Taking a Hike: Taking on the Tunxis trek

The drive on Pell Road was making me nervous. I had expected a dirt road, but this one was particularly heavy on ruts and debris. Last autumn, I traded a clapped-out SUV for a small car, and now Pell Road was scraping and rapping the underside of my nice new vehicle. At one point, I had to drive over a slender tree trunk lying immovable across the track.

But after two or three miles of jangled nerves, Pell Road brought Katie and I to a tranquil spot in Tunxis State Forest, and near this place we found a homemade sign: “Northern Terminus Tunxis Trail”. The sign announced 21 miles of trail, south to the Farmington River at Satan’s Kingdom. But the Tunxis Trail goes farther still, 36 miles from where we stood near the Massachusetts line in Hartland all the way down to Plymouth. The trail, broadly, runs along the northwestern edge of the Connecticut River valley and, according to the Connecticut Forest and Park Association’s Walk Book, traverses some of the most beautiful woodlands in our state. Let’s see.         

Katie and I were hoping that the forest might grant us a sighting of a sleek black bear. But it was another charismatic beast that we came across half an hour into our hike; not the beast itself, but evidence of it. There are, I have read, upward of 100 moose residents in our state, and here on the trail were piles of drying scat that I do not believe were left by white-tailed deer. It cheered us to think that an animal we associate with the great northern forest had trod this Connecticut path.

Soon after the moose scat, we began to see what the Walk Book meant by beautiful woodland. We had descended several hundred feet — quite steeply at times — to Hurricane Brook, and here sunshine and breeze lit and swayed the tops of lanky hemlocks. The brook, too, was pretty; in one place rushing tightly between slabs of mossy rock into a deep, translucent pool. We walked over Trillium Hill and, no surprise, found painted trillium growing beside the trail.

For five hours our reward was the woodland and sometimes a brook. This was not a walk of views. Barkhamsted Reservoir lay west and down, but we saw little of it. This was my first hike of the leafy season, and spring brings seclusion as well as greenery. But then, after a break for lunch in the depth and peace of the trees, we began to climb.  

It was not a grueling climb, 400 feet maybe from Roberts Brook to the place where the Tunxis Trail at last came out to a view at Pine Mountain (1,391 feet). And it was a fine view, taking in the whole east. I don’t know what exactly we were looking at — was that distant high-rise center Hartford or Springfield? — but out there somewhere, beyond the wooded hills beneath, ran the Metacomet Ridge and, beyond it, the Connecticut River, and then the hills on the other side of the river’s valley.      

We were still 4.5 miles from where we had left Katie’s car for the end of our trek. I’d walked these miles once before, eight or nine years ago. It was a think-things-through hike after a crisis at work; should I stay or quit? I stayed, but only for another year or two. Perhaps because I had been busy brooding, I did not now remember the attractive swamps and ponds of this section — hemlock-lined shores, sky-reflecting waters, a beaver lodge, sun-warmed rocks to rest upon.

I did recall Indian Council Caves, which we reached an hour from Pine Mountain. At least, I remembered the name. Today the grandeur of these mighty rocks came as new. We did not see, nor search out, what I would call caves exactly, but we found boulders as big as houses, gloomy chasms between them, and a steep climb to a ledge atop the formation. Did Native Americans of the Tunxis people really hold council here? We don’t know, but I hope they did. From the ledge, Katie and I admired a big sky half-occupied with high, frivolous clouds. Stars and flame-lit faces around a council fire were not hard to imagine.      

A few more miles to go — down to another brook, up again, down once more. We were tiring and looking forward to the traffic on Route 219 — our finish line — grow louder. It soon did, way loud enough. On our drive back to my car, we avoided rutted Pell Road by taking Route 179 as far as East Pell Road — still rutted, but shorter. Katie dropped me off a quarter-mile short of my car. As I walked alone along the track, I thought how great it is that, in Connecticut, you can walk all day in peaceful forest and dream of meeting moose and bear.    

IF YOU GO …
PARKING We left a car on Route 219 in Barkhamsted (GPS 41.926324, -72.925151) and drove another to the northern trailhead in Hartland (GPS 42.037715, -72.898143).
DISTANCE About 13 miles.
DURATION We were out 8 hours.
MAP CFPA’s Connecticut Walk Book.
ROUTE Tunxis Trail south.      
WHAT TO TAKE Lunch and snacks, plenty of water and bug spray.

Contact Rob at “McWilliams Takes a Hike”, blog and Facebook. He’d love to hear from you.

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