Last year, Reach Your Summit was the first to offer a backpacking adventure trip in the entire country for National Trails Day (CT Trails Weekend). My group hiked a 38.5 mile loop over two days, connecting the blue blazed Mohawk Trail (formerly part of the AT) with the white blazed Appalachian Trail in Connecticut.
This year, I wanted to offer something bigger and continue with something else that had never been done before. After extensive research, knowledge of multiple trails and contact with property owners/maintainers I was halfway there in creating a 39.3 mile backpacking loop (now called the LKD Loop). Now, I had just wanted to see it through.
After completing a successful run-through in March 2018, the LKD Loop (pictured above) was a reality and one I was proud of. The loop connects land trust properties, state parks, a national historic landmark, a national scenic trail, communities, history, views and more.
In this blog post, I'll be sharing images, highlights and info from the backpacking loop during this year's National Trails Day celebration, and maps of the loop broken down into sections.
Our trip began on a humid, buggy and pollen clouded Saturday (note the thick tree pollen coated sky in the picture above) just below West Ledge in West Simsbury, CT. A parking request was granted by the Master's School for the duration of this trip.
Kicking off from the parking lot, we took the red blaze trail and began a decent followed by a moderate climb through muddy root-filled trail before making our way to the beautiful traprock ridge known as West Ledge. There we got a first glimpse of what was to come for the entire weekend. After a short break, we continued down a short cobble stone to a bridge crossing at Cathles. From here we hiked a very short distance on the white blaze trail and connected to the blue blaze trail on this Simsbury Land Trust property.
The trail led us through a rocky and slippery section of mini boulders and along the Simsbury Reservoir before making a steep climb through a residential area to connect with McLean Game Refuge. McLean Game Refuge is a National Treasure and historic landmark located in the town of Granby, CT. It is over 4,400 acres of private forest (one of the largest in New England) and is home to various wildlife, some of the tallest pine trees in the state and a lot of history.
Due to its vast coverage, the LKD Loop passes through a small percentage of the land, but covers a lot of highlights. After entering the refuge via the Pink Blaze trail, our group travelled through dense woodlands and a perfect spot to fill up our bottles with fresh flowing water (see pic below). Each of us had our own filtering tools.
Following our collecting of fresh water, we continued down the pink blazed trail and took a short spur trail to a spot known as The Cascades. This small waterfall and pool below made for a refreshing break before we continued through the forest.
The Cascades were a treat. We were only about 6 miles in on our 39.3 mile journey and the heat/humidity had already been taking its toll on us. With the cool-off, our batteries were recharged as we continued to the next highlight along the loop, the summit in McLean known as East Barndoor Hill.
East Barndoor Hill sits only 580' above sea level, but provides sweeping views of the countryside below and a lookout to its similar Barndoor Hill to the southwest. As the winds picked up and clouds thickened, we were prepared for some heavy rain and made our descent. That rain never came and the sun broke through the clouds once more.
After making our way by Spring Pond and its cabin, we continued down an old forest road toward the entrance of the refuge. Those who have been to McLean or the towns of Granby and Simsbury know these areas are teaming with wildlife, including black bears. We had been hiking down the path when I heard a loud crack. One far too loud to be caused by a human footstep. After scanning the area, I noticed a shy black bear hiding behind a tree and watching us from a distance. Our group paused, enjoyed the sight and continued on. We weren't the only ones that had somewhere to go. The bear popped out of the woods, ran across the trail (still at a distance) and entered the woods once more as it continued to go about its business (see pic above). I always love these experiences and connections in the outdoors. About a week earlier I had set out and completed the LKD Loop in 15 hours. During this time, I saw a couple of black bears on the loop. Chances of seeing one are pretty high if you are out on this loop.
Once we exited the refuge we continued south on a short road section before connecting to the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail (see map below). Though the LKD Loop only travels along this pathway for a couple of miles, one could take the FCHT from its southern terminus in New Haven, CT all the way to Westfield, MA (add in the Manhan & Norwottuck Rail Trails for extra mileage to Amherst, MA). A lot of history and beauty runs through this part of the loop and as a runner it was easy for me to appreciate paved trails like the FCHT. As a backpacker, I'll admit it was a little harder to find the pavement as rewarding at first.
These urban pathways have their place too. Without them, I feel we would be missing out on learning more about the, communities, environments and ourselves. Not to mention, they provide connectivity to the next path of dirt rather than being a cutoff. Trails such as the Appalachian Trail, New England Trail, Bay Circuit Trail, Long Trail, North/South Trail and many more all unite us with nature and each other.
Leaving the FCHT, we turned onto Turkey Hill and made our way to the New England National Scenic Trail. The LKD Loop enters this trail at a small parking area below Peak Mountain. After a mile in, our group enjoyed a beautiful sunset from the summit overlook and then hiked an additional mile to our camp for the night. The humidity was still with us as we setup our shelters and cooked our food. With the humidity comes bugs. I think we all ate a little more than our meals that night as swarms were flying all around.
During the night, rain had passed over us followed by a cooling breeze and drop in humidity. I remember laying in my bivy with the nylon panel rolled up and the breathable mesh exposing my head. It felt refreshing! The following morning, we woke up ready for our second and final big day. Coffee, breakfast and sorting snacks for the day took place and we had all signed the trail log before we headed south on the NET.
