Exploring Plymouth's Whitestone Cliffs

View From Whitestone Cliffs

A view from the top of the Whitestone Cliffs in Plymouth. (Peter Marteka / June 14, 2012)


The White Cliffs of Dover tower high over the English Channel, a wall of chalk that's a natural defense between Britain and the rest of Europe. Sailors would stare in awe as they approached the wall of white and…oh, hang on.

Sorry, wrong continent. The Whitestone Cliffs of Plymouth are impressive, too, but on a smaller scale. The Naugatuck River flows past — no large channel. And I suppose canoeists might stare up in awe as they approach the cliffs.

The Whitestone Cliffs are the sort of roadside attraction you see as you drive past at 65 mph or so. Each time I've driven along Route 8 through the northwest hills, the dramatic Whitestone Cliffs, topped by pitch pines, caught my attention. I'd often imagine what it would be like to explore them.

Then I received an e-mail from a fellow describing a trail. He told me about a "real good one" in Plymouth called the Whitestone Cliffs Trail. He said the view looking down on Route 8 is great from the top of the cliffs. And the highlight is not only making it to the 750-foot-high summit, but spending time exploring each unique view from the dozens of rocky protrusions and plateaus that make up the top of the cliffs.

From the trailhead parking area along Route 262, the journey to the summit is a quick one if you travel clockwise along the Connecticut Forest & Park Association's blue-blazed trail. While I hardly ever follow a trail clockwise, I wanted to reach the summit quickly and have plenty of time to explore it. After passing a neat set of falls and a quick scramble up some steep and rocky terrain, the view before me was tremendous.

The summit is filled with mountain laurel and pitch pines and on this visit, it appears a recent brush fire cleared some of the underbrush, although Mother Nature was quickly reclaiming the scorched earth. Step off the trail and there is a myriad of unmarked trails that lead from overlook to overlook. One view is out across the Naugatuck River as it cuts through the valley. Another view showcases the huge rock cuts of Route 8. A swath of seemingly endless green hills can be seen to the south.

The top of Whitestone Cliffs is a microclimate with thriving life. A small mountain laurel was laden with pink blooms as it grows from a narrow crack in the rock. A small group of blueberry bushes, their newly emerged fruit ripening in the late spring sunshine, grows from a patch of dirt. Dark green moss flourishes across the white stone, making one feel as if they can hike barefoot across the summit.

There are some sheer vertical dropoffs, and the cliffs are popular in rock-climbing circles. But exploring the various overlooks are worth the effort, just watch for the edge of the cliffs.

After the summit, the trail snakes through woods filled with mountain laurel and white birch and then past swamps and more waterfalls. The trail is within the Mattatuck State Forest, so there are few hints of civilization. There are several large pockets of stone that have been quarried, perhaps taken during the construction of the nearby Naugatuck Railroad.

You don't have to sail the ocean blue to see the White Cliffs. Just take a journey to Plymouth and see America's version of the great cliffs.

Take Route 8 to exit 37 and follow Route 262 east across the Naugatuck River. Follow Route 262 east past Rifle Range Pond and look for the parking area on the left shortly after passing Greystone Road. Peter Marteka may be reached at 860-647-5365 or at pmarteka@courant.com or The Courant, 200 Adams St., Manchester, CT 06040.

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