A river flows through the deep hemlock hollows in Wolcott. At times it's placid, the waters slowly flowing through the shadows of the dark forest, with the sun and clouds breaking through the canopy reflecting across the smooth surface.
But at other times, the river is angry, and the water is like a witch's cauldron, frothing over rock ledges and boulders. Ancient hemlocks, pushed over by a nor'easter or a summer thunderstorm, seem to anger the river more as the water pours over and under the fallen trees.
It's madness. Then again, it's the Mad River. The waterway, running from Cedar Lake in Bristol to the Naugatuck River in Waterbury, helped power the history of the town, as it was home to several mills. Sadly, this beautiful river ends its journey just prior to its confluence with the Naugatuck by going under a shopping mall.
The trailhead for the southern starting point of the 36-mile Connecticut Forest and Park Association's Mattatuck Trail is marked by a skate park and dumpster. But don't let that detract from your experience because both are soon forgotten.
The trail, which runs from Wolcott northwest to Mohawk Mountain in Cornwall, is marked by blue blazes. It winds along an old road and you quickly reach the highlight of the trip about a half-mile into the journey. At what is known as "Mad River Crossing," two bridges cross a complex of waterfalls and gorges.
Huge hemlocks secure themselves to moss-covered granite ledges with a snakelike network of roots. Break Hill Brook, a deep gorge with waterfalls, empties into the river. A short unmarked side trail takes visitors high above the gorge.
After crossing the first bridge, visitors may feel like they are on an island with Mad Brook twisting and turning and plunging over the rock ledges. Depending on the water level, the sounds of rushing water can be bit deafening. A second bridge takes visitors along the second half of the hike through the hemlock glade.
The hemlocks tower above the fern-covered ground. Moss clings to everything, giving the area a feel of the Great Northwest. Some of the trees were felled recently by Hurricane Sandy.
The trail travels along the banks of the river with its placid stretches interruped by rapids and waterfalls. There are huge boulders left by a retreating glacier that are fascinating to look at. The 1.5-mile-long hemlock glade comes to an end near a huge broken stone dam that once powered a mill or factory.
Those visiting this part of the Mattatuck Trail may want to continue several miles northwest and explore Indian Jack Cave or the equally scenic Buttermilk Falls. But chances are, the beauty of the river will keep you from moving on.
Route 69 to Mad River Road just north of the intersection with Route 322. Park near the Peterson Memorial Park skate park. Peter Marteka may be reached at 860-647-5365, at firstname.lastname@example.org or c/o The Courant, 200 Adams St., Manchester, CT 06040.