14 Hikes The State Challenges You To Take This Summer

Peter Marteka
Contact Reporterpmarteka@courant.com

Along a hill overlooking the Connecticut River in Cromwell, boys once watched sailing ships ply the waters as they passed a blow hole that shot water from a narrow canyon as the tide rose.

Pitch pines and moss-covered rocks fill a craggy hilltop with a sheer drop to a pond covered with lilies and a forested view of two states.

Welcome to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s Sky’s The Limit adventure that dares hikers to seek the highest points, views or destination points along 14 “lesser-known” hiking trails across Connecticut. Those who find them will be rewarded with bragging rights, plus a staff medallion, pin or hiking staff.

The goal is simple. Visit at least 10 of the 14 parks before the first week in December and take a photo at each of the parks’ entrance signs and a selfie at various high points or destinations noted on each park’s map. Visit all 14 parks and your name could be one of 50 randomly picked to receive a hand-carved hiking staff.

Participants are required to email two photos from each of the parks to DEEP.SkystheLimit@ct.gov, or to mail them to CT DEEP State Parks, Sky’s the Limit, 79 Elm St., Hartford, CT 06106. Entries must be received by Dec. 7.

I’ll be taking this challenge myself throughout and summer and fall, so follow us on Instagram at @hartfordcourant to see my progress, and tag us in your photos so we can share your adventures. Here’s what you can expect from half of the hikes.

Day Pond State Park

Day Pond Road, Colchester

At a little more than a mile in length, Day Pond Brook is home to one of the most scenic and little-seen waterfalls east of the Connecticut River.

That’s the destination for this park. Tucked away in a hemlock grove along an abandoned road, the unnamed falls plunge over huge moss-covered boulders near the brook's confluence with the Salmon River. In the shallows, fish dart in and out of the shadows.

There are two ways to get to the falls. The first is to travel along Day Pond Road past the entrance and park near a yellow gate. Behind the gate is an old road that once brought logs to the sawmill and finished boards from the sawmill.

Another way to get to the falls is to take the blue-blazed trails that start from the dam that was built by Civilian Conservation Corps members from Camp Stuart in East Hampton during the mid-1930s. The trail follows the north side of the brook and then goes deep into the Salmon River State Forest before hooking up with the old mill road near the falls. Visitors can return to the parking area along the mill road.

Take Route 2 to exit 16 in Colchester. Follow Route 149 for three miles. Turn right on Peck Lane and a left on Day Pond Road.

Farm River State Park

Short Beach Road, East Haven

The Farm River ends its placid 17-mile journey as it empties into Long Island Sound at this 62-acre shoreline park. The trail takes visitors over some huge rock outcroppings with tremendous views of the marsh and Long Island Sound. In addition to the views, there are great picnic spots and places to bird-watch on top of the rocks.

The trail winds down to the bottom of the impressive outcroppings that meet the marsh grass and water. The other paths pass along the edge of a pristine salt marsh, a rarity along the shoreline. The marshes, pitch pines and scrub oaks give an outer Cape Cod feel to the park.

Take I-95 to Exit 54 and Route 1. Follow Route 1, (North Main Street). Turn left on Route 142 (Short Beach Road) for about 2 miles.

Old Furnace State Park

South Frontage Road, Killingly

Old Furnace State Park has been around for nearly a century. Purchased in 1918, the park encompasses 367 acres tucked away in Killingly. The Connecticut Forest and Park Association’s 2-mile Old Furnace Trail runs through the heart of the park to the top of the 540-foot-high Half Hill — the park’s photo destination.

Although the trail to the overlook is less than a mile, there are some pretty steep and difficult ascents. But stay on the trail marked with blue blazes and you will be rewarded by numerous overlooks.

The surface of Half Hill Pond is filled with water lilies. Sheer cliffs jut out over the landscape and distant hills and mountains undulate on the horizon. The only man-made sights from the top are cell towers, the blinking lights on their tops barely peering above the lush foliage.

Take Route 6 east to South Frontage Road. The parking area is on the right.

