And then the trail turns sharply to the south and sends you scrambing up the side of an imposing traprock ridge passing by huge hemlocks and stumbling across talus rock slides until you reach an opening in the forest. Before you is the spectacular view down to the hamlet of Tariffville and the hills and mountains of northern Connecticut and southern Massachusetts.
Welcome to the rock and rapids tour of the Tariffville Gorge millions of years in the making. The Connecticut Forest and Park Association's blue-blazed Metacomet Trail showcases much of the gorge, but an unmarked trail will take visitors down the southern side of the gorge where it hooks up with a series of marked trails that travel along the riverbank and even to a beach area.
It's sometimes hard to believe that what is now known as the Farmington River once flowed in a southerly direction from the northern part of the state through Plainville, Farmington, Southington and Cheshire before emptying into Long Island Sound at New Haven. Rearranged by the last glacial retreat, the river now flows southeast and winds north, then east and southeast to Windsor before emptying into the Connecticut River.
The tour starts as the Metacomet — a trail that winds along the state's traprock ridge from the Hanging Hills of Meriden north to Massachusetts — re-enters the forest after traveling on roads through historic Tariffville. The path winds its way along the river briefly before going through the forest and ascending to the top of the gorge.
The Barn Door Hills of Granby, formed by ancient lava flows, can be seen to the west. To the north, the flat traprock ridge known as Manitook Mountain rises and behind that are the mountains of Massachusetts. Far below, the Farmington tumbles over rapids as picturesque mill houses line the banks and church steeples rise above the tree line.
Although the blue-blazed trail turns and travels north to the 510-foot-high Hatchett Hill, I took a difficult unmarked trail down the southern portion of the gorge to an abandoned bridge abutment. Take a walk along the banks and see all the ice sculptures formed by the river's relentless flow and continuous spray off rocks and boulders.
The rock and rapid tour isn't for the faint-hearted, but it will open the world of the Tariffville Gorge to visitors who have always been enchanted by the name, but never took the time to explore its ancient history.
Parking for the trail is on Old Hartford Avenue in East Granby next to the Route 189 bridge over the Farmington River. The trailhead is directly across the highway.
Peter Marteka can be reached at 860-647-5365 or email@example.com or at The Courant, 200 Adams St., Manchester CT 06040. Visit courant.com/cthiking for more adventures in the state's natural world.