SOUTHINGTON — When one drives on Mount Vernon Road, the cliffs along the Wolcott line offer a magnificent view, both from the ground and from the Tunxis Trail that runs along the top.
Recently I set out to explore a portion of the trail using trail maps to find a loop. The drive up was daunting, looking up at the mountains and thinking about what the journey to the top would be like.
While the Tunxis Trail is part of the state blue-blazed system, several smaller trails lead up to the main trail at various points. I opted for a loop that can be accessed through the end of Panthorn Trail, across the street from Lincoln College.
At the end of the cul-de-sac, a small light-blue arrow next to a shed denotes the start of a small trail called, quite appropriately, Steep Climb Trail. The path in is a little awkward, as the trail runs quite close to homes in the area. Once inside though, I was faced with large rocks ahead of me.
The climb is quite steep, often over rocky terrain and over a few small streams trickling and cascading down the mountain. As such, it may not be ideal for young children.
Steep Climb Trail may not be the steepest I’ve climbed, but I was glad I only opted for a sweatshirt and not a heavy coat. Despite temperatures around 50 degrees, sweat started running down my face shortly after I started.
As I continued my upward journey, songbirds serenaded me. A chickadee ventured close by to see what I was up to while a few eastern peewees and sparrows sang from a safer distance.
I took a right onto the Compounce Ridge Trail, denoted by a blue blaze with a yellow circle in the center. The trail was very well marked.
The small songbirds disappeared as I took the turn but I was treated to the sight of a large pileated woodpecker, a species that is roughly the size of a crow. I heard him poke at a hollowed tree and soon heard the chuckle-like call the woodpecker is known for (think Woody Woodpecker).
It became a game of hide and seek, with the woodpecker flying farther up the trail each time I got close.
The rock formations along the trail appeared to have a lot of quartz in them, creating a magnificent sparkling effect in the morning sunlight. Some of the rocks just had a small amount of quartz, while some boulders had huge sections of crystals.
After I’d climbed about 600 feet in the first three-quarters of a mile, the trees started to thin and I could see a small outcropping in the distance. I walked over and was greeted with a great panoramic view looking out of Lake Compounce, the amusement park and Lincoln College. After taking in the view for a while, I ventured on.
At about the one-mile point, I came to a fenced in area housing the top of the chairlift ride from Lake Compounce Amusement Park. Nearby, another outcropping offered an even more panoramic view.
To my right, you could make out Sleeping Giant in Hamden. Straight across were the Hanging Hills and the towers on West Peak in Meriden. A slight haze hindered the view so I could only imagine how the view would look on a clear day.
From the chairlift, the trail widens and slopes downward on a curving path to an intersection with a few other trails. At this point, there are several options. I took the Bobcat Trail leading to the main Tunxis Trail, which eventually loops back around to the Compounce Ridge Trail and back to my car.
The Bobcat Trail levels off quite dramatically. Without the frequent up and down, it’s easy to catch your breath and just relax. As the trail began looping around into Wolcott, the only sound was the crunching of leaves under my feet. On the ridge trail, I had become accustomed to the sound of gunshots, construction and the highway.
Now it was eerily quiet. Periodically, I stopped just to appreciate the silence.
After a few hundred feet, the silence was interrupted by the piercing call of a red-tail hawk soaring above. It called out several times as it scanned the woods. The main trail also remained relatively flat until meeting up with the Compounce Ridge Trail again.
I took a left at a location marked on my map as Libby’s Lump to get back on the Compounce Ridge Trail and begin the decent down. Heading down the Compounce Ridge Trail was a bit more gradual than going up the other side, at least until I made my way back to the Steep Climb Trail again.
At my leisurely pace, the hike clocked in at 2 hours, 42 minutes, spanning 4.78 miles, according to the MapMyHike app on my phone. It also showed the elevation change was about 640 feet.
The hike was challenging in spots, but offered magnificent views and a great flat hike on the main trail to recover from the ascent. My legs started to get a little tired by the end, but I was curious to do some more exploring of the Tunxis Trail system. That will have to wait for another day.