Halfway through our journey and another half to go. The majority of the second day took place on the New England National Scenic Trail. I'm very grateful to say I have been able to hike this entire trail twice so far. The New England National Scenic Trail is a 215 mile trail that spans from Long Island Sound in Guilford, CT all the way to the New Hampshire/Massachussetts border. It's comprised of the Menunkatuck, Matabessett, Metacomet and Metacomet/Monadnock trails that cut through the center of the two states in which it resides. If you ever have a chance to hike it I highly recommend it! The trail is rich in ecosystem diversity, history, views, beauty and technicality. The total elevation gain is also close to that of climbing Mt Everest. Below is the next section of the LKD Loop mapped out. If you look to the right of the map, the highlighted area is the stretch of the New England Trail that our group took south.
Our first highlight on the second day was a massive oak near Hatchet Hill which reminded me of the well-known Dover Oak in New York along the Appalachian Trail (see picture below). It is suggested that some trees on the New England Trail can be around 500 years old!
Another highlight, after a few moderate climbs, is the popular Tarrifville Gorge. T-ville Gorge is a hotspot for whitewater kayaking where the Farmington River produces consistent class III rapids (sometimes even class IV).
The LKD Loop stops by an overlook (pictured above) where you can spot kayakers practicing skills and pushing the envelope all summer long. The hike then drops below the traprock ridge and passes along a calmer portion of the Farmington River before crossing a bridge and leading to the center of Tarrifville.
Once leaving the center, the trail and loop traverses the traprock ridge of central Connecticut. This ridge offers multiple views, rocky-root filled terrain and signs of the past (pictured below Bartlett Tower).
The final stretch of the NET that is shared with the loop is located in Penwood State Park. The varied terrain through this park keeps things interesting and is also home of the Traprock 50 trail running race that takes place in April each year. The loop brings hikers out to an overlook with views of the Farmington River Valley, the Heublein Tower and the Hanging Hills.
Once leaving the overlook, we made a descent along the traprock steps affectionately known as the Stairway To Heaven. Following the staircase, the next stretch can be water logged by the glacially formed Lake Louise. The section was more like a pond for us during the trip and it was also the same for the run-through I did of the loop back in March (pictured below).
Navigating the waterway is manageable and once we passed it, we were provided with our last view from the NET before branching off to complete the loop. Taking an old paved path through the park, we quickly came to a yellow blazed trail and were back on the dirt within a matter of minutes.
From the yellow blazed trail in Penwood, our hike then connected to a blue blazed trail within a Simsbury Land Trust property known as Tanager Hill. A steep, but gradual path lead us below the ridge and out to a clearing with various options to choose from. The loop continues along the blue blaze trail and eventually breaks off into a beautiful meadow (pictured below). There are a few of these meadows throughout Tanager Hill which can provide for a nice short day hike if one desired.
Our group took our time through here as we marveled at the beauty and complete change in scenery once we made our way into this section of the trip. After leaving, we continued to the Farmington River once more and into the center of Simsbury. Simsbury has a lot of historical ties to the New England Trail and much more. We discussed some of the events and their significance, before coming to a highlight in the town and on our adventure. The Old Drake Hill Flower Bridge.
If the scenic bridge of flowers over the Farmington River wasn't enough, we were grateful to also pass one of the 30+ life sized statues which are part of the current Simsbury Art Trail. If you have a chance to visit the town and check out this trail, I recommend it. It is running through September 15, 2018 and if you backpack the LKD Loop you will pass a couple of these statues including the one pictured below.
Passing through the center and along the Farmington River Trail, our group passed the well known Millwright's before entering Stratton Brook State Park (map pictured below). After the varied terrain over the course of almost two full days, the flat bridal path was welcoming to our knees. The couple of miles through Stratton will most likely be cruisable for many. Remember that thick pollen in the sky I mentioned and pictured for you at the beginning of this post?
Our motivator was the fact we had about 3 miles to go once leaving the park and the one of multiple surprises I shared with the group as we approached each section. The surprise I had mentioned here was ice cream close to the finish.
Exiting Stratton, we walked a short section of quiet road before entering Tulmeadow. This agricultural area is preserved by the farm which stands there and the Simsbury Land Trust. It is unique to the area to have a preserved hiking path pass through and is a highlight for a backpacking loop such as the LKD. The woodlot behind the farmland always makes me feel like I am somewhere else other than Connecticut.
It too is protected with the farm it shares land with and also offers a view of the Heublein Tower from a beautiful clearing. The clearing and blue blazed trail (pictured below) also offers incredible views of Simsbury's traprock ridges such as The Sugar Loaf, The Hedgehog, West Mountains, The Knolls and Barndoor Hills.
We only had about a mile and a quarter left to our completion of the loop. As promised, we made a stop by the farmstead for some fresh ice cream made right on the property. After all, the hiking trail and loop passed right by it. How could we not?! A refreshing reward near the end of our journey.
The final section of the loop brought us onto the road before entering The Master's School property. Instead of walking up the entrance and driveway to the school, we went off to the left and hiked along the trail which brought us by a bridge crossing we made the previous day. A short hike and climb from there brought us back up to the parking lot where our cars were waiting for us.
39.3 miles later, our tired bodies were connected with history, varied technical terrain, wildlife, nature, each other and ourselves. I couldn't be more proud of my new found friends and group on this trip. Sharing the experience with them and seeing the loop through their eyes was the biggest reward for me. Their perseverance, enthusiasm and camaraderie was inspiring. They made this loop even more than I thought it could be, adding to it in every way.
I'm looking forward to getting out on this loop again once more in the near future and to coming up with another wild and crazy trip for National Trails Day next year. If you would like to do this loop and/or have any questions, please feel free to comment or get in touch. I have taken field notes of this entire loop to help others out who are interested in completing this loop. Happy hiking!