Thank you to all who participated in the 2022 Sky's the Limit (STL) Hiking Challenge. We had over 550 people participate as well as 25 canine hiking buddies!
Sky's the Limit Hiking Challenge 2023
Ready for an outdoor adventure exploring CT State Parks and Forests? If so, join the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s (DEEP) State Parks and Public Outreach Division as they ring in spring on Sunday, March 20, 2023, with the release of the 2023 Sky’s The Limit Hiking Challenge (“STL”).
Take the challenge to get outside for some fresh air and fun physical exercise. Hike and walk the highlighted locations/trails and take designated photos along the way to experience this year’s STL theme, “In, Under, Over and Through CT State Parks and Forests.” Fifteen park or forest locations have been identified for participants to explore, with varying scenery and highlights at each location. Walk up a tower, go underground, enjoy a scenic vista, or explore a linear trail.
Participants who hike or walk 10 of the 15 trails will receive a “Sky’s the Limit” hiking staff medallion and a certificate for their efforts. For hiking or walking all 15 locations, in addition to the medallion and certificate, 50 participants will have a chance to receive a hand-carved hiking staff made by the CT DEEP Sawyer from the DEEP Sawmill or from the CT Woodcarver's Association.
On January 1, 2024 (or another date if determined) names will be drawn from those who visited all fifteen locations and 50 winners will receive a hand-carved hiking staff made by our DEEP Sawyer who works at our CT DEEP Sawmill or by the CT Woodcarvers Association. All entries are due by 3 pm on Friday, December 1, 2023.
If you post your photos on social media, please use the #CTSTL2023 or #CTStateParks.
Please follow the steps below:
Step 1: Hike or walk the listed trails within the 15 CT State Parks or Forests.
Step 2: Snap a photo of yourself (and your dog if he/she joins you) by a designated State Park or Forest sign (this could be a state park shield sign, a sign in a kiosk with the name of the state park or forest, or a trail sign identifying the location).
Step 3: Take additional photos of yourself (and your dog if he/she joins you) at the location(s) described in the specific write-up below. Please note: Many locations will require several photos be taken.
Step 4: Please be aware that your Sky's the Limit (STL) 2023 submittal can now be completed/sent using a Google Form. To use this form, a person may be required to sign-in to Google or set-up a Google account.
By using the Google Form, no other document or email needs to be submitted.
Entries must be received by 3 pm on Friday, December 1, 2023.
Please note: If participants are unable to use the Google form, please contact DEEP.SkystheLimit@ct.gov for assistance.
When providing attachments (photo or document) please do no send links to external sources (Facebook, etc.). We often have a difficult time accessing external sources. Please be sure to include the following information: name, address, email, phone number, and signed photo release Photo Release Form (each STL hiking participant shall submit a signed Photo Release). This form can be printed out, filled out and then a photo of the form can be taken and sent in with your submission. Entries must be received by 3 pm on Friday, December 1, 2023.
Step 5: To be entered to win a hiking staff (live drawing on January 1, 2024 or another date, if determined) all entries (must include the completion of all 15 hiking/walking locations) must be received by 3 pm on Friday, December 1, 2023 to be entered into the drawing.
The majority of the park and forest maps attached below take you to DEEP maps (some of which are Geo referenced PDF Maps). There are other non-DEEP map references as well, for example, explorect.org, ctvisit.com, AllTrails maps, Google Maps, CT Trail Finder.
Please check out the additional information section below for suggestions of other hikes on-site and other things to do while at the various State Park or Forest locations below.
Since many of our STL participants hike with their canine friends, we will have a special give-away for the dogs again this year.
Please read the following if hiking with a canine friend: The majority of Connecticut State Parks allow dogs, but according to state regulations the dogs must be on a leash no longer than 7-feet and under the control of the owner or keeper at all times. Before bringing your dog to one of the state parks or forests, check “Related Information” on each individual park or forest webpage on the DEEP website to read the rules for pets and also visit the Responsible Recreation section of the DEEP website.
STL 2023 Google Map or CT Trail Finder Map of Hiking Locations (to be added first week of April)
Download a Map of CT State Park and Forest Locations
STL Hiking Locations for 2023:
CT Rail Trail Explorer (5) Sites:
Our state rails-to-trails are a great way to easily explore some of CT's unique landscapes on foot, bike or horse back. "Let Connecticut's State Park Rail Trails Take You Places!"
