2016: Highlights of ‘The Trail Mix’ and the CT Outdoors
It’s hard to believe yet another year has gone by. But, over the past 12 months The Trail Mix has seen its fair share of great places to explore. Of those I hiked in 2016, some are little well known, while others attract visitors from near and far.
But don’t worry if you can’t get to all of them … 2017 is just around the corner.
BLUFF POINT STATE PARK - Groton
This is one of those popular places I was talking about that people flock to. Bluff Point is one of the last large swatches of undeveloped land along the Connecticut coastline. Miles of shoreline reveal rocky crags and shelled beaches. It also takes visitors to places like Sunset Rock and offers some quiet walks through the lightly-forested woods. It’s a place tuned to nature and one I truly relish along with so many others.
QUARRY PARK – Rocky Hill
Here’s a spot I never knew existed. But, that’s just me. I hiked this quarry back in April and there was still snow on the ground (hope that doesn’t repeat itself again). What stands out for me is the mix of landscapes to explore here. On one hand, there are sweeping views atop a ridgeline giving way to nature’s resilience. And on the other, a firsthand look at a once-thriving quarry complete with the ghostly remains of its 19th and 20th-century buildings. Trust me, there are hours of exploration to do here. It’s up to you to find the time.
MT. TOM STATE PARK – Litchfield/Morris
I love this place. It’s a fairy tale setting complete with a beautiful view and a tower to boot – what else could I ask for? Despite the climb, Mt. Tom is a great place to come with the kids. And the reward is a spectacular one. The effort to make it to the top of the tower is made worthwhile with the beautiful panoramic view captured from above. It’s worthy of an enchanted tale on its own. And if I were to make my own wish, it would be to preserve more places like this.
WHITE MEMORIAL CONSERVATION CENTER – Litchfield
Yes – it’s yet another spot in Litchfield County that has made my list. But, White Memorial is a special place that can’t be ignored. With 4,000 acres under its belt, this swath of land is steeped in wonder. There are 40 miles of trails here giving the thousands of visitors that come here a fresh perspective each and every time. Hiking isn’t the only way to explore this sweet spot. Kayakers can easily find their niche here as well. And, if you find yourself lucky enough to get out this way, just settle in the fact you’ll end up going back here again and again. You’ll see.
GREAT MEADOWS – Wethersfield
It’s tiny - a non-descript spit of land hardly noticeable from the road. But, Great Meadows is a spot that can single-handedly make you feel like you dropped down the rabbit hole from Alice in Wonderland into a whole other world. I took this hike in summer when lush flora was at its peak. The croaking of frogs in the pond and sweeping views of the marsh definitely add to this preserve’s outdoor mystique. And with its 18th century foundations and a history rich with Native American culture, this small slice of Connecticut is a Goliath in my eyes.
LARKIN STATE PARK TRAIL - Naugatuck
I like bike trails. I truly do – even if I don’t write about them often enough. In comes Larkin Trail. It’s not the grandest of all bike trails (think big brothers – Air Line and Farmington River Trails), but it is one that is under-appreciated. Spanning a 10-mile length across four towns, the Larkin Trail – like so many bike trails – follows an extensive one-time rail system. But instead of tracks, an asphalt path leads bikers through a mix of wooded environments complete with ponds, wildlife, and a chance to ride through a piece of Connecticut history.
KNOWLTON HILL – Mansfield/Ashford
This ‘Quiet Corner’ hiking spot is truly that - quiet. It is everything I look for in a perfect country hike: rolling hills, beautiful meadows, and groves of trees surrounded by old stone walls. If you are looking for that quintessential space where peace and quiet reign – it doesn’t get better than this.
LANTERN HILL – North Stonington
A different type of quiet greets hikers in the southern part of the state. Lantern Hill can usually be found on a number of ‘top ten’ lists. And mine is no exception. The hikes here are a great mix of scenic views and outright tough climbs. The rocks or sheer and loose, but the trek is exhilarating. The prize sits atop the grand hill with dazzling views of the landscape below and a hike that’s well worth the workout.
SESSION WOODS – Burlington
Education is a prime focus at this state preserve. It’s also a place where bears tend to roam. On my visit, I found no bears, but I certainly did get an education. A tree guide helps visitors pinpoint the many species that grow here, and another section of the preserve shows how ‘new forest’ is being regenerated. The property also has a lookout tower with sweeping views and a beaver pond that sparkles with color at the height of the fall season. All, in all, a great spot to explore, and a fascinating one to learn about
MCKINNEY NTL WILDLIFE REFUGE – Westbrook
Finally, here’s a hiking spot I’ve been longing to visit for a few years now – McKinney Wildlife Refuge. It’s the state’s first national wildlife refuge that stretches across 70 miles of coastline. But, its Westbrook property is what drew me in. Homesteads from the region’s early settlers still accentuate this landscape. And while these buildings conjure so much history, this land is so much more than that. Thickets of trees give way to a salty marsh and partially-hidden views of trains rolling by. And, spring meadows bring a sense of serenity to the average wanderer. What a way to start your day…. or even a new year.