50 Hikes 50 States Project–Connecticut
When I think of Connecticut, I think of early American history and publishing houses. So when I learned the Appalachian Trail runs through the western side of the state, I thought it was time on our 50 Hikes 50 Trails Project to stop in on the AT. We had just finished hiking Bash Bish Falls in Massachusetts, so dropping down to Connecticut made sense.
Finding the Trailhead
Although our flight on Southwest into Boston went perfectly, Google Maps let me down. I wanted to go to the Bear Mountain Trailhead. It took me to a trail head to access the Appalachian Trail that required we traverse a private road and park at a private home. Entrance to this person’s house had a sign that said, “Google is wrong.” Apparently, I had followed in the footsteps of many other people’s errors, too.
I had no signal on my phone; I continued driving with the hopes of landing a signal soon so I could develop a different plan. No need. In short order, perhaps two miles, I stumbled upon the Undermountain Trailhead (set your GPS to 395 Under Mountain Rd, Salisbury, CT 06068.)
This wasn’t the original trail I intended to find; but it would also serve the purpose of approaching the AT.
We parked. Peed in the outhouse. Reviewed the map at the trailhead and hiked. By the way, once we had hiked and I had found a signal, I discovered that local hikers consider Undermountain Trail a strenuous hike to approach Connecticut’s highest peaks, Mt Riga and Mt Frissell.
A Typical Hardwood Forest
Fortunately the shady hardwood forest provided some cover to the blazing summer heat and humidity. With a slight elevation, my husband, teen and I journeyed on. Honestly, the trail was nothing special. I felt we were in a typical New England hardwood forest growing over a lush field of ferns, pipe stems, and fodder. Wooden planks formed bridges and rock steps made gaining easier. Well-marked blue blazes brighten the path.
By the way, I love how the east coast uses blazes; they are uncommon in the west.
The Climb Gets Tougher
About halfway to our destination, the elevation increased. We crossed a creek, turned at the double blue blazes and then wham-oo! Rhododendrons everywhere! Some folks call it Mountain Laurel. Or Mountain Azalea. No matter what you call it, we called it stunning.
Chest high, in full bloom, the white blooms burst forward, drawing us higher in the elevation. Rather than the drudgery of a humidity-filled climb, the hike turned delightful. Every turn and every view filled with bright white brilliance buzzing with bees. In no time, we turned left at the fork and arrived at our destination.
Teenage Angst vs Mother Nature
Riga Junction announced our arrival to the Appalachian Trail after about 1.75 miles of hiking.
The T of the Undermountain Trail with the Appalachian Trail loomed overhead with a large wood sign pointing the north and south stops along the AT.
By the time, my daughter was done. She was bored, the white blazes of the AT got yawns, and the flowers no longer enthralled her. Even the colorful mushrooms on the forest floor caused rolled eyes.
Me, on the other had, I pepped up! The AT! How cool! Although I had hiked 25 miles at the southern terminus, it felt so cool to connect a northern section with my previous AT experience. And as if like magic, the rhododendrons became denser and nearly covered the trail in a tunnel. I couldn’t resist extending our hike through the beauty and up toward Bear Mountain’s summit.
My daughter settled in. She had no interest in doing any more climbing. She’d wait for us to get back, and we’d walk back to the Trailhead together where we’d park, she declared.
My husband, on the other hand, was gung-ho. He wanted to keep climbing. To the mountain top we’d go for another 1-mile climb! (See the yellow line on the map below for the optional 2-mile round-trip climb to the summit.)
It was a classic case of mom in the middle.
Rule Number One of Mountain Hiking
Fortunately for motherhood, Mother Nature settled the score. Thunder pounded in the distance. If there’s one thing I’ve learned hiking, hear thunder–find shelter. So I didn’t have to make the decision of mountain summit or trailhead parking lot. Thunder sent us scurrying down trail to our car, just in time before the rain started and lightening flashed in the distance.
On the way down the trail, others turned around, too. That’s summer hiking for you.
A Good Hike Begets a Good Lunch
Of course, we found ourselves with hungry bellies looking for a quaint place to grab lunch. The nearby town of Salisbury offered up LaBonne’s Market. We grabbed some prepared deli items; I got a delicious couscous salad and a 1/4 of a sweet summer watermelon. They hit the spot.
I’m finding that traveling with both my husband and my teen comes with unexpected challenges. Although I want to hike as far, as hard, and as long as I can handle, they don’t. Compromise takes patience.
Next up, we journey to Rhode Island.