Moosup State Park Trail (Moosup Valley Trail)
Farmington Canal Heritage Trail
CT State Park or Forest (10) Sites:
Auerfarm State Park Scenic Reserve
Windsor Locks Canal State Park
Air Line State Park Trail
State Park or Forest: Air Line State Park Trail is in the Towns and Cities of Portland, East Hampton, Colchester, Hebron, Columbia, Lebanon, Windham, Chaplin, Hampton, Pomfret, Putnam and Thompson
Trail Name(s): Air Line State Park Trail
Approximate Length of hike/walk: 50-mile liner trail going through 12 towns in CT. The trail exists in two sections: South - from East Hampton to Windham, and North - from Windham to Pomfret with the Thompson addition out beyond. The south section measures 22 miles and, with East Hampton and Hebron leading the way, is the most utilized and improved. The northern section from Windham to Putnam measures 21 miles with an additional 6.6 miles existing in Thompson.
In, Under, Over or Through hike/walk: Participants choose any 3, 6, or 10 mile plus section of the trail to explore.
Map: Air Line State Park Trail Maps, CT Rail Trail Explorer Map, Explore CT Maps,
Information: Though the rails are long gone, this rail bed once offered fashionable, rapid transit from New York to Boston. Those who travel the corridor today witness the same inspiring panoramas and absorb the same solitude that has greeted travelers since the line was constructed. Stretching across eastern Connecticut from Thompson to East Hampton, this linear trail dates from the 1870s, and today draws walkers, hikers, horseback riders and bikers from across the state for the views, the relaxation and the solitude.
Overview/History: The trail takes its name from the imaginary line drawn from New York to Boston, through the “air” so to speak, to illustrate the shortest possible route between these two major east coast cities.
Parking Area(s): various locations depending which section of the trail is being hiked or walked; Parking locations
Degree of Difficulty: Easy to hard due to length being hiked or walked. Please note there are various surfaces to be hiked or walked on (multi-use paths, flat surface, improved, stonedust, dirt and paved with a range of grades).
Photo Locations: Air Line State Park Trail sign/signage/kiosk, feature along the trail (i.e bridge, tunnel, stonework, stand of trees, wall, pond, stream, gate, path, building, etc.), photo of the participants choosing from along the trail
Additional Information:Introduction, Air Line State Park Trail Videos, Highlights Along the Way, Plan Your Visit. This park is generally not ADA compliant, however, some sections in East Hampton, Colchester and Hebron are wheelchair accessible and adaptive equipment accessible. The Airline State Park Trail has a range of accessibility. The Last Green Valley has completed mobility assessments on segments of trail that can be reviewed through their Explore Guide.
Larkin State Park Trail
State Park or Forest: Larkin State Park Trail is in the cities and towns of Middlebury, Naugatuck, Oxford, and Southbury
Trail Name(s): Larkin State Park Trail
Approximate Length of hike/walk: 10.3 miles
In, Under, Over or Through hike/walk: Participants choose any 3, 6, or 10 plus mile section of the trail to explore.
Map: Larkin State Park Trail Map, CT Rail Trail Explorer Map,
Information:Stretching across four towns, this long and narrow state park trail combines enough remarkable history, geography and aesthetics to rate its 110 acres as one of the biggest and prettiest parks in Connecticut’s system. Originally designated as a trail for horses, for which it is still popular, Larkin’s ten miles now also serve walkers, joggers, bikers and hikers.
Overview/History: Travelling the 10.3 mile Larkin State Park Trail takes one back to the great railroad days of the late 1800s and early 1900s. It follows an old railroad trail through the four towns of Middlebury, Naugatuck, Oxford and Southbury.
Parking Area(s): there are parking areas in Naugatuck, Oxford, and Southbury, and Oxford, Parking lots
Degree of Difficulty: Easy to hard due to length being hiked or walked. Please note there are various surfaces to be hiked or walked on.
Photo Locations: Larkin State Park Trail sign/signage/kiosk, feature along the trail (i.e bridge, tunnel, stonework, stand of trees, wall, pond, stream, gate, path, building, etc.), photo of the participants choosing from along the trail
Additional Information: Originally designated as a trail for horses, for which it is still popular, Larkin’s ten miles now also serve walkers, joggers, bikers, and hikers. This trail takes you along a scenic stretch of landscape. Visit the CT Tourism site at CT Visit for more information.
Moosup State Park Trail (Moosup Valley Trail)
State Park or Forest: Moosup State Park Trail (Moosup Valley Trail) is in the towns of Plainfield and Sterling
Trail Name(s): Moosup State Park Trail
Approximate Length of hike/walk: 5.8 miles
In, Under, Over or Through hike/walk: Participants hike/walk explore 3 or the approximately 6 miles of the trail.
Map: Mossup State Park Trail Map, CT Rail Trail Explorer Map, TrailLink Map
Information:This 5.8 mile linear trail encompasses 62 acres as it stretches across two eastern Connecticut towns. Though it passes through predominantly woodlands, the eastern section parallels the Moosup River for approximately one mile. This level former rail bed has the Connecticut/Rhode Island (RI) boundary as its eastern State Park terminus but continues east from there as RI's Trestle Trail.
