Updated: Oct 9, 2020
The last few months have presented some challenges for hikers that we haven’t seen previously. The two most noteworthy to me have been navigating crowds at the better known hiking locations and having to limit out of state hiking trips because of closures at popular destinations in our surrounding states. Fortunately, some of the best Connecticut trails have remained open and largely crowd-free if you’re willing to seek out the lesser-known trail heads. That said, I did recently have the opportunity to venture out of Connecticut (ever so slightly) for a really great hike. Just over the Connecticut / Massachusetts boarder by a few miles in Sheffield you’ll find Race Brook falls and access to the Appalachian Trail. This day hike brought me to two peaks in addition to the hike around the falls.
The Race Brook Falls trail head parking is a paved pull-off along route 41. I arrived here at about 9:00 am on a weekday and was the third car in the lot. This narrow roadway was packed solid when I was leaving in the afternoon however. With cars double parked on both sides of the driveway it was a bit of a challenge to maneuver out. The information board and trail map at the trail head explains that there are actually a few trail options for getting up over the falls and onto the AT. Having never been here before my intention was to take the route that most closely aligned with the water so as to hopefully get a few decent pictures of the falls. This choice proved challenging but rewarding nonetheless.
The first mile of trail winds through a thickly wooded area filled with large pines and oaks. The elevation gain is mild to the base of the falls, picking up about 700 feet in this first section. While there are two options for breaking from the stream and traveling around the ravine carved out by water to the upper falls, I chose to follow the most direct route up. This wasn’t bad until at the base of the falls the trail requires that you ascend a fairly steep climb up through some large rocks into the side of the ravine, eventually meeting up with the bypass trail as it moves first through the upper falls and then over it. This climb did require some commitment and a good arm workout but (in my mind anyway) was better than backtracking to an alternate route. The falls were worth seeing from several different vantage points. The trail continued to climb past the falls and up where it intersected the AT not far past the Race Brook Falls campsite at approximately 2,000 feet (a gain of almost 1,400 feet from the parking lot over 1.75 miles).
The Appalachian Trail is such an iconic path along the eastern U.S. I’ve day hiked several short sections and always feel the same sense of awe just standing on it. It was certainly no different on this beautiful day. My plan was to first head north for Mt. Everett then turn around and hike south, past Race Brook Falls to Mt. Race. The worst of the climbing on this trip was really on the Falls trail and bagging two short peaks shouldn’t be hard at all I thought. I would have been correct had I not failed to navigate a section of the trail properly! Here’s what happened. As I headed down the AT for Mt. Everett I came to a section where the trail crossed over a short rock ledge. It appeared that the main trail continued off the rock to the left a bit and so that’s where I headed. I followed this trail for about ¼ mile in the wrong direction before realizing I had veered off. I would later (on the return trip) see where I went wrong and understand that the actual AT dipped to the right over the rock and dropped down a bit just out of sight from where I went left! So rather than back tracking I got my map bearings and decided to cut through what appeared to be a fairly open stretch of woods back to the trail. I had a bit over ¼ mile to go and figured it wouldn’t be that bad. Over the first short hill the forest became much more dense and a hundred yards beyond that it got downright thick. I found myself really pushing through overgrown bushes and trees in an area where I really didn’t belong. At this point I was well committed and there was no turning back so I pressed on. It took almost 30 minutes and two falls to cover that quarter mile stretch! I was more tired than I needed to be when I finally made it back to the trail, right at the point where it begins the 500 foot ascent to the top of Mt. Everett. In the future I think I’ll be more likely to just backtrack.
The last stretch to the top of Mt. Everett has several wooden beams bolted into rock for stairs in the steepest parts. Once at the top there is a sign marking the location and the remnants of the base of a tower that is no more. The views from the top are probably very good in the off seasons, but in summer the full trees block much of it. There was a nice breeze and rocks to sit on however, so it made for a good break stop.
From Mt. Everett to Mt. Race is just under two miles from peak to peak. Mt. Race is 200 feet shorter than Mt. Everett as well and the final ascent isn’t as steep. It was a quick 40 minute hike from one to the other, staying on the trail the whole time! From the top of Mt. Race the views were much better! The top of this mountain has no summit marker and the trail runs along a narrow ridge of rock which provides a nice platform from which to look around.
On the hike out I stopped to talk with another hiker briefly. I had passed her on the way up to Mt. Everett, again on the way down, and now on the Race Brook Falls trail closer to the bottom. She appeared to be in her late 70's or early 80's. We had a very pleasant conversation, discussing the views from both summits and the trail conditions overall. She told me about some other challenging hikes she had done recently on the AT through Sages Ravine and over Bear Mountain. She was clearly a very accomplished hiker and it was inspiring to hear her talk about these hikes as if she was in her 20's still!
I liked this hike for a few reasons. The waterfalls were picturesque. The terrain and elevation gains made the trip challenging enough but not exhausting. It was good to be out on the AT, if only for a few miles. I finished at just under 8 miles in five hours including a couple of generous stops and an unintended detour. This hike could easily be modified for a more gradual climb up through the falls than I took, or to add miles over either of the two peaks. If you’re in Connecticut and looking for something a bit more New Hampshire-like but closer to home, this hike is a great option.