Giant's Thumb

Hikers on the section of the Appalachian Trail between Falls Village and Salisbury pass directly by an unusual rock outcrop aptly called Giant's Thumb. (Steve Grant, Special To The Courant / November 20, 2012)

The  Appalachian Trail  extends 2,184 miles from Georgia to Maine and includes more than 50 miles in Connecticut. The trail enters Connecticut in Sherman and trends north mostly in the hills above the Housatonic River to the Massachusetts border at Salisbury, a total of 52.3 miles.

Let me toss out two AT options. One of them involves a steep ascent and includes a famous vantage point; the other is mostly flat and easy with many nice views of the Housatonic River. I've hiked both of them many times.

If you are comfortable with a round-trip hike of 6.6 miles, consider the section of the AT from Route 44 in Salisbury heading easterly on Prospect Mountain. Most of this hike is moderate ups and downs through forest, but it does begin with a steep ascent of about a half-mile. Just be especially careful in this section, whether going up or down, if the trail is wet and covered with leaves.

You'll find parking about a half mile east of the village of Salisbury. Look for a small oval sign identifying the trail. Follow the trail a short distance through a field and you will come to a kiosk with trail information.

A hike of 3.3 miles will take you to Rand's View, where, suddenly, the trail comes out of the woods and skirts a meadow with long views of the Taconic Range and the Berkshires. This is a premier vantage point, worth the walk. Catch a day with especially clear skies and you might see all the way to Mount Greylock in northern Massachusetts.

Looking to the west and north you will have no trouble seeing Bear Mountain, the highest peak in Connecticut, and Mount Everett in Massachusetts. This is a spot to sit for a bit, maybe have lunch or a snack break, and really savor the view. Of course you will take a photo.

If you want to keep the hike to 5 miles round trip you won't get to Rand's View, but you'll reach Billy's View, a rocky opening with the surrounding Salisbury countryside spread before you. Nearby is an interesting rock formation known as Giant's Thumb. It, in fact, is something like a giant thumb protruding from the Earth. You can't miss it; it is adjacent to the trail.

One day late last month this section of the trail was thick with hundreds of robins, which I figured must have been a wave of migrating birds. On the forest floor, the big leaves of striped maple saplings were a brilliant pale yellow.

Another option, if you have two vehicles, is to hike the entire section from Route 44 in Salisbury to Great Falls in Falls Village, a trek of more than 7 miles. By shuttling the vehicles, you need not retrace your steps.

Another section of the AT in Kent is perfect for hikers who want great scenery but mostly flat terrain. In Kent, take Route 341 over the Housatonic River and immediately — immediately — take a right at the Kent School. Continue about a mile, and take a right on River Road. Follow it several miles to the end where there is a dirt parking area. You will see a little kiosk with information about the trail, and pamphlets with a map of the trail. Head north on the trail, which follows the river pretty closely much of the way. You can hike at least 2.5 miles north before the trail begins to ascend more steeply. Hike as much as far upriver as you feel comfortable, and then retrace your steps.

Information on the Appalachian Trail is available in the Connecticut Walk Book, west edition, produced by the Connecticut Forest & Park Association.