the heavy tree cover as we wound our way deeper into the woods and onto the next property – Sawmill Brook Preserve.
We hopped back on the Nipmuck Trail for this leg of our trip – crossing the brook and rounding a pretty marsh along the way. There’s a well-built viewing stand for those hoping to take a breather while taking in the view. It’s a great little spot for pictures as is another water-side niche a bit further down the trail on the other end of the marsh.
Closing in on a good two miles, my sister and I came across an open area where the utility power lines cut through. On this brilliant day, the view is impressive, with visions of rolling land that dips steeply down to a brook before shooting back up to what’s known as Beech Mountain.
On any other given day, hikers can travel another mile or so to experience the changes in the wooded landscape and visions of old stone walls that grace so many of our New England forests. But, being under the blaring sun, the temps shot up to almost unbearable heights and sealed our decision to turn around and head back home.
The return trip was far from routine though. We paid particular attention to the bustling wildlife of sunning snakes and scurrying woodland creatures that squealed at our approach. Spotting a shortcut, we trekked our way back through the heart of Wolf Rock preserve – feeling every step of that uphill climb – until we made it to our final destination.
Taking a moment to catch our breath, we reflected on what turned out to be a surprisingly diverse adventure filled with history - both natural and man-made. And although the vista alone from atop Wolf Rock was well worth this Connecticut hike, it was time for yet another vision – that of a cold, icy drink to leisurely sip on while relaxing inside an even cooler roadside restaurant.
Directions: Take I-384 E toward Providence. Continue onto US-44 E/US-6 E. After about 7 ½ miles, turn right onto CT-32 S. Turn left onto Mansfield City Rd. Take slight left onto Browns Rd. Take a sharp right onto Crane Hill Rd. Go about .2 miles to the trail-crossing. Limited, roadside parking is available.
Trail Distance: 3 miles
Trail Difficulty: Easy