Machimoodus State Park

128 Leesville Road, Moodus

Machimoodus State Park is an absolute treasure with stunning views of the Salmon River cove, the Connecticut River and the hills of central Connecticut at the 300-acre state park.

Paths consist of easy-to-follow farm roads to an overlook with a panoramic view of the Salmon River and, in the distance, the Connecticut River and the ancient swing bridge connecting East Haddam and Haddam. This is the photo goal for Machimoodus.

There are multiple overlooks at the state park so make sure you get the right place. The park is also great for bird watching with plenty of fields where grasshoppers flit past and butterflies float from flower to flower.

The park is located along Route 151/Route 196 in Moodus.

River Highlands State Park

Field Road, Cromwell

This is a place where trails pass through hemlock-filled ravines and along the bluffs that overlook the Connecticut River. It's also a place that was legendary during the days when sailing vessels and steamboats plied the waters of New England's longest waterway and passed Blow Hole Ravine, a rocky canyon where water would shoot out as the tide rose.

Visitors take the white-blazed trail from the parking lot to the overlook. From there, visitors can travel north along the bluff that overlooks the river as well as the hills of Portland and Glastonbury. This journey along the bluff can be a bit strenuous, but the views are worth it. This is your second photo destination.

A white trail descends south along the overlook and down a ravine to the banks of the river. There's also a nice picnic area here where an unnamed stream travels through the park.

The parking area for the state park is on Field Road. Visitors can take Route 99 to the entrance to the River Highlands golf course. At the stop sign take a right. This is Field Road. Continue across the railroad tracks. The parking area is on the left.

George Dudley Seymour State Park

Clarkhurst Road, Haddam

Hurd State Park and George Dudley Seymour State Park make up quite a swath of open space along the Connecticut River. Hurd was actually one of the sites for the first Sky’s The Limit challenge.

The 334-acre Seymour State Park contains a huge swath of tidal grasslands along with numerous abandoned foundations buried in the New England forest, as well as giant rock outcroppings topped by evergreens just begging to be explored.

The park's main trail, which starts at an abandoned bridge (and photo location), is actually a crumbling asphalt road that winds its way through the forest paralleling a gently flowing Axelson Brook. Look for a side trail that takes you to a series of old ruins — the second photo location.

Route 151 and take a right on Hurd Park Road at first traffic light. Take a right on Clarkhurst Road and follow to the end.

Sunnybrook State Park

Newfield Road, Torrington

Trails run along the banks of the East Branch of the Naugatuck River along with some unique bridges (photo destination) that cross the waterway. The trails pass huge boulders — including the monstrous Dino Testone Boulder — and along the banks of scenic marshes and ponds.

The Connecticut Forest & Park Association's blue-blaze John Muir Trail runs about 2 miles in a loop around the heart of the old dairy-farm-turned-state-park. Dairy farmer Edwin Fadoir owned about 160 acres of the 406-acre park before selling it to the state in the 1960s.

From the parking area, the main trail follows an old park road now closed off to motor vehicles. The road crosses over the East Branch of the Naugatuck River several times before ending at the East Branch Flood Control Dam — a huge rock impoundment created by the Army Corps of Engineers after the catastrophic flood of 1955.

Route 8 to Exit 44 to East Elm Street. Follow East Elm and take a right on Main Street. Follow about a mile and bear left on Newfield Road where it forks. The park entrance is 2 miles on the left.

Remaining Challenges

The remaining seven hikes include Housatonic Meadows State Park, 90 Route 7 North Sharon; Cockaponset State Forest, Peddler’s Road, Guilford; Naugatuck State Forest, Quillinan Reservoir Block, Ansonia; Seth Low Pierrepont State Park Reserve, Barlow Mountain Road, Ridgefield; Moosup Valley State Park Trail, Route 14, Plainfield & Sterling; Paugussett State Forest, Lower Block, Great Quarter Road, Newtown; and Hopeville Pond State Park, 929 Hopeville Road (Rt. 201), Griswold.

For the maps and photo locations visit: ct.gov/DEEP/SkystheLimit

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