Overview/History: The Moosup Valley State Park Trail (MVSPT) is a 5.8 mile rail trail in eastern Connecticut. It passes through the towns of Sterling and Plainfield on the rail bed of the former New Haven Railroad. It is a link in the ongoing assemblage of the East Coast Greenway. The former New Haven Railroad operated along this rail bed from 1898 to 1968.
Parking Area(s): trail crosses several roads at grade, providing access and parking at 10 locations
Degree of Difficulty: Easy to moderate due to length being hiked or walked. Please note there are various surfaces to be hiked or walked on and conditions vary greatly over its nearly six miles. Surfaces range from frequent packed dirt with some grassy, sandy and gravelly areas. Area can be wet and muddy. Some lengths are still dominated by the old railroad ballast.
Photo Locations: Moosup State Park Trail sign/signage/kiosk, feature along the trail (i.e bridge, tunnel, stonework, stand of trees, wall, pond, stream, gate, path, building, etc.), photo of the participants choosing from along the trail
Additional Information: Visit the AllTrails link and ExploreCT for additional information about this trail.
Farmington Canal Heritage Trail
State Park or Forest: Farmington Canal Heritage Trail. The CT section from New Haven to Suffield runs through eleven towns.
Trail Name(s): Farmington Canal Heritage Trail
Approximate Length of hike/walk: 56 miles
In, Under, Over or Through hike/walk: Participants choose any 3, 6, or 10 plus mile section of the trail to explore.
Map: CT Rail Trail Explorer Map, Northern Maps, Southern Maps, Trailside Benches, Farmington Canal Heritage Trail & Farmington River Trail
Information:The fifty-six miles of the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail (FCHT) and the eighteen miles of the Farmington River Trail constitute the most picturesque and historic greenways in New England. The Connecticut section from New Haven to Suffield runs through eleven towns and connects with many more biking and walking trails. The FCHT has been designated a Community Millennium Trail under the federal Millennium Trails Initiative based upon its special value to the communities it serves.
Overview/History: Each season offers today’s trail users something different; a greening in the spring with emerging leaves and wetland plants; thick rich shading foliage in summer; the full spectrum of fall colors in autumn; and open vistas with frozen rock wall seeps in winter. But whatever the time of year this special reminder of Connecticut’s past provides a tranquil get-away for everyone who wishes to enjoy its serenity.
Parking Area(s): parking lots
Degree of Difficulty: Easy to moderate due to length being hiked or walked. Please note this is a flat paved trail to be hiked or walked on. Please note that during the winter, the half mile of trail north of Rt 20 floods after heavy rains.
Photo Locations: Farmington Canal Heritage Trail sign/signage/kiosk, feature along the trail (i.e bridge, tunnel, stonework, stand of trees, wall, pond, stream, gate, path, building, etc.), photo of the participants choosing from along the trail.
Additional Information: Guidelines for Trail Users of the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail. Visit TrailLink and the AllTrails link for more information about this trail.
Hop River State Park Trail
State Park or Forest: Hop River State Park Trail is in the 6 cities/towns of Andover, Bolton, Columbia, Coventry, Manchester and Vernon
Trail Name(s): Hope River State Park Trail
Approximate Length of hike/walk: 20.2 miles
In, Under, Over or Through hike/walk: Participants choose any 3, 6, or 10 plus mile section of the trail to explore. Please note that the Bolton section of the trail was included in the 2022 Sky’s the Limit Hiking Challenge (Bolton Notch and Hop River State Parks), so it is recommended that this section not be re-hiked by past participants and that new areas be explored.
Map: CT Rail Trail Explorer Map, Hop River State Park Trail Map(s)
Information: This former railroad line is now a trail that winds 20.2 miles through the towns of Manchester, Vernon, Bolton, Coventry, Andover, and Columbia. Like a pathway through time, this serpentine path passes among modern subdivisions and crosses roads, but mostly takes the trail user along a remote, quiet and long unused path through the eastern Connecticut countryside. Also included is the trail bridge that crosses the Willimantic River in Windham.
Overview/History: As the railroad that once connected Hartford to Manchester, Vernon, Bolton, Andover and Willimantic became abandoned, weedy growth took over from lack of use. And as with so many rail lines, the war efforts demanded the steel of the rails and they were removed for scrap value. Fortunately for today’s trail users the rail beds are much more difficult to erase from the landscape than the rails and ties, and conservation efforts through the years have yielded the many rail-trail systems we have today.
Parking Area(s): Various parking areas along the length of the trail.
