Housatonic Meadows State Park lies tucked away in the northwest quadrant of Connecticut, shielded by the bustle and noise of the highway by the vast and forested Housatonic State Forest. Cutting through the tall evergreens is the Housatonic River, a playground for water enthusiasts and campers alike.
Best known for its boating, fly fishing, and camping, the park’s trails co-mingle with the Appalachian Trail on its brief passage through Connecticut. The blue blazed state park and white blazed AT trails are home to hilly, forested terrain, with views of the Taconic Range and Catskill Mountains in the western distance, and the expansive Housatonic River Valley to the east. Visitors using the trails should be sure to wear sturdy hiking boots or sneakers that can stand up to the frequent ascents and descents of the terrain. Be prepared to cross several brooks and occasional rocky outcroppings. Because deer ticks are prevalent in the area, wear protective clothing or insect repellant.
For day hikers, the Pine Knob Loop trail offers 2.5 miles of forested footpaths and scenic vistas, easily accessible from the Housatonic Meadows State Park entrance and campground. From the trail head, hikers will ford the babbling Hatch Brook, and begin ascending Pine Knob to a lookout point with eastern views of the campsites below. In many places the landscape of saplings and small trees appears young, a testament to a past when much of the forest was leveled to accommodate the local thriving iron and charcoal industry. Along the trail, look for interesting ferns and fungi at the lower elevations, and keep an eye out for turkey vultures and other large birds riding the wind at the lookouts.
For a longer hike, the Pine Knob Loop can be extended by continuing north on the Appalachian Trail before turning back to rejoin the Loop Trail back to camp. The AT to the north reaches the 1,390 foot Mt. Easter summit in the Housatonic Highlands approximately five miles after diverging with the blue Loop Trail, and features more scenic vistas of both the Housatonic and Hudson River Valleys to delight hikers. One of the trail highlights is Roger’s Ramp, or the “fat man’s squeeze.” This geologic marvel, a remnant of a glacial boulder, requires hikers to slip through a tight crack that splits the formation down the middle before proceeding on the trail.
Back at camp, Housatonic Meadows State park is a great place to extend a day trip into an overnight hike with its 95 campsites along the river’s edge. The grounds are open from mid April through October 11th and offer bathrooms, showers and running water. With easy access to State Route 7 in Sharon, Connecticut, the campground is the perfect mix of convenience and nature.
The camp’s river beach features a two mile long designated fly fishing area home to Brown, Rainbow, and Brook Trout. Shops just moments away from the park are available for supplies and instruction. The area, which is for catch and release fishing, is only available to visitors with a valid Connecticut fishing license, and the fast-moving, cold river provides a scenic background to this artful sport.
Thrill seekers will want to take advantage of the canoe, kayak, and whitewater rafting available on the river. Organized trips run through the State Park’s riverfront, and feature boat and raft rentals, clinics, and six or ten mile trips through the wild rapids and leisurely paddles. In the spring, American Whitewater rated IV and V level rapids are not uncommon, with the river settling down in the summer for more beginner friendly rides after the snow melt from the mountain recedes.
Whether on land or water, Housatonic Meadows State Park is a gem in the wilderness of the Northeast Corridor. Located just two hours from New York City’s Midtown Manhattan and three hours from Boston, Massachusetts, the park is a great weekend destination for outdoor adventurists. Before visiting, check with the park’s <a href=”http://www.ct.gov/dep/cwp/view.asp?a=2716&q=325220″> website</a> for detailed hours and fee information, as well as travel instructions.