Harris Whittemore, an entrepreneur and member of the State Forest and Park Commission, founded the Forest. Mr. Whittemore started purchasing property in the Naugatuck Valley in 1921 with the intention of donating it to the state. Unfortunately, he did not live long enough to see his ambition realized, but his family continued to collect property following his death in 1928, and about 2,000 acres were presented in his honor in 1931. Sawtimber, firewood, animal habitat, and leisure activities including hiking, hunting, mountain biking, bird-watching, snowmobiling, and cross-country skiing are all controlled in the forest.
Exploring the Naugatuck Forest
The 5 mile Naugatuck Trail in Connecticut, between Bethany and Beacon Falls, is a Blue Blazed Hiking Trail that hides well. It’s certainly worth a visit, but due to a lack of internet maps, difficult parking), and the fact that the first half mile of the path at either end is pretty unpleasant, it’