A Bigelow Hollow State Park Hike Around Breakneck Pond
I have hiked around Breakneck Pond at Bigelow Hollow State Park in Union many times and in all seasons. This past month I was there on two occasions, and I want to share my experience about the hike in hopes that readers might venture to this unique and beautiful natural resource area.
For those not familiar with Bigelow Hollow State Park it lies within one the largest unbroken forested areas in the state. The park itself is several hundred acres, but it’s encompassed by Nipmuck State Forest with more than 9,000 acres of deep woods as well as wetlands, meadows, ponds, brooks and streams. The drive to the park entrance on Rt. 171 in Union gives you a sense of the landscape you will soon hike.
I’ve hiked throughout the park and Nipmuck State Forest and especially enjoy the hike to Breakneck Pond via either the dirt park service road or the Nipmuck Trail. The extensive park and forest trail system is maintained in cooperation with the Connecticut Forest and Park Association, and I can personally attest to these well-managed trails.
If you want to take the Nipmuck Trail to Breakneck Pond, look for the parking area and information kiosk on your right, about ¼ mile from the Rt. 171 park entrance. From here use the trail at the back end of the parking area but keep your eye out for a sign and right turn on a white blazed spur trail leading to the blue blazed Nipmuck Trail. When you reach the Nipmuck, turn left and head north, and from there it is 1.44 miles to the southern end of Breakneck Pond. The trail goes through amazing hemlock, white pine and some mixed deciduous forest with stonewalls and a few stream crossings.
As an alternative, I usually park at the picnic area at the north end of Bigelow Pond located just under a mile from the park entrance, on the left side of the entrance road and adjacent to portable toilets. The trailhead is on the right side of the road, and you’ll want to take the white blazed trail to where it meets the dirt park service road, then left and north for just under 1 mile to the southern end of Breakneck Pond.
For the best views of the pond take either the blue blazed Nipmuck Trail on the east side of pond or the blue/white blazed Breakneck Pond View Trail on the west side of the pond. Both skirt the pond with shoreline access, large rocks, several stream crossings, and forest pond habitat that provides a tranquil yet vigorous hiking experience.
The area is home to many types of wildlife that take advantage of the pond and forest habitat. Hiking the trails, I frequently see tracks of deer, eastern coyote, bobcat, racoon and fisher. The pond is home to beavers with several beaver lodges along the shoreline. Many forest bird species can be seen and heard, and there is a nesting pair of bald eagles on one of the islands. (Note that the eagle nest island is off limits during the nesting season from February to July 15. Disturbing the birds is prohibited by state and federal laws).
If you’re looking for a longer “loop” hike of about 7 miles and are physically fit enough to handle a rocky trail with some elevation and several stream crossings, then I would certainly recommend the “loop hike” around the pond using both the Nipmuck Trail and the Breakneck Pond View Trail. The Breakneck Pond View Trail is the most challenging as it winds through a long boulder field with several large rocks to traverse around as well as up and over. I suggest starting on this trail while your legs are still fresh.
At the northern end of the pond, you’ll cross the Massachusetts state line for a short distance. Here the outflow of the pond continues northward via a shallow stream that you’ll need to cross. It is about 30 feet wide and currently does not have a bridge. In warmer seasons the stream is usually shallow enough to cross by using several strategically placed flat rocks (unless you have waterproof footwear). During the colder months with ice and snow this stream can be about a foot deep, and we encountered those conditions in early March of this year. Thankfully there is a long log over the stream for access to the other side. There is also a wire/rope stretched between trees on either side of the stream that will help you keep your balance while walking along the top of the log. Like I said, the loop trail can be tricky, but loads of fun, and this log crossing certainly is fun for those with good balance and ability.
After crossing the pond outflow stream take the trail to the right, and you’ll be on the northerly end of the Nipmuck Trail at the MA border. This section of the Nipmuck is wider and level with nice views of the pond for about a quarter of a mile before it heads uphill and into deeper closed canopy and forest habitat. The Nipmuck Trail is well marked with blue blazes and there are several picturesque small forest streams to cross. It is about 1.5 miles back to the southern end of the pond and another mile back along the park road to the parking area.
Breakneck Pond also has two lean-to shelters for overnight camping. One is located at the southern end of the pond and the second on the east side of the pond along the Nipmuck Trail. There is also a tent camping area on the west side of the pond. Those interested in using the shelters or tent camping area must sign up for permission via the CT DEEP website. Below is a link to the website with links to each camping area, maps, and a reservation form that can be printed out. It is also suggested you call to check on availability prior to submitting the reservation form.
For trail maps and additional information about recreational opportunities at Bigelow Hollow State Park check out the CT DEEP State Park website at
I continue to be amazed at the significant outdoor recreation right here in The Last Green Valley. We are very fortunate to have these resources so close to home. I hope you’ll join me and together let us continue to enjoy them, to care for them, and to pass them on to the next generation.
Bill Reid is the Chief Ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor and can be reached at 860-774-3300 or email@example.com.
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