Updated: Mar 18, 2020
Our mild winter thus far in Connecticut has been a disappointment for those who love snow activities this time of year. The warmer than average days have been great for hiking however! As we approach the end of February I’ve already logged over 40 miles on the trail in 2020. While it hasn’t exactly all been “winter hiking”, it is hiking in the winter months! Getting out as much as I have so far this year has really gotten me excited about the places I’ll see on foot in the coming months. It has also gotten me thinking about setting some hiking goals.
There are a lot of common goals hikers set for themselves. In the Northeast many hikers do the 48 4,000 footers in New Hampshire, or maybe just the highest peak in each New England state. Thru-hiking the big trails like the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail are realistic goals for some. There are also plenty of shorter and equally popular thru-hikes to consider if taking half a year off isn’t practical for you. There are a variety of other common hiking goals you’ll hear about if you spend any time at all online reading hiking blogs and articles. I like the idea of challenging myself with goals that will take some work to achieve. To that end I’ve set two for myself, neither of which I’ll likely complete this year, but both are goals that I believe to be realistic for me and will help me to focus my hiking trips for likely the next two years. One of these goals is to complete the New England Trail in sections.
If you’re not familiar with it, The New England Trail (NET) stretches from Long Island sound in Guilford, CT 215 miles up to the New Hampshire boarder. It largely follows three other well-known trails: the Mattabesett, Metacomet, and Monadnock (M-M-M) Trail systems. While the trail has been around for about 50 years, it was just designated as a National Scenic Trail in 2009. You can learn more about this trail at www.newenglandtrail.org .
I felt section hiking the NET would be an achievable but challenging goal for several reasons. First, I like the idea of thru-hiking. I think that spending several weeks or months on a trip through the woods could be a really life-changing experience. Like many people my age however, I have a list of responsibilities and obligations that make completing a long thru-hike unrealistic. Section hiking a long trail like the NET allows me to fit in hikes over as long a period of time as I need. I also have the option of stringing together several sections for a multi-day hike if I can logistically make that happen. There are a few other benefits to choosing this long hike over others in New England as well. First, the furthest section of this trail is only a 1.5 hour drive for me. This puts the entire trail within reach for even a partial day hike. Also, unlike the Long Trail in Vermont or the 100 Mile Woods in Maine, the NET runs through suburban and urban areas, meaning it crosses roads and passes through towns very regularly. While this may increase the noise and traffic on some sections of the trail it also means that the entire NET is very accessible to section hikers. Getting on and off the trail is easy and stringing together sections of between 5 and 20 miles isn’t hard to do either.
I decided to get right to it shortly after setting this goal and have already completed two section hikes totaling about 10 miles. I’m not sure it matters, but I did both in a southbound direction. I started with CT section 20, which runs from Rt 168 in Suffield to Rt 20 in Granby. This section picks up approximately 1,000 feet of elevation and follows a ridge that crosses Suffield Mountain and Peak Mountain. I followed this up with CT section 19 a week later. Section 19 starts at Rt 20 in Granby and runs across Hatchet Hill to Tariffville, totaling about 5 miles again. This section is a bit more interesting than the previous. It has a relatively mild elevation gain of about 700 feet and the trail passes by a couple of unique points of interest. One of these is a burial ground for members of a family who died of small pox in the 1750’s. The site is being restored according to signs in the area. The next point of interest is a free-standing fireplace and chimney. There is no evidence left that a building ever surrounded this stone structure atop the ridge in the middle of the trail. Hiking these in February I found both sections to be dry and the weather was unseasonably warm. The blue blazes were easy to pick out and the trails were well maintained. It’s worth noting however that close to Tariffville in section 19 the NET runs through a local web of trails that all seem to be blazed blue as well! This gets a little confusing if you’re not paying attention to your route.
Both of these sections made for really pleasant hikes. Neither were very strenuous and both had nice views from a handful of scenic overlooks. One downside to hiking these this time of year is that everything is just brown. Both of these hikes passed through what I’m guessing are really pretty areas of forest when some color is again present in the spring.
The next section I complete may be up closer to the New Hampshire boarder or it may be nearby in Connecticut again. It will depend on how much time I can set aside for hiking. Regardless of where, I’m looking forward to the opportunity to get out in the woods. I’ll keep you posted.