Degree of Difficulty: Easy to moderate due to length being hiked or walked. Please note this is a flat paved trail to be hiked or walked on
Photo Locations: Hop River State Park Trail sign/signage/kiosk, feature along the trail (i.e bridge, tunnel, stonework, stand of trees, wall, pond, stream, gate, path, building, open space area, etc.), photo of the participants choosing from along the trail.
Additional Information: Visit the TrailLink, AllTrails, ExploreCT links for more information about this trail.
Auerfarm State Park
State Park or Forest: Auerfarm State Park Scenic Reserve in Bloomfield
Trail Name(s): Orchard Loop (Red), Garden Loop (Green), Blueberry Loop (Blue), Farm Trail (Red) and Mushroom Trail (Yellow)
Approximate Length of hike/walk: approximately 2 miles.
In, Under, Over or Through hike/walk: All 5 trails and the roadway path. After parking, head across the road, past the gate, and up the asphalt road. This eventually hooks a left up to the open grassy summit of Cider Hill which as great views north and west to the Metacomet Ridge and the backsides of Heublein Tower at Talcott Mountain and Penwood State Park. Just below the summit is the former orchard of Auerfarm which still produces apples today and is maintained by the 4-H Center.
Map: Auerfarm Map, ExploreCT Map,
Information: Auerfarm State Park Scenic Reserve, a 40 acre parcel in Bloomfield was donated to the state park system and will forever be linked to the legacy of Beatrice Fox Auerbach (1887-1968), a Hartford philanthropic native who was prominent in the civic, educational and cultural life of the city. This portion of her Bloomfield farmland was presented as a gift to the people of Connecticut.
Overview/History: The remaining 40 acres of the farm property has been preserved in perpetuity in conjunction with the CT Forest and Park Association which will manage a conservation easement on the property. In 2015, it became Connecticut’s 110th state park, and will be managed as a State Park Scenic Reserve.
Parking Area(s): Upon entering the parking lot, park in the lot at the bottom of the hill or near the white barn. The park and reserve are open year-round from 8 am to sunset.
Degree of Difficulty: Easy
Photo Locations: Auerfarm State Park sign/signage/kiosk, take a photo from somewhere along the Farm Trail (ideas for potential photos-apple barn, birds, wildflowers, etc.), and a photo of the participants choosing from along one of the 5 trails on-site.
Additional Information: This Park features great views of the Metacomet ridgeline in Bloomfield and Simsbury, is located only minutes away from Hartford, and is nestled next to the 4-H Education Center at Auerfarm, a well-known local draw for community events, family programs, and agricultural activities. Visit the Auerfarm website for detailed information about the Farm, Educational Programming and Events.
Windsor Locks Canal State Park Trail
State Park or Forest: Windsor Locks Canal State Park Trail in Windsor Locks and Suffield
Trail Name(s): Windsor Locks Canal State Park Trail
Approximate Length of hike/walk: 4.5 miles
In, Under, Over or Through hike/walk: Participants choose 2, 3, or the 4.5 miles of the trail to explore. This trail is flat and paved.
Please note: The trail is open from April 1 through November 15, one-half hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset
Map: Windsor Locks Canal State Park Map
Information: The 4.5 mile Windsor Locks State Park Canal Trail follows the historic towpath of this 170 plus year old historic waterway. The canal’s many vantage points offer the trail user scenic vistas of both the Connecticut River and the old canal.
Overview/History: The Windsor Locks Canal was constructed between June, 1827 and November, 1829 to skirt the Enfield rapids in the Connecticut River. The continuous water connection from the Connecticut River valley farmlands above the rapids through to Hartford and points south provided farmers with expanded markets and investors with freight fees in this business venture. Author Charles Dickens was a notable visitor who passed through the canal on February 7, 1842.
Parking Area(s): Parking lots are visible once entering the park. The north parking area is asphalt surface and the south parking area is gravel. To reach the northern trailhead in Suffield from I-91, take Exit 47W, then head west (right) on CT 190 toward Suffield. Shortly after you cross the Connecticut River (1.4 miles in all), turn left onto CT 159/East St. N. Next, take the first left onto Canal Road. Go 0.4 mile on Canal Road to its end at the trailhead parking lot.
To reach the southern trailhead in Windsor Locks from I-91, take Exit 42 for CT 159 toward Windsor Locks, then turn left onto S. Main St. After a little more than a mile, turn right onto CT 140/Bridge St. Take a left behind the vacant factory building, immediately after you cross the canal but before you cross the Connecticut River. The access road ends shortly thereafter at the trailhead parking lot.
Degree of Difficulty: Easy
Photo Locations: Windsor Locks Canal State Park Trail sign/signage/kiosk, feature along the trail (i.e bridge, stonework, stand of trees, wall, CT River, fence, gate, building), photo of the participants choosing from along the trail.
