Castle Craig and the Hanging Hills of Hubbard Park
Directions to trailhead
I-84 East for 43 miles from New York/Connecticut state line. Take exit 27 for I-691 East towards Meridan. Continue on I-691 for 5.6 Miles. Take exit 5 for CT-71/Chamberlain Hwy toward Kensington. Turn left onto CT-71 N/Chamberlain Hwy. Roadside parking on the left in 1 mile.
NOTE: There is only room for one car at the trailhead. There is additional roadside parking south of the trailhead along the west side of Rt. 71.
All but one mile of this hike follows the blue-blazed Metacomet Trail, part of the Connecticut Blue-Blazed Hiking Trail System and a New England National Scenic Trail. Due to its somewhat urban location, you would not expect this trail to be as rugged and scenic as it is so expect to be pleasantly surprised. If you were lucky enough to nab the one parking spot at the trailhead, begin your hike at the Metacomet trail sign where the trail ascends into the woods. If you had to park farther south along Rt. 71, carefully walk north on Rt. 71 to the Metacomet sign and turn left to access the trail.
After the first quarter of a mile the trail passes Elmere Reservoir on the left and a large blue water tank on the right. A little farther along there should be two trails to the left, one red-blazed, that lead to views on South Mountain about a mile out. At the time of this hike, however, we did not see those trails, most likely obscured by blowdowns from a severe October snowstorm the week prior. The trail did pass a couple of unmarked trails to the right.
Arrive at brown gates at a paved road at .8 mile. Make note of where you are as you will be coming in from the right at the end of the hike to take this same section of the trail you just hiked back to your car. But now turn left briefly then turn right and cross the dam at the scenic Merimere Reservoir. At the end of the dam, watch the pavement for a painted blue arrow and the word “TRAIL” instructing you to turn left. Hop over the metal rope guardrail and proceed down into the woods. You will immediately reach a creek – rock hop over, veer left, and ascend steeply. At the top continue following the blue trail to the left when a blue-blazed with red dot trail leaves to the right.
The trail will now follow the ridgeline overlooking Merimere Reservoir down below. Veer to the right and ascend higher leaving the reservoir. At 1.5 miles arrive at a spectacular vista that continues along the ridge. Down below you will see scenic Mine Island in Merimere Reservoir at an angle that shows the high elevation of the reservoir nestled between two mountains. Look south to your right and there will be no mistaking the mountain formation of a prone giant lying on his back, Sleeping Giant State Park, on the horizon. Although you might be reluctant to leave this beautiful spot, there is much more to come.
In another .4 mile a white-blazed trail will join in briefly from the left just before arriving at a paved parking lot and Castle Craig on the left. A road to the parking lot is open to cars during daylight hours from April to October so expect more visitors at the castle during this time. The castle can be climbed for 360 degree views from the top. On a clear day you can see Mount Tom in Massachusetts to the north. From this vantage point you should be able to make out the Long Island Sound to the left of the sleeping giant on the horizon to the south.
Leaving the castle, walk straight ahead to the parking lot, immediately turn left and walk along the edge of the parking lot towards an electrical box on the left. To the right of that box is a boulder with a blue blaze indicating you should continue straight ahead into the woods towards the sign that warns of the perils of the extremely steep traprock ridges up ahead. Stay on the trail and all will be fine. Unless, of course, you encounter the ghostly presence of The Black Dog of the Hanging Hills a third time. This 100-year-old legend claims that the first time you see the phantom dog it brings you joy, the second time sorrow and the third time death. Fear not if this is your first visit as an initial encounter would bring you joy. Just don’t get too close to the edges of the treacherously steep cliffs regardless!
The trail will descend then ascend turning sharply left just before a paved road. The next part of this hike will be the most strenuous but you have a choice. Continue on the trail and over the next half of a mile you will descend about 200 feet down into a deep gorge then climb back out up the flank of West Peak for an elevation gain of about 300 feet. This is a pretty section of the trail with views on the way up but if you don’t feel up to it don’t make that left turn on the trail, rather continue a few steps ahead to the paved road, turn left and follow the mostly level road which avoids the dramatic elevation change. Use the map to see how the road comes out at West Peak to meet back up with the blue-blazed trail.
For those who are up for the strenuous route, stay on the trail making that sharp left turn and carefully descend into the gorge. Watch your footing on the loose rock surface. After .2 mile reach the bottom and a red-blazed trail that comes in from the left. Turn right following the combined red/blue trail briefly, then as the red trails continues straight, turn right on the departing blue-blazed trail. The trail now ascends steeply on a path carved into the side of West Peak. There will be views to your left so be sure to stop frequently to catch your breath and enjoy the scenery. Every time you think you have reached the top, you round the bend to find the trail continues up and up until you finally reach more level ground. Cross a small boulder field, then a swampy area, and then turn left following a switchback for a final push upward. At the top the blue blazes turn right on a road towards the humming and buzzing of radio towers and buildings but turn left instead and walk a short distance to spectacular views on a large open rock ledge. This place beckons for you to sit and take a well-earned break.
Leave this rock ledge by retracing your steps back to the blue-blazed trail. Keep straight following the blue blazes when the trail you came up on comes in from the right. The blazing gets a little tricky around the radio towers and buildings. There will be a double blaze on a pole indicating a left turn towards the radio towers. You might see faded blazes or round metal painted markers. Although these appear to be old, continue to follow them and you will soon find better blazing again when the trail leaves the noisy buildings and towers and enters into the woods. It becomes quiet once more as the trail follows the ridgeline with views of the Connecticut landscape to the west.
The trail will veer to the right away from the ridge and start to descend crossing a power cut at 4.15 miles. The descent is gradual, noticeably easier than the first part of the hike. Rock hop over a couple of creeks as the trail widens and eventually becomes a woods road. At 5.10 miles an orange barrier at a paved road is your queue that is it time to leave the blue-blazed trail. As the blue blazes go left on Edgewood Road, turn right and walk along the pleasant, mostly residential road. Hallmere Reservoir will come into view on the right.
At the intersection, turn right on the park road and proceed beyond the “Road Closed” signs. Merimere Reservoir will be straight ahead but before that comes into view, you will arrive at the brown gates from earlier in the hike. Turn left here, go beyond the gate and walk along the left side of the clearing to find a familiar blue blaze straight ahead. This is where you will be retracing your first .8 mile back to your car.
[ 0.00] Head uphill into the woods at the Metacomet Trail sign on Rt. 71
[ 0.20] Pass between a blue water tower on the right and Elmere Reservoir on left
[ 0.55] Keep straight at a cairn when a trail goes right
[ 0.60] Keep straight when a trail comes in from the right
[ 0.65] A residence comes into view to the right through the woods
[ 0.80] Trail comes out on road, turn left then right at Merimere Reservoir and cross dam
[ 0.90] Turn left over rope guardrail into woods, rock hop over creek and ascend veering left
[ 0.95] At top of steep ascent, keep left on blue when blue with red dot goes right
[ 1.00] Rock hop over creek
[ 1.10] Trail runs along ledge above Merimere Reservoir before veering away to the right
[ 1.50] Scenic overlook of Mine Island in Merimere Reservoir and Sleeping Giant State Park to the south
[ 1.75] Side trail to left to view
[ 1.90] Keep straight on blue trail when white comes in from the left; turn left on pavement towards castle; when leaving castle, with back towards castle turn left and walk along the edge of the parking lot towards the electrical box to find a boulder with a blue blaze and continue into woods
[ 2.20] Blue trail turns sharply left downhill just before paved road (turn left and follow paved road as an alternate route to West Peak to avoid steep descent into gorge and climb back up)
[ 2.40] At bottom of gorge, turn right on blue/red when red comes in from the left briefly, then follow blue to the right as red continues straight; begin steep ascent
[ 2.60] Cross small boulder field then swampy area after which trail switchbacks up to the left
[ 2.70] When the blue trail goes right at the gravel road, turn left towards views at West Peak
[ 2.75] West Peak; retrace
[ 2.80] When blue comes in from right, keep straight on blue
[ 2.90] Turn left at left turn blazes on pole towards radio towers and buildings; blazes old and faded in this area; trail turns right and heads away from towers into woods
[ 3.20] Trail veers left downhill just before woods road (easy to miss turn and get on woods road if not paying attention)
[ 4.15] Cross power cut
[ 4.35] Rock hop over creek
[ 4.40] Trail turns left when unmarked comes in from right
[ 4.50] Trail becomes wider woods road
[ 4.55] Keep left at fork
[ 4.65] Rock hop over creek
[ 4.75] Trail turns right on woods road that comes in from the left
[ 5.00] Keep straight through large open space when another woods road comes in from the right
[ 5.10] At orange barrier when the blue-blazed trail goes left, turn right and walk along paved residential road
[ 5.40] Hallmere Reservoir on right
[ 5.80] At intersection turn right on paved road to the park
[ 6.05] Continue beyond the "Road Closed" signs
[ 6.10] At brown gates just before Merimere Reservoir, turn left into woods to pick up blue trail
[ 6.30] At fork keep right
[ 6.70] Pass between blue water tank on left and Elmere Reservoir on right
[ 7.00] Arrive at parking on Rt. 71