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From Easy To Hard, A Half-Dozen (Or So) Snowshoeing Paths In CT

Peter Marteka
Contact ReporterNature's Path & Way To Go

‘Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!’ is the mantra for winter enthusiasts who like to strap on a pair of snowshoes and explore the great outdoors in the dead of winter — no matter the depth of the white stuff.

Chris Collibee, new communications director for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, is an avid snowshoer who puts more than 50 miles on his snowshoes each winter exploring trails in Connecticut, Massachusetts, the Adirondacks and Maine. Like many others, Collibee is out in his snowshoes from the first big snow to the spring thaw.

So there’s no reason to let the first big snow or the official arrival of winter on Dec. 21 deter you from exploring the outdoors. All it takes is a pair of snowshoes to seek out these paths:

Paths along old railroad beds turned recreational trails, abandoned golf courses or natural areas along the Connecticut River are great places for beginners or those who like an easy romp in the snow.

The southern portion of the Air Line Trail runs from East Hampton to Willimantic. The level trail has views from the top of viaducts, crosses iron trestles and passes through vast marshes. The trail can be accessed along Main Street or Smith Street in East Hampton, Route 149 in Colchester and Route 66 near the Columbia line in Willimantic.

Collibee said Glastonbury’s Riverfront Park on Welles Street has “great, easy trails all through this park.” He noted hiking along the Connecticut River is “a special treat” in winter especially when it is frozen or ice floes pass by. Other places to explore directly on the river include Haddam Meadows State Park on Route 154 in Haddam or the trails surrounding Gillette Castle State Park in East Haddam.

Pistol Creek, 600 Spruce Brook Road in Berlin, is an abandoned golf course-turned-town park. It offers several miles of trails across former fairways, bunkers, cart paths and greens with tremendous views of the surrounding hills.

For those seeking a moderate experience:

Timberlin Park in Berlin off Route 364 takes visitors to the top of Short Mountain, a 520-foot-high knob of traprock ridge that rises along the Southington/Berlin border in the shadow of Ragged Mountain. The 1.5-mile-long Amelia Green trail, marked by green diamonds on trees, passes along the banks of the pond, across ravines and under huge hemlocks before connecting with a 1.5-mile portion of the Connecticut Forest & Park Association's blue-blazed Metacomet Trail.

Mary Edwards Mountain, Mountain Road in Granby: Those visiting this 200-acre mountain will definitely feel like they're up north. Whether walking through the field along Mountain and Donahue roads to a huge maple or taking a short trip to Mary's Rock with its sweeping views of the Connecticut River Valley, Springfield and the Mount Tom range, the views are tremendous.

Collibee recommends Case Mountain in Manchester for the moderate experience with plenty of well-marked trails and a scenic overlook of Hartford.

“This park remains popular in the winter time so you are sure to see plenty of other snowshoers out and about,” he said.

Another moderate hike Collibee recommends is the Heublein Tower along the Metacomet Trail from the West Hartford MDC Reservoir. He notes its a nice long approach to the tower, but, “one that provides a nice warm up along the reservoir before heading up steeper terrain.”

For those experienced snowshoers looking for a “hard” adventure, Collibee recommends Bear Mountain in Salisbury along the Undermountain Trail and Appalachian Trail.

“This is arguably one of the most difficult snowshoeing trips in the state, and one for experienced snowshoers in good shape,” he said.

Collibee said for those who aren’t fans of crowds while hiking and are looking for some quiet time, “there are few better places than the trail in winter.”

“Outdoor exercise and fresh air are good for the heart and mind,” Collibee said. “Just because winter has set in, there is no reason why folks shouldn't continue to go outside. No leaves on the trees means you can see and hear things you don't ordinarily see in the summer.”

Tips from Collibee:

Hike with a partner when possible and make sure others know where you are going, what trail and when you expect to be back.

Dress properly: Layering. As you warm up, you can drop layers. No cotton. Far too many people snowshoe and hike in the winter wearing jeans. This is a no-no in the summertime and only made worse when hiking through snow in the winter.

Carry a trail map. Don't rely on your cellphone GPS to help navigate you.

Carry plenty of water and snacks. You are going to burn calories carrying extra equipment (including extra weight from snowshoes) — stay hydrated and fed.

In addition to snowshoes, bring hiking poles with baskets. This will help on the up and downhill.

Don't overdo it. Your first goal is to return home safely, not conquer whatever summit or destination is your aim.

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