Exploring Westwoods in a morning or afternoon is a daunting task.
The 1,200-acre preserve to the west of historic Guilford center has 39 miles of trails. And that's not even the time-consuming part. Once you enter this magical natural world jammed with all sorts of caves, rock formations, marshes, a lost tidal lake and clear-running streams, you are going to want to explore every nook and cranny of the place that destroys the myth of Connecticut having one of the most developed shorelines.
I went with the "Cliff's Notes" version of Westwoods by exploring the "points of interest" on the easy-to-follow map that can be found online or at Bishop's Orchards or town hall, Breakwater Books or Page Hardware on the town green (a wonderful trip in itself). The goal of my recent afternoon at Westwoods was to find all 12 points of interest – a shoreline scavenger hunt of sorts and a still-daunting task.
There are many entrances to Westwoods and I wanted to explore Lost Lake first, so I took Route 146 west from the town green to Sam Hill Road. A trail with white circle blazes took me high above the railroad tracks where I was startled as an Amtrak Acela train almost silently appeared seemingly out of nowhere. I let out a quiet "Whoa" as the train whooshed past on its way to New York City and points south.
Exploring Lost Lake, a tidal marsh-turned-brackish lake created when the railroad builders came through, consists of following either the white circle or white square blazes. The square blazes take visitors right along the shore where schools of small fish jump in the brownish water and egrets wade in the shallow waters. The white circle blaze trail takes visitors past carved rock sculptures and an abandoned quarry up a series of rock outcroppings to "Lost Lake Vista" – another on the "must-see" list.
From Lost Lake, I hopped on the yellow square-blazed trail that passed the "Great Fallen Cliff." The huge rock formation dwarfs visitors and is easy to climb and fun to explore. After passing a scenic seasonal waterfall, a natural bridge formation known as "Rock Canopy" is next on the point of interest list and marks a trailhead where visitors need to make a choice of what to explore next.
I went on to explore the "Colonial Cave" and "Indian Cave" a few more of some of the most fascinating rock formations you will see along the shoreline. And then it was on to "The Rift," "Massive Rock Forms" and "Natural Monument" – more fascinating geologic formations. One of my favorite places to explore was the quarter-mile-long "Plank Walk" through a large marsh with a small stream flowing through it. Wildflowers, skunk cabbage and "witches heads" – large clumps of grass – fill the view as you walk along a rustic boardwalk. And for the kid in all of us – loose boards that bounce.
There are myriad trails and connector paths at Westwoods and they are all well-blazed. If you have a map, it's hard to get lost. People I met along the way are very friendly and willing to lend a hand if you lose your way.
So skip a Little League or soccer game this weekend. Make your reservations at a local bed and breakfast or motel. You are going to need plenty of time to explore this little gem while destroying the myth of having to travel inland to lose yourself in the natural world.
Visit http://guilfordlandtrust.org/wordpress/maps/westwoods.pdf for a map and parking areas for Westwoods. Peter Marteka can be reached at 860-647-5365 or firstname.lastname@example.org or at The Courant, 200 Adams St., Manchester, CT 06040.