I can’t always make it to my favorite trail, the Appalachian Trail. It’s at least an hour drive in any direction. So when I have less time I enjoy finding new closer spots that provide the serenity I love as well as that have at least some challenge in the terrain. A view from an overlook is always a bonus.
In early January I explored a park in Ridgefield I had on my radar, and also learned a little bit more about this park when looking at the options for that morning. Ridgefield is about a 25-minute drive for me which is doable, and I’ve done much of the trails there. I will go back and explore more of the trails on that last hike at Seth Low Pierrepont State park, as well as the Hemlock Hills trails. On the way up route 7 I’ve noticed signs for a few others like Bobby’s Court and Topstone Park. I get excited whenever I see a trailhead, and make a note to explore those when I get the chance.
Having the afternoon off last Wednesday and needing to clear my head of a lot of extra baggage, I was once again looking for a trail to explore. I thought about finishing the Housatonic Range trail in New Milford. But that is 5.7 miles, almost an hour away, and challenging enough that I just wasn’t sure I wouldn’t be racing the sunlight and hence moving too fast on the tough parts and risking injury. One feature known as “Suicide Ledges” entails a 10-20ft scramble through and over large boulders and ledges as I understand it.
While I’m up for the challenge I was also concerned that time pressure and potential leftover ice and snow would make it unsafe without a hiking partner. I did try a few of my friends in the area but as it was mid week the best I could secure was a shuttle back to the start.
In hindsight it warmed up significantly by this time and I likely could have made it work but I think it’s always better to be safe than sorry. I’m a husband and a dad and bravado and risk taking doesn’t just affect me anymore. I’ve read way too many backcountry disaster stories to feel good about my decisions when I play it safe and wait for the right conditions to approach a challenge.
So I re-focused my attention on closer areas and looked up Topstone park in Redding. Right off Route 7 just east of Ridgefield, it was just over 20 minutes away and a very pleasant surprise. There is a large pond in the middle of the park, with a beachfront and canoes, kayaks, dinghies and what looked like a jumping platform. The gate to this area was closed for the off-season though you are permitted to walk around it to enjoy the trails that circle the pond and above on the eastern and western hills and ridges.
I parked in the main lot and checked in on my alltrails app which has all of the trails marked within and I was on my way up the Saddleback trail. Also called ‘the west way’ as it climbs and follows the ridge of a 650ft hill due west of the lot. I was amused that the trails here were white-blazed like my favorite trail. Technically this trail is east of the pond but facing due south in the lot it is indeed west. It climbs quickly up the hill then levels off as it skirts the edge of a wetland and a few homes in the woods before winding through more forest and over streams that feed the pond. This trail, known as Boulder Top, also has two connectors to a nearby road and eventually reaches the pond trail near the beach. This trail, or rather all the trails in this park, are white-blazed but well marked with fresh blazes and signs at each intersection.
I followed the pond trail around the perimeter, enjoying nice views of the beach and pond at water level. It reminded me of Sunfish pond on the A.T. in New Jersey. Another trail or two led up to the road from the pond trail before I reached the turn off to start the climb up to the views on Topstone Mountain. The Pond trail continues around the perimeter of the pond, but I planned to come back that way once I saw on my app that there was a trail known as the Base Trail which would bring me back from the summits on a connector midway up the mountain.
I headed up the Topstone trail and after going a bit past the next turnoff, turned around and found the next junction I missed. To be fair it was marked; I was just in the moment and walked past a little bit. I made the turn back up hill and climbed up the trail to the summit between large walls of rock that made up the base of the ledges I’d soon be standing on. They were dramatic and very attractive to look at. My heartbeat began to pick up from the scenery as much as from the modest ascent. While only a few hundred feet in elevation gain, It was just as good as many a portion of the Appalachian Trail.
I reached the first viewpoint which looks east over the pond and beach below and took a break to process a few things while perched on the rocky ledge. I imagine in summer the scene below is one of much activity and that this spot too would have been occupied by a few of the more adventurous kids enjoying the day with their families.
Knowing there were more views to be had I moved on and took a left on the long view trail which leads .2 miles to the edge of another of the rocky prominences I saw on my walk up here. That view is known as long view and has an equally if not more impressive view all the way across Route 7 to the hills and farms of Ridgefield as well as south to West Redding’s other hills.
Here I sat longer under a pitch pine taking in what was indeed a long view and had a snack. My sadness I came to address had lifted and a big grin came across my face as I took it all in. Like the views at Pine Mountain or Seth Low Mountains in Ridgefield, these were no disappointment. They required only a small effort to reach and provided the kind of views you’d expect from larger hills and mountains.
I headed back down the other side of the mountain and picked up the Base trail which would bring me back to where I was previously but only briefly before I descended back to the pond trail. The base trail is aptly named as it follows along the base of the long high walls of rock that made up the mountain’s body. Here the temperature was at least twenty degrees cooler, as the cliffs shaded me from the sun, and I bathed in cool breezes.
I smiled again and recalled when we did a section in Beartown State Forest along the A.T. in Massachusetts which also skirted walls of rock caves and represented a significant temperature drop. Those caves were surely home to bears, and I did spot one small cave in the wall here but for obvious reasons opted not to try and get a closer look! It was very unseasonably warm and in the mid 60s — hotter in the sun. So this small stretch was a nice relief not to mention quite beautiful.
After reaching the bottom I followed the pond trail along its western edge and past a small swimming area and the drainage causeway that emptied the pond into another large stream. Here there was the platform as I imagined to be for jumping from. I am not sure though as the pond empties just behind it and while there may be a grate, perhaps that would be too strong a current to swim next to. The trail then climbs back through woods to the parking lot of the beach area and then follows the entry road back to the lot I parked in.
It was a lovely hike, with nice views and just enough challenge. There were several spots in the forest where I wish I could have just set up my tent for the night , but that is obviously not allowed nor was an overnight in today’s plan or I would have gone elsewhere! I highly recommend this park. I don’t recall the parking fees for the beach or if you have to be a resident, but if you just want to walk the trails I don’t think there’s any restrictions year round. I think the main issue would be finding parking on a nice weekend. That said you could access the trails from the side trails to the road I passed on my loop. I am sure they have small parking areas along the road for a car or two.