Best Day Hikes in Connecticut

February 10, 2016

The following day hikes come from AMC’s Best Day Hikes in Connecticut. For more information, check out the book.

1. BEAR MOUNTAIN

Bear Mountain

A loop through ancient forests leads to a grand stone pyramid atop the state’s highest summit, offering unrestricted views of broad valleys, shimmering lakes, and rugged mountains across three states.

  • Location: Salisbury, CT
  • Rating: Strenuous
  • Distance: 6.0 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,560 feet
  • Estimated Time: 3.5–4.5 hours
  • Features: Dogs allowed
  • Map: USGS Bash Bish Falls

Short Trail Description (for a complete description, see AMC’s Best Day Hikes in the Connecticut)
From the parking area, pale-blue-blazed Undermountain Trail immediately passes a kiosk on the right with a posted map; trail maps are sometimes available here. The trail heads west and begins a gentle climb into a forest of red and white oaks, ash, and hickory, all shading clumps of witch hazel, mountain laurel, wild azalea, and striped maple. Evergreen Christmas fern shares the forest floor with mats of partridgeberry, sprigs of wintergreen, and isolated specimens of wild sarsaparilla and rose twisted stalk, a plant that favors the cool climates of mountain slopes from southern Canada south along the spine of the Appalachians. The foot-tall herbaceous stems grow in a pronounced zigzag pattern, with each zig and zag accented by a solitary deep-green leaf.

From late spring through early summer, small deep-pink, bell-shaped pendant flowers appear along the stems. The moderate but relentless climb becomes steeper as the path slabs the eastern slope of Riga Ridge. Along the trail are a number of interesting plants, including self-heal, a member of the mint family with short, square stems; lilac flowers (in summer); aster; and spotted wintergreen, with lance-shaped green leaves decorated with a central white stripe. Look for red efts through here as well. These little salamanders are bright orange.

Although Bear Mountain is the highest summit entirely within Connecticut and was once thought to be its highest point, the true state high point is on the southern slope of Mount Frissell at 2,380 feet (see Trip 1), 64 feet higher than Bear Mountain.

 

2. MATTABESETT TRAIL AND COGINCHAUG CAVE

Mattabesett Trail and Coginchaug Cave

This is a walk back in time to a rocky shelter used centuries ago by American Indians, yielding a cliffside cave, rocky forests, wildflowers, and blueberries.

  • Location: Durham, CT
  • Rating: Easy, with steep sections
  • Distance: 1.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 100 feet
  • Estimated Time: 1.0 hour
  • Features: Family-friendly, dogs allowed
  • Maps: USGS Durham; USGS Haddam

Short Trail Description (for a complete description, see AMC’s Best Day Hikes in the Connecticut)
The out-and-back walk to Coginchaug Cave is along the Mattabesett Trail, a section of the New England National Scenic Trail. From the trailhead near the top of the hill, the blue-blazed Mattabesett Trail on the right enters a scenic woodland of yellow and black birch, beech, and sassafras rising above a shrubby understory of witch hazel and sweet pepperbush. Sweet pepperbush, also called Indian soap and summersweet, is recognized by its slender spike of dainty white summertime flowers. The plant prefers the moist, rich soils at the edges of wetlands. When the flowers are rubbed between wet palms, the petals produce a light, white lather.

Coginchaug is the name given to the area by the local Mattabesett tribe. It served them as a hunting ground and means “great swamp” or “long swamp.” Coginchaug is also the former name for the town of Durham.

 

3. DEVIL’S HOPYARD STATE PARK

Devil's Hopyard

Devil’s Hopyard State Park features an extensive trail system on 940 acres of charming woodlands, with huge hemlocks and the swift flowing Eight Mile River. This loop trail delights hikers with a fine valley vista, picturesque Chapman Falls, and the “devil’s” potholes.

  • Location: East Haddam, CT
  • Rating: Moderate
  • Distance: 2.9 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 300 feet
  • Estimated Time: 2.0 hours
  • Features: Dogs allowed, snow-shoeing
  • Maps: USGS Hamburg; Devil’s Hopyard State Park map, ct.gov/dep/, lib/dep/stateparks/maps/devilshopyard.pdf

Short Trail Description (for a complete description, see AMC’s Best Day Hikes in the Connecticut)
Chapman Falls lies 15 miles north of Long Island Sound in a long-dormant fault zone that separates the Windham Hills region from the coastal slope to the south. The falls powered Beebe’s Mills—named for the original owners—which was a gristmill until 1854 and a sawmill until the mid-1890s.

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AMC Outdoors, the magazine of the Appalachian Mountain Club, inspires readers to get outside and get engaged. Learn more.

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