One of the earliest trails Fielden Stream and I hiked when we were really beginning to get into regular hiking was a 1.3 mile section of the Housatonic Range trail in Connecticut. The total trail is 5.9 miles long and traces an old Native American footpath along the ridgelines south of those the Appalachian Trail follows as it enters Connecticut in Sherman. That day we did a total 2.6 miles out-and-back, to cover the southern end, where Route 37 splits the trail.
Those mountains, Pine Knob and Candlewood mountain have some beautiful walks through evergreen forests, as well as twisting, piled boulders to scramble through and over, if you’d like to. (There’s a few views to the ridges to the east from Pine Knob, but the summit of Candlewood is wooded). Luckily, the rest of the trail had beautiful forests and fun scrambles too. And five years later I finally got back and finished it.
Maybe it was the name of the included rock feature “Suicide Ledges” on this portion of the trail that sub-consciously made me pass by so many times on the way to hike elsewhere to be safe? Or maybe it was just that I was falling in love fast with the A.T. and my volunteer work on that trail, so this nice little trail had to wait a bit longer to be finished.
Either way, it was time. I reached out to my friend Brian who is an AMC-CT chapter member as well and a frequent hiking buddy. A tree surgeon, he’s also a great source of tree species knowledge and I’m always picking his brain on which bush or tree I’m looking at. Slowly but surely I’m getting some of them memorized.
We dropped one car at the northern terminus on Gaylord Road in Gaylordsville and headed back to the trail crossing on route 37 in New Milford. From there the trail north follows a road about a quarter mile and then through a marshy strip nestled between homes and back yards. Unfortunately as we passed one giant glacial erratic, someone had spray painted anti-semitic symbols on it. I will not show a picture here. I will not let that message infiltrate any more space than it already has or make anyone else feel bad.
But I reported it after the hike to the Connecticut Forest and Parks Association who manages the trail and they are taking action. Being so close to backyards here, I guess mischief didn’t have to travel far to spread their message of hate. Sadly, these messages seem to be much more prevalent in today’s political climate. I’ve never seen anything like this on a trail before. Graffiti, lots ; hate graffiti, none. Let’s hope they quickly cover up the graffiti. But while that made me sad, it’s worth continuing as the trail gets quite beautiful, and challenging. If only I had remembered my micro-spikes! Shortly after reaching the woods proper, you come face to face with a large boulder wall.
Here, sooner than I expected, was the feature known as “Suicide Ledges.” It’s really a large wall of boulders with a route through some “caves” made up of gaps in boulder piles similar to Maine’s Mahoosuc Notch. Next it takes you scrambling up to the top of the flat wide ledge, which I hope was not named for an actual suicide that took place from here. The scrambling was a lot of fun, and we took our time exploring the rocks and then took a short break enjoying the view south to Candlewood Mountain, which is notably pointy and pronounced and easy to spot.
Having just been at almost 5,000ft in North Carolina the weekend before, and with no snow on the high summits, I for some reason forgot I lived in New England. Much colder, and with recent snow while I was in North Carolina, I arrived in trail runners to find at least an inch of snow down in places. Luckily, while it added a little more effort to the long plods through snowy trail, it wasn’t deep enough to really tire me out.
We crossed a few brooks, following the tracks of turkeys, deer, and later, raccoons and passed through Hemlock forests, Mountain Laurel stands, and a half mile street walk (with a rather confusing re-entry to the woods) before descending off the first ridge. There, after one more very short road walk, the trail climbs higher once more to the top of a ridge which is adjacent to Gaylord road below. We saw a couple hiking with their dog there, but other than the wildlife we were alone on the trail that morning. The trail followed this ridge to another boulder pile along the northwest crest of the mountain, and this feature is known as Straits Rock. From there, a quick steep descent that challenged me the most without my boots and micro-spikes, took us past another ‘cave’ in the towering boulders.
This one the trail doesn’t go through as it’s too small for an adult to pass through easily. The trail was narrow and still following a steep drop off here so I took it slow and used my bottom to slide in one or two places so I wouldn’t slide off the mountainside. Here it reminded me a lot of Cheshire Cobble on the A.T. in Cheshire, Massachusetts.
As we reached the bottom of the ridge, the trail passed a few nice little cabins that we gladly would have called our own had we the means and then across another brook and up to the road. Our section hike was only 4.6 miles, but came out to about 5 with our wandering around a bit on the rocks and the road at the top of Boardman Mountain trying to find the trail again after the road walk.
If you don’t mind a little civilization in between your forest walks, this is a nice local trail I recommend. There is an actual marble solutional cave along Route 7 called the “Tory’s Cave” where Tories in the Revolutionary war hid. And there is a connector trail to it and the road parking from the Housatonic RangeTrail and vice versa. It is believed to be the only actual cave in Connecticut. Everything else is really just boulder piles with spaces in between. But it’s not open to the public at this time, to protect the bat population. There is now a steel gate installed there.
I really enjoyed following the path once trod by native people, and at one point felt that I, like the deer, were following their spiritual path through a historic forest and through history itself. This trail was as fun as I expected it to be, and I got a few of my hiker friends excited about it too through sharing photographs.
With this trail done, my next non-Appalachian Trail adventure is to finish the northern ten miles of the Mohawk Trail. This bit was once the A.T. itself, and this is the steepest, most dramatic section. It will make for a great warmup to my ridgerunner season, so i will fit that in late in the spring.
Wildlife: Deer, Raccoon, Turkeys (we saw the actual deer later…)