Saturday I got back out on the trails for a much needed hike. Two weeks in my insanely hectic life is more than enough time to leave me dying for some nature therapy! I also had to work over the weekend and attend a late night party in NYC for my friend’s birthday – all the more reason for me to make sure I got out there to keep balanced. My wife was wonderful to give me so much time to myself last weekend as she too is feeling the stress of crazy schedules, so I’m sending her to hang out with her sister this weekend for some fun of her own. And I am glad we got to do the last hike together as it had been awhile.
I am really missing our backpacking trips already and spring is too far away. Although thanks to El Nino, the east coast has been experiencing late spring conditions and last Saturday and Sunday both had highs in the 60s and lows in the upper 40s. For this reason I had briefly considered an overnight backpacking trip but ultimately decided against it. That would mean skipping my friend’s birthday, and anyway hiker midnight at 430pm would make for a very long dark night… However had my wife been able to join things might have been different.
But this one I had to do as a day hike. This time I opted for something other than the A.T. and skimmed through the weekend hike offerings from my AMC club. I had originally settled on a group hike on the challenging northern end of the Mohawk trail (once the A.T.’s route). But distance from home and a late start to the hike meant I’d have barely enough time to change my clothes, kiss my wife and kids and rush to the train station if I wanted to make the party in time. Another of their group hike options was with Tom, who I’ve done several hikes with including the trail work at West Rock a few weeks ago. It was a circuit hike on the Lillinonah trail and was only 45 minutes away. The trail is in the Upper Paugussett State Forest, in Newtown, CT. and is about 6 miles long. This choice also meant I got to check a full trail off my completed list!
I pulled the map for the trail out of my Connecticut Walk Book from the CFPA (Connecticut Forest and Parks Association) and gave it a quick study. It’s always good to have your own copy and be somewhat familiar with the layout should you get separated from the leader. These books cover all of the trails in our state, now adding up to over 800 miles and filling two volumes. The original blue-blazed trails added up to about 400 miles and one book. There is another hiking group I do outings with who are actually called the Connecticut 400, and coincidentally, they were out doing the same hike that day and starting just a few minutes earlier.
The trail begins by skirting Pond Brook from the boat launch and then makes a good climb over the first high point to the edge of Lake Lillinonah, which it then follows along a ‘scenic area’ for just over 3 miles before going back into the woods for one more big climb and descent. The scenic area is closed from December 15 to April 15 to let local families of Bald eagles nest, so that may explain why there were a few groups out on this December day.
Lake Lillinonah is actually part of the Housatonic River that was created in 1955 by the Shepaug dam, which we saw from our lunch spot along the lakeside. It’s the second largest lake in the state after Candlewood lake. There were many boaters out on this day, and a few of the hikers in our group also enjoy kayaking and fishing there. Swimming here is discouraged due to heavy boat traffic.
There are a lot of ups and downs on the trail, even if the elevations aren’t that high. All in all there was about 1,100 feet of elevation gain, so it was enough of a work out. While I enjoy a flat trail over an office any day, I like challenging myself, and staying in shape especially for those longer hikes I want to have the stamina for. I definitely felt like I got a good workout, and we added about another half mile to the distance by taking a side excursion to a nice lunch spot overlooking the dam.
While I don’t know if its legally permitted, there were some great camping spots along the lake edge by the trail, and signs that said ‘no fires’, so I’m assuming hunters and fishermen frequently camp there. We did see a hunter out that day, and one of the campsites had a fire ring or two with actual abandoned cooking grills and what looked like an old platform of some sort. There is an official camping area with charcoal grills by the boat launch.
One really interesting sight was a network of what must amount to miles and miles of blue tubes that were hooked up to and around many trees in the area. Apparently this is a new system for collecting tree sap; I’m assuming for a maple syrup operation down the road that I passed on the way home. I was surprised about how extensive the system was, and somewhat impressed and intrigued by this new method of transporting the sap. But I have to say it was very visually unattractive. Considering there is a popular hiking trail adjacent to the property that the tube jungle traverses, it’s too bad that it marred the natural landscape. But for all I know this business owns some of the land the trail is on and allows its use as a trail.