The Nipmuck Trail
“A good trailsman always leaves a trail a little better than he finds it.”
‑‑ Edgar L. Heermance, “Father” of the Connecticut Blue-Blazed Hiking Trail System, from Connecticut Walk Book, 20th Edition, 2017.
Some of the wonderful outdoor resources we have in the 26 Connecticut towns of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor are the blue-blazed walking trails traversing our beautiful region. These trails are maintained by dedicated Connecticut Forest and Park Association (CFPA) trail stewards. I have frequented these trails many times, led hikes on them, and consider them my go to location when I have the need for a walk in the woods.
“In 1929 the CFPA Trails Committee proposed a radical idea – establish and maintain hundreds of miles of walking trails by a workforce of volunteers organized and trained by CFPA. Now, ninety years later, this radical idea is still being carried forward by volunteers, members, partners, CFPA staff, and many landowners who have joined forces over time to maintain, improve, and expand the Blue Trails.” From “Connecticut Walk Book: The Complete Guide to Connecticut’s Blue-Blazed Hiking Trails,” Introduction to the 2017 edition.
Within no more than a 30-minute drive from my home in Putnam I can reach the Hibbard, Narraganset, Natchaug, Nehantic, Nipmuck, Old Furnace, Pachaug, Pequot and Quinebaug trails. Of these trails I am most familiar with the Nipmuck and gladly share information about it this column.
The Nipmuck trail is 40-miles long from Mansfield in the south to Union in the north and the Massachusetts border at Bigelow Hollow State Park. There are two southern branches, the 6-mile east branch and 5-mile west branch that meet north of Mansfield Hollow State Park. From there the trail heads north through Willington, Ashford and Union. Along the way it passes through several recreation and conservations areas including the Nipmuck and Natchaug State Forests, Yale Forest, and lands owned by towns and land trusts, notably Joshua’s Trust. For several miles it follows the Fenton River as it meanders south to Mansfield Hollow Lake.
While I would recommend any section of the Nipmuck Trail, my favorites are sections that include large unfragmented forestlands in Nipmuck and Natchaug State Forests and Yale Forest. I also enjoy the section of trail that follows the Fenton River.
For a scenic hike along the Fenton River, I would recommend the section starting at the Gurleyville Gristmill on Stonemill Road in Mansfield/Storrs. The mill is owned by Joshua’s Trust and is open to the public. From here you can hike south along the river toward Mansfield Hollow, or north along the river to the UConn Forest, and towards Rt. 44. The sound of flowing water within the silence of the woods is one of the most peaceful experiences in nature. I find myself lingering along its banks, looking for a place to sit, rest, and forget the world for a while.
Further north along the Nipmuck Trail I enjoy the section from Iron Mine Road, just off Rt. 89 in Ashford. From here the trail passes through Natchaug Forest and Yale Forest. It also intersects with the Natchaug Trail from the east. A highlight of this section is Pixie Falls, a short 100 yards down a spur trail. The falls are created by Boston Hollow Brook as it tumbles down a steep rocky ridge.
This section of the Nipmuck Trail also includes the ancient Native American trail used by Rev. Thomas Hooker in 1636 as he led his congregation through the wilderness from Cambridge to Hartford along what became known as the Old Connecticut Path. To walk this section is to experience the ancient pathway of the indigenous people of our region as well as some of the colonists who arrived in Connecticut to make a new life.
Further north along the Nipmuck Trail is a section that leads into Yale Forest and provides a nice five-mile loop. From Boston Hollow Road in Ashford the trail rises to the top of an ancient fault line with two exceptional overlooks facing south and east over hills and valleys. From there it continues north through diverse hillside forest habitat of deciduous trees and then downhill into large stands of hemlock and pines and Bigelow Brook. Along with Yale Forest this section of the trail goes through property conserved by Hull Forestlands. At four miles the trail intersects with Barlow Mill Road, and from there it is a nice level one-mile walk back to the trailhead on Boston Hollow Road.
A final section that I greatly enjoy is where the Nipmuck Trail traverses through Bigelow Hollow State Park and Nipmuck State Forest. Starting near the entrance of the park the trail follows north through deep and quiet woods, over several small streams and then to the southern end of Breakneck Pond. It goes along the east side of the pond with excellent views of the pond and concludes at the Massachusetts border.
For more information on the Nipmuck Trail I strongly suggest you go to the Connecticut Forest and Park website and the links to CFPA online map of all the Blue-Blazed trails in the state. Here is the link:
I also suggest the CFPA Walk Book 20th edition that came out in 2017. Detailing 43 blue-blazed Trails that total 825 miles, the book includes detailed full color maps with mileage and destination tables. You can find the book for sale at The Last Green Valley website store. Click on the “giftshop” tab for selected items including the CFPA Walk Book and other interesting publications. Here is the link:
We live in a beautiful place called The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor. We are blessed with countless outdoor experiences, including walking trails that take us into deep woodlands, along meandering forest rivers, picturesque valleys and hillside vistas. I hope you’ll join me to travel these ancient as well as new pathways and discover again the beauty of this region we call home. Together let us enjoy it, care for it, and pass it on.
Bill Reid is the Chief Ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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