Additional Information: Look for a wide variety of wildlife and excellent examples of 19th century stonework in the stream crossing aqueducts and bridges. Visit TrailLink for more specific information about the site/trail. Visit ExploreCT for more information about the park.
Mianus River State Park in Stamford
State Park or Forest: Mianus River State Park in Stamford
Trail Name(s): Nature Trail 2.6 miles
Approximate Length of hike/walk: 2.6 miles
In, Under, Over or Through hike/walk: Participants hike/walk the Nature Trail and explore. The Friends of Mianus River Park have created a Nature Trail in the park with 13 points of interest. The Nature Trail is about two and a half miles long and takes no more than two hours at a leisurely place. The trail is marked with green blazes painted on trees along the way. The thirteen points of interest are marked by lettered green posts covering a variety of features found in the park.
Map: Mianus River Trail Map, Friends of Mianus River Trail Map, Nature Trail Map
Information: A nearly 400-acre urban forest sandwiched between Greenwich and Stamford Connecticut, provides countless opportunities to reconnect with nature. Park Rules
Overview/History: The park had its beginnings in the late 1960s when Stamford bought 77 acres in the Westover neighborhood. In 1972, the park quadrupled in size when Greenwich purchased 110 acres and Stamford another 110 from the Goodbody Estate. The final 94 acres were added in 2000 when the state of Connecticut purchased the former Libby Holman estate. Over the years, various individuals and families owned different parcels of the land often as a second or third home. Several well known people of the day including, Dr. Robert Morris, Libby Holman and the Havemeyer and Goodbody families owned parts of the property. President Grover Cleveland fished the river with Dr. Morris while Reverend Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King visited Libby Holman at Treetops.
Parking Area(s): Turn right on Merribrook Lane and follow 0.2 mile to the small parking areas on either side of the road for Mianus River State Park. For more information on directions and parking please visit the Friends of Mianus River State Park page.
Degree of Difficulty: Easy
Photo Locations: Mianus River State Park sign/signage/kiosk, Point of Interest along the Nature Trail, and a photo of the participants choosing from along the Nature Trail or within the park.
Additional Information: Visit the Friends of Mianus River Friends page for more information about the park and trails. Also visit CTVisit for more information about the park.
Time permitting, and if participants are looking for another trail to hike/walk on-site visit the Yellow Loop. This trail is 4.5 miles.
Mount Riga State Park
State Park or Forest: Mount Riga State Park in Salisbury
Trail Name(s): Undermountain Trail
Approximate Length of hike/walk: 3.6-mile out-and-back trail
In, Under, Over or Through hike/walk: Hike the Undermountain Trail. It leads up to the intersection of the Appalachian Trail and then heads back down to the starting point.
Map: AllTrails Map for Undermountain Trail
Information: Mount Riga State Park is an undeveloped public recreation area located in the town of Salisbury, Connecticut. The state park offers opportunities for hiking and bow hunting. Please be aware of postings that are up in the area regarding hunting.
Overview/History: The Undermountain Trail connects to the northernmost section of the Appalachian Trail in Connecticut from the trail head at Mount Riga State Park's parking lot on Connecticut Route 41. This area is managed by the CT DEEP State Parks Division.
Parking Area(s): From the junction of Route 44 and Route 41 in the center of Salisbury, proceed north on Route 41 3.2 miles to the Undermountain Trail parking area on the left.
Degree of Difficulty: Moderate to difficult, suggest using hiking poles and spikes if icy
Photo Locations: Mount Riga State Park or Undermountain Trail sign/signage/kiosk, interesting feature along the trail or a view from the top of the trail, and a photo of the participants choosing from along the trail
Additional Information: This park offers scenic views for both hikers and bird-watchers at this 276-acre state park. Time permitting, and if participants are looking for another hiking spot/trail/location, visit Bear Mountain and portions of the Appalachian Trail.
Hopemead State Park
State Park or Forest: Hopemead State Park in Bozrah and Montville
Trail Name(s): Unnamed and unblazed trail
Approximate Length of hike/walk: just over 1 mile
In, Under, Over or Through hike/walk: The main trail (unnamed and unblazed trail) is approximately 1 mile and runs through forested land from Cottage Road to Gardner Lake. Please note that the trail is flat and can be wet.
Map: Hopemead State Park Trail Map, Hopemead State Park Map from ExploreCT
Information: Hopemead State Park is situated on the Montville and Bozrah shores of Gardner Lake (eastern shore). The park is an undeveloped public recreation area 8 miles west of Norwich, Connecticut. The state park covers 60 acres and is managed by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
Park visitors will find a well-constructed stone chamber (root cellar), located on the East-Northeast Shore of Gardner Lake, with its Southerly facing entrance. This stone structure was apparently used as storage for winter livestock feed. This chamber was likely used as a “colonial icehouse”.
