Winter Hiking on Connecticut's AT
Updated: Feb 24, 2020
Of the approximately 2,200 miles that make up the Appalachian Trail, about 52 of them fall in Connecticut. A 4 mile section of this famous trail offered an excellent winter hiking experience for me this week. I took the AT from Rte 341 in Kent out to Caleb’s Peak and back, which made for a great hike and provided some of the winter conditions I’ve been looking forward to hiking in.
The ride out to Kent is almost 2 hours from my house. There are certainly plenty of closer locations for a day hike, but I chose this one for a few reasons. I was looking for a route that would provide some challenges in terms of elevation and terrain, and that would also likely have some great views. I was looking for a trail I hadn’t done before and was willing to travel a bit because I had a whole day available to me. Traveling out to Kent also gave me the opportunity to take a few pictures of the frozen Kent Falls, which did turn out to be a nice addition to my hiking day. The AllTrails page for this hike rates it as a ‘moderate’ out and back with a 2,600 foot elevation gain in total. The reviews were very positive and referenced some great views as well.
I got to the parking area on the side of the road next to where the AT crosses Rte 341 at about 10:30am. The weather was really perfect for a January hike! It was in the mid 30s already as I readied my pack to head out, and got as high as 45 degrees by early afternoon. The sun was shining and there were only a few clouds. There was no breeze, allowing the temperature to feel a bit warmer than it was. The first few hundred yards of the trail cross a snow-covered open field before getting to a small river, crossed by a well-maintained log and rock bridge. The trail almost immediately begins winding up the side of a large hill for the biggest elevation gain of the hike. This section is well covered by trees and winds around some rock formations that guide a small stream down to the river below. What water there is in January is mostly frozen, although a trickle can be heard moving under the ice in some places.
The ground was covered in about 2 – 3 inches of snow on most of the trail. I observed that I was the first hiker on this section since it snowed almost a week ago now. This light snow cover made it a little more difficult to see exactly where the trail turned in some cases. Fortunately, the trail through this area is very well blazed and it didn’t take much to find one if I questioned my direction of travel. In addition to camouflaging the trail a bit, the snow certainly added to the difficulty of traversing rocks and other hazards on the trail, especially on the climb up at the beginning of the hike. This compounded the hazard presented by slippery leaves on sections of the trail.
A benefit of having this relatively undisturbed snow cover was that it made for very evident animal tracks! As I walked through the dead silence of the woods I would randomly see different animal tracks crossing the trail. Some told a story of their own. Early on I saw turkey tracks. I passed a few areas where it appeared a large flock of turkeys had stopped to dig into the snow and leaves for food before continuing on. At one point I spotted the birds off in the distance, well out of camera range. I saw coyote tracks following close to the trail for quite a while and caught myself following the coyote tracks instead of the trail blazes a couple of times! At about 2 miles in there was a really interesting story in the snow. Rabbit tracks could be seen darting back and forth around a section of the trail. In the same area there were coyote tracks. Both seemed to be running back and forth, periodically leaping through the air leaving long breaks in their footprints in the snow. My guess is that the rabbit was giving the coyote quite a workout! Beyond these there were a couple of deer prints and a few more (maybe the same?) coyotes recorded in the snow.
After the initial climb up for about ½ mile, the trail leveled out quite a bit. I enjoy the interesting rock formations that are regularly found on New England hikes. The trail remained under tree cover for most of the hike. It continued up and down around two smaller hills before arriving at Caleb’s Peak. I got there in 2hrs 15min, just in time for lunch. The views from Caleb’s peak were definitely worth the trip. From a nice clearing, riddled with larger dry rocks to sit on you look out over the Housatonic valley. The rolling hills, even in winter, are attention grabbing. I stayed long enough to eat and relax a bit before heading back the same way I came.
None of the trail was very difficult to travel, even with some snow. Navigating back was much easier, as I could now simply follow my footsteps. Even so, I still managed to get off trail just enough for it to be a problem on the return down through the steepest area close to the trailhead. I’m not sure how, but I lost the trail and decided to take a bit of a shortcut back, which brought me through a very slick section of rocks and resulted in my sliding through a pricker bush that I would have preferred to avoid. I did choose to hike with both trekking poles for the whole trip. I did find them to be helpful, especially on the downhills. A consequence of using them however was that I found that my upper back was sore after the hike from supporting myself on the trekking poles. I also chose to wear my micro-spikes on the way back. This was my first time using them, and after having them on for just a short while it was clear that they would have been very helpful for the entire hike. I found that I was making much better time back, in some part due to not worrying as much about slipping. I arrived back at my car just before 3:00pm.
I hiked this one almost entirely in just my base layer and could not have asked for better weather for this trip! I got some really good use out of my trekking poles, which I’m still getting used to using. Similarly, this was the first time I used my microspikes and will put them on much sooner next time. While the animals themselves were scarce, I did take a few pictures of the hike (as well as a few from Kent Falls) which can be found here: https://www.hiking-galleries01.joshbeaulieu.com/set/16fbd46b-92a0-48d7-8bfe-4f46121ce207
Overall this was a great hike! I’m looking forward to the next one. I’m not sure yet when or where it will be, but I’ll keep you posted.