Exploring Topstone Park, Redding, CT

Off we go!

Off we go!

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.

One of the streams that feeds the pond

One of the streams that feeds the pond

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.

Topstone Mountain in the distance

Topstone Mountain in the distance

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.

 

Along the pond edge before the climb

Along the pond edge before the climb

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.

Eastern view from Topstone Mtn

Eastern view from Topstone Mtn

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.

Too bad no camping here!

Too bad no camping here!

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.

Beech in winter along the pond

Beech in winter along the pond

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.

Beech in winter along the pond

Beech in winter along the pond

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.

The Long View

The Long View

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.

Trail junction

Trail junction

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.

The base trail follows the rocky ridgeline

The base trail follows the rocky ridgeline

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.

Swimming spot

Swimming spot

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.

Pond spillway

Pond spillway

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.

Miles: 4

— Linus

Ives Trail Finale

On the Boardwalk

On the Boardwalk

I thought ‘Finale’ was an appropriate word as Charles Ives was a composer, after all. And final-e I have completed the Ives trail! It did involve repeating a little ground I covered recently, but it was free of snow this time, so a different experience.

It turns out my AMC club was covering the whole trail in two hikes this weekend and next — first the eastern portion and then the western. So I took advantage of this fact and did the eastern half with them yesterday, completing the trail for me.

They have done this trail in big portions like this in the past, and even the whole 20-mile trail in one day, but up until now I always had something planned. So I was doing the trail my way, when I could, in little out-and-back pieces. It being so close to home has helped me knock off a large portion of it before now.

Trail thank yous

Trail thank yous

Down the road, I will be able to do longer sections of trails with less out-and-backs and loops. And while I enjoy any hike for the mental and physical benefits it brings me, I will be honest that having to double the mileage to see a whole trail means I have less time to explore others I’ve been wanting to. I get plenty of solo hikes in, and the convenience of car shuttling is hard to beat when I want to explore more new trails. I don’t mind the company either, especially when Fielden Stream or the kids can’t join me. I had been hoping there would be another Ives trail group hike scheduled soon, and I got my wish.

Beech and Laurel

Beech and Laurel

We met at Tarrywile Park and drove down to the Redding train station, which is about a half-mile road walk from the trailhead. Turns out we probably could have parked along the road at the trailhead, but it wasn’t exactly a tough walk either, and there was no question that we could park at the station. There is a preserve here called the Bogus Brook preserve with its own blazed trails that crisscross the Ives trail, which used to be one of these itself. Here it shares the route with its former self, a white-blazed trail called the Bogus Brook trail. I enjoyed following a different set of white blazes. After a quick ascent up to a good-sized hill, it descended and crossed a railroad track for metro-north.

It next winds through the woods of another local nature preserve until arriving at a half-mile road walk past beautiful mansions. Clearly they could not get right-of-way here because of the large swafts of private land in the area.

Climbin' ropes!

Climbin’ ropes!

This was further evidenced in the next portion where large fences cordoned off large, empty sections of woods along property lines. Seemed an awful shame to have these unsightly fences all through the woods, protecting seemingly nothing. My only positive guess to why these are here is to keep pets on the property or wild animals off, though no houses could be seen so these are obviously large tracts of land. We followed a ridge for a mile or so before crossing a brook and reaching an old woods road which we followed for another mile or so. Then, as it reached a house, the trail re-entered the forest and climbed the steep hill I finished my last snowy hike here on top of.

This is where the fun started.  I am so glad I did not venture down this hill in the snow last time. It was steep, undeveloped trail that would have made for a nice slide on the way down, and a tough climb on the way up.

Finished the trail!

Finished the trail!

Fortunately, and for good reason, there is a rope tied to a tree and hanging down the side of the hill for the tricky spots. It wasn’t that tricky going up this time except for one spot where you needed to scramble up a 3 ft rock face that was dripping wet. So I used the rope.

We took a break at the top, as it was not only a great spot in the snow last time, but even better without it. We took some group photos and I had the group leader take a picture of me poised on the rock in the center of this spot, as I said a little “woo-hoo.” Trail complete!

We then proceed down the hill and into Tarrywile Park for a few miles, passing the neat little bus stop shelter (and map-less kiosk) and along the edge of the pond before reaching our cars. I’ve spent a lot of time in the park these last few months, and on the Ives trail. I’ve had lots of adventures and ups and downs (pun intended) along the way, and look forward to returning when I can. For now, its on to the next one.

Ripples

Ripples

Although I have lots of ridge running to do this season on the A.T. in Connecticut, as well as the New York section to finish and the Massachusetts portion to start, I am thinking I will try and complete the Housatonic Range trail and or the Mohawk Trail before the end of the year as well.

Happy Trails.

Miles: 8.02 not including the walk from the station.

— Linus