Overview/History: The park lands were purchased in 1954 with funds bequeathed by George Dudley Seymour. Seymour's trustees acquired the land from the children of James E. Fuller, who had bought them when they were the lakeside farm of Salomon Gardner. The donation of the land to the state was announced in 1955. At the time of the donation, the site included a main house, summer lodge, carriage house, and barn. The structures were torn down and the site allowed to return to its natural state.
Parking Area(s): From the junction of Route 82 and Route 163 in Bozrah, follow Route 82 west and immediately take the first right on Church Road. Follow Church Road to the end and turn right on Doyle Road. Follow 0.2 mile and turn left on Cottage Road. Follow Cottage Road 0.8 mile to the Park on the left.
Degree of Difficulty: Easy
Photo Locations: Hopemead State Park sign/signage/kiosk, stone chamber/root cellar, photo of the participants choosing from along the trail or the lake.
Additional Information: Gardner Lake, situated on the border between Bozrah, Montville, and Salem in southeastern Connecticut, is home to Gardner Lake State Park which is located on the lake’s south shore in Town of Salem. The lake is natural in origin, though a 168 foot long earthen dam raises the water level 4 feet, bringing the average depth to 14 feet and providing a surface area of 529 acres. It reaches its deepest point at 39 feet near Minnie Island State Park, which is both the only island in the lake and Connecticut’s smallest state park at 0.88 acre.
Camp Columbia State Park
State Park or Forest: Camp Columbia State Park in Morris
Trail Name(s): Green Trail and Red Trail
Approximate Length of hike/walk: Green Trail .36 miles, Red Trail approximately 2 miles (total 2.36 miles)
In, Under, Over or Through hike/walk: Participants hike/walk the Green Trail and the Red Trail.
Map: Camp Columbia State Park Map
Information: Change has been the constant throughout the 100 year history of this piece of countryside. Where once a shared landscape of farmland and woodland dominated, a campus of higher education overtook them and ruled the property for nine decades. But it too, like the farms and fields before it, lapsed into disuse allowing the woodland to reassert itself and provide us with the landscape we enjoy today.
Overview/History: More than 120 years ago two forces came together that ultimately left us with today’s Camp Columbia State Historic Park. In the late 19th century, Morris, Connecticut, which encompasses most of the 955 acre Bantam Lake, had become a bustling resort community. Attractive to those with money, the community caught the eye of Columbia College Engineering School of Plane Surveying, which had begun teaching classes in 1884. Escaping the heat of the New York summers, the Engineering School decided to move its classes to Connecticut in 1885. Groups of students returned every year through 1891, mostly living at the Island Hotel at the north end of Bantam Lake. As the program increased in popularity, Columbia College (now Columbia University) decided to create a permanent outpost for the Engineering School. During the First World War the Camp served its country as a military combat training facility for Columbia students. After the war, in the years between 1930 and 1950, the now 591-acre Camp continued to develop. In 1935, on the 51st anniversary of the founding of the Camp, a spacious fieldstone Dining Hall was built. The existing wooden water tower was replaced with a stone tower in 1942 as a gift from the Class of 1906. Finally in 2000, the State of Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection was able to acquire the 591 acre Camp property through a Recreation and Natural Heritage Trust Fund Grant. It was dedicated as an historic state park in 2004.
Parking Area(s): This park is a designated "walk-in" facility. Parking is available in a grassy lot along Route 109.
Degree of Difficulty: Green Trail is easy, Red Trail is moderate
Photo Locations: Camp Columbia State Park sign, signage, kiosk, Observation Tower inside/outside or photo of the view from the Observation Tower, photo of the participants choosing from along the Red Trail
Additional Information: Camp Columbia State Park is considered a historic site. Hunting takes place in Camp Columbia Forest. The park is open from 8 am until one-half hour after sunset.
Mount Tom State Park
State Park or Forest: Mount Tom State Park in Litchfield
Trail Name(s): Tower Trail/Yellow Trail
Approximate Length of hike/walk: approximately 1 mile long
In, Under, Over or Through hike/walk: Tower Trail/Yellow Trail
Information: In the summer months go for a swim, have a picnic then, then hike the trail to the stone lookout tower for some memorable views.
Overview/History: Mt. Tom is one of the oldest parks in the state park system and was established in 1915. Mount Tom is named for the mountain within its boundaries. There is a stone tower on top of the mountain that is a favored destination among hikers. The summit of Mt. Tom is 1325 feet above sea level, 125 feet higher than its Massachusetts counterpart. The tower trail is less than one mile long and rises some 500 feet.
Parking Area(s): Please note that parking areas are scheduled for crack sealing the week of March 27, 2023. The parking area may be temporarily closed for a day during that time frame. Specific updates will be made on the @CTStateParks Twitter account. Please note that Mount Tom has limited parking and may fill up quickly. When the parking area is full, or the park has reached capacity, the park will be closed to additional visitors.
Degree of Difficulty: Easy to moderate since the trail is uphill.
Photo Locations: Mount Tom State Park sign/signage/kiosk, Stone Tower inside/outside or photo taken looking out from the Tower, photo of the participants choosing from anywhere along the trail
Additional Information: Interesting Geology of Mount Tom
Haystack Mountain State Park
State Park or Forest: Haystack Mountain State Park in Norfolk
Trail Name(s): Yellow Haystack Tower Loop Trail
Approximate Length of hike/walk: 1.6 miles
In, Under, Over or Through hike/walk: Yellow Haystack Tower Loop Trail
Map: Haystack Mountain State Park Maps, AllTrails Map
Information: Travel the twisting mountain road or hike the rugged trail to the top, either way you will be astounded at the beauty of mountain laurel in June and the spectacular colors of foliage in the fall.
Overview/History: The 34 foot high stone tower (with a 360 degree view) at the summit of Haystack Mountain (1716 feet above sea level) allows visitors to see the Berkshires, and peaks in Massachusetts, New York, and the Green Mountains of Vermont.
A roadway provides access halfway up the mountain. Prominent along the road is a spectacle of foliage in the fall and an outstanding show of mountain laurel in June.
Parking Area(s): From November first through the third weekend in April, this park is a "walk-in" facility with limited parking available at the entrance. The interior road of the park is open to vehicles from the third weekend in April until November first.
Degree of Difficulty: Easy to Moderate-Rugged trail to the top. From the end of the road there is a rugged half-mile trail to the top. Allow about half an hour for this walk if you are not a seasoned hiker. Roads leading to this trailhead are subject to seasonal closure. When closed, this adds an additional 1 - 1.5 miles to the hike
Photo Locations: Haystack Mountain State Park sign/signage/kiosk, Stone Tower at the summit or photo taken looking out from the Tower, photo of the participants choosing from anywhere along the trail
Additional Information: This is a popular trail for hiking, running, and walking. There are two ways to get to the tower. Trail Overview-the park road brings visitors to a parking area. The tower is a half-mile hike from the parking area. When the road is closed, visitors can hike about 2 miles up the paved road or take a mile-long path along the Yellow Tower Loop Trail that runs along parts of an old carriage road to the tower (note some rocky terrain). The upper trailhead is at the end of the paved park road as you follow it up the mountain. There is a small parking area nearby. The lower trailhead is located to the right of the entrance gate to Haystack Mountain State Park on Route 272. Please do not block the entrance gate. (Text credit to Scenesfromthetrail.com)
Chatfield Hollow State Park
State Park or Forest: Chatfield Hollow State Park in Killingworth
Trail Name(s): Green Trail (Caves Trail)
Approximate Length of hike/walk: 0.4 mile out and back to the caves
In, Under, Over or Through hike/walk: Indian Council Caves- Green Trail (Caves trail). Due to the short hike/walk to visit the Indian Council Caves, afterwards, participants are encouraged to choose another trail to hike/walk on/within Chatfield Hollow State Park.
Map: Chatfield Hollow State Park Maps, Chatfield Hollow State Park Map-GPS friendly
Information: Hike the trails in search of Indian caves, explore the jagged rocky ledges and recesses, relax by the cooling waters, or picnic in the soft pine woods at Chatfield Hollow State Park.
Overview/History: In 1949 Chatfield Hollow was designated as a state park. In pre-Colonial times, Indians frequented the valley in considerable numbers for purposes of fishing and hunting. Many artifacts found in the vicinity of Indian Council Caves indicated that Native Americans sought refuge in the jagged ledges and held tribal gatherings amid the rock recesses and overhangs. An Indian trail paralleled the brook, winding through the trees and along what is now the park road.
Parking Area(s): Park in the lot near the ticket booth
Degree of Difficulty: Moderate due to climbing in, under and through caves-use caution.
Photo Locations: Chatfield Hollow State Park sign/signage or kiosk, pick your favorite cave and take a photo of it, photo of the participants choosing from anywhere along the Green Trail/Cave trail or along another trail in the park
Additional Information: Early settlers made use of the stream for waterpower. Descendants of three Chatfield brothers, who arrived from England about 1639, were believed to have operated a gristmill along the brook. Occasional chunks of oddly shaped metal fragments found near the watercourse are evidence that an iron smelting furnace worked native ores into metal for implements. Other reminders of early history include several old building foundations, a restored waterwheel on the upper pond, and the covered bridge reproduction spanning Chatfield Hollow Brook. Chatfield Hollow is a designated Trout Park. Follow Ranger Russ from Meigs Point Nature Center as he explores Chatfield Hollow State Park.
Machimoodus State Park
State Park or Forest: Machimoodus State Park in East Haddam
Trail Name(s): Upper Vista Trail, Purple Trail and Lower Vista Trail
Approximate Length of hike/walk: Upper Vista Trail is .62 miles, Purple Trail is .17 miles, and Lower Vista Trail is .81 miles (total of approximately 1.6 miles)
In, Under, Over or Through hike/walk: Starting at the parking lot by the park entrance, hike/walk the roadway to the Upper Vista Trail, Purple Trail, and Lower Vista Trail
Map: Machimoodus State Park Maps, Machimoodus State Park Map GPS friendly
Information: Machimoodus State Park is noteworthy for its 300 acres of uplands, woodlands, meadows, river and cove waterfronts, hiking trails, bird watching and scenic vistas. There are also key vistas for the seasonal observation of geese, mute swans, mergansers, bufflehead, black duck and mallard. Bald eagles, both adult and immature, are regularly seen in the winter months
Overview/History: The park overlooks the Salmon River and Salmon River Cove in East Haddam, Connecticut. It takes its name, Machimoodus, from the earliest visitors to the area. As noisy rumblings and echoes were witnessed in turn by the Pequot, Mohegan and Narragansetts, they referred to this location as "the place of bad noises" or Machimoodus. That name carried through colonial times, continued through the two following centuries, and persists right into today
Parking Area(s): Park in lot by Machimoodus State Park entrance. The parking area also provides two vehicle/trailer spots for horse enthusiasts.
Degree of Difficulty: Easy in area of Vista Trails
Photo Locations: Machimoodus State Park sign/signage or kiosk, photo of the participants choosing anywhere along the Upper Vista Trail, photo of the participants choosing anywhere along the Lower Vista Trail (scenic viewing areas are recommended)
Additional Information: Today a network of three ponds is nestled near the park entrance abutting fields mowed for the benefit of the summer wildflowers. This landscaped entry area is scenic in appearance having been deforested many years prior and maintained as open space today. Many birders make use of the park throughout the seasons of the year. The couplet of ponds, in combination with their abutting wildflower meadows in summer and late fall, have consistently been good locations for diverse sparrows and warblers, juncos, bluebirds, phoebes in season and other small birds, many stopping over on their migratory flights. Butterflies favor the area as well. The balance of the park’s woodlands and uplands are home to four and a half miles of old farm roads and trails which provide easy access to the park’s 300 acres.
Helpful Information: For the safety of fellow STL hikers, DEEP staff, and others enjoying the trails, please remember the following when walking and hiking with the STL Hiking Challenge:
- If you’re not feeling well, stay home!
- If you arrive at a park or forest and crowds are forming, choose a different park and trail, or return another day or time.
- Warn other trail users of your presence and as you pass to allow proper distance and step off trails to allow others to pass. Signal your presence with your voice, bell, or horn.
- While enjoying your hike or walk, be safe outdoors by staying on the marked trails, and most importantly, have fun exploring.
- Bring water or drinks.
- Bring a whistle, sunblock, map and insect repellant.
- Dress for the weather. It is best to dress in layers. As you warm up while hiking, you can remove outer layers.
- Wear proper footwear based on weather and site conditions.
- Hunting is allowed in most state forests and some state parks so check out the CT Hunting and Trapping Guide and don't forget to wear orange during hunting season. Also, bring a whistle or make noise so hunters know you are in the area.
- Be Bear Aware and do make your presence known by making noise while hiking. If you see a bear, make enough noise and wave your arms so the bar is aware of your presence.
- Remember to protect yourself from Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases.
- Dogs must be on a leash for their safety, the safety of wildlife and fellow hikers. Please see Notes section below for more information.
- Don't forget to bring a map and know what the trail blazes mean (don't think just because there is a wide open trail that is the correct way to go, there might be a spur trail that is not obvious.
- Be aware of your surroundings and check out options. There might be a trail that takes you around a steep area, consult your map.
- Remember to check the State Parks Twitter to confirm the park is open and plan your trip accordingly. With the Passport to Parks Program, Connecticut residents are no longer required to pay a parking fee at CT State Parks and Forest recreation areas, due to DMV collecting a $10 fee ($5 per year) on behalf of DEEP at the time of registration and registration renewals for non-commercial motor vehicles.
Photographs from the 2022 Sky's the Limit Hiking Challenge