Exploring Ratlum Mountain, And A Cabin In The Woods

For those of us who spend time in the woods, there's nothing better than coming across a cabin.

At Canton's Ratlum Mountain, you follow a twisting path through ferns, under giant pine trees and past rock ledges, to a clearing where the sun illuminates the rustic wooden walls of a solitary cabin.

Welcome to Capen Cabin. Visitors to the Canton Land Conservation Trust's Smith Tree Farm trails will find the cabin, along with moderately difficult to sometimes challenging paths that climb to stunning overlooks, wind past pristine streams flowing through deep shaded valleys and traverse old country roads. Tucked into the northwestern corner of town, the trails are quiet – there are few sights or sounds of civilization to intrude on your jouney.

Smith Tree Farm includes the Charlotte Craig Trail and the Ted Wright Trail, both marked with yellow blazes. The Charlotte Craig Trail starts behind an old farmhouse and rustic barn and winds past a Christmas tree farm up to a promentory with views into the purple haze of hills and mountains to the south. The mile-long loop trail is a bit difficult and rugged in places, and you'll definitely want to do it counter-clockwise. The descent from the overlook is steep -- it's easy to see why neighboring Ski Sundown was built on Ratlum Mountain.

An abandoned dirt road – that may prompt you to sing John Denver's "Country Roads" as you navigate your way – leads to the clear-running Ratlum Brook, coursing over moss-covered rocks and under fallen trees, Mother Nature's makeshift bridges.

The Ted Wright Trail begins on the left after crossing the stream, and there's no getting around a challenging ascent at the start of the two-mile path. The trail follows the brook briefly before starting a sweat-inducing journey to the top and Smith's overlook – an equally impressive view of the hills and mountains to the west. (One of my favorite things to do when I explore the state is to stand at an overlook and look into the forested vastness, like an explorer setting his eyes on a new world.)

The trail eventually levels off and visitors will pass through forests filled with white pines, mountain laurel and oaks and around a vernal pool before ending at a road and the entrance to the Capen Cabin. A side trail takes visitors past a pump house to the cabin, located in the middle of a field of ferns.

The cabin is rustic, with no electricity and an outhouse. A glance through the windows shows a simply decorated great room with a wood stove and fireplace. The cabin, like the trails and forest surrounding it, exudes peacefulness.

To get there, take Route 179 to Wright Road. Follow two miles and take a left on Doyle Road. Follow to the end of Doyle Road and park on the right of the driveway. Visit http://www.cantonlandtrust.org/trails.php for a map of the Smith Tree Farm trails. For more information on the cabin call Nate Cantwell at 860-693-6224.

Peter Marteka may be reached at 860-647-5365, at pmarteka@ courant.com or at The Courant, 200 Adams St., Manchester, CT 06040.

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