Traveling along Cheshire's Prospect Ridge is like being on a roller coaster.
The trail starts deep in a ravine and you can almost hear the clicketyclack of the coaster being jolted up before the first plunge as you struggle up a steep hill and into a cedar forest. After winding your way past scrub oak and blueberry bushes along the top of the hill with stunning views all around you, prepare to leave that vista behind as you plunge into another deep ravine and forest.
And be prepared for a long ride, because the 24-mile Connecticut Forest & Park Association's Quinnipiac Blue-Blazed Trail undulates like this all along the ridge for nearly 3 miles before visitors can catch their breath (before losing it again) at Roaring Brook Falls — the state's highest waterfall plunge.
From the stone pillar at the trailhead marking the border of Cheshire and Prospect, the path winds in and out of each town repeatedly. In one forest patch, you are in Prospect, and the next moment you are crossing a lichen-covered stone wall and you are back in Cheshire. Makes for a good conversation piece when you return home: "Oh, I took a long hike to Prospect into Cheshire and back to Prospect."
After leaving the subdivision at the start of the trail, it is vernal pools, distant views of church steeples in the valley and mountains looming in the distance until you reach the waterfalls. The only hint of civilization is a buried utility line and cleared right-of-way that opens up the forest canopy for some great unobstructed views of Cheshire. And if you haven't heard them yet, it's also a sign you've arrived at the falls.
After crossing Roaring Brook, look for a side trail to the falls. Roaring Brook Falls and its 80-foot drop from the top of a talus slope to a deep, rocky pool below, narrowly beats out Kent Falls' 70-foot plunge for the state's top honors. During times of high water and spring melting, the brook lives up to its name creating waterfalls of all shapes and sizes plunging over the boxy basalt boulders as the ridges drop sharply in elevation through the forest. With a dry, snowless winter, the falls are still spectacular, just not roaring.
The Quinnipiac Trail continues south along the spine of the ridge eventually hooking up with a 40-acre preserve known as the Helen Russell Memorial. This property was the Cheshire Land Trust's first acquisition in 1970 after she bequeathed the mountainous land to the group. Now 42 years later, the town, trust and state have teamed up to protect more than 330 acres of the ridge separating the two towns.
So climb aboard the natural coaster known as Prospect Ridge and prepare for a journey that will take your breath away — twice.
Route 10 into the center of Cheshire. Follow Route 68 west to the junction of Route 70. Continue on Route 68 west and take a left on Tress Road and follow to end and take a left on Cornwall Avenue. Park at the cul-de-sac. Peter Marteka can be reached at 860-647-5365 or firstname.lastname@example.org or at The Courant, 200 Adams St., Manchester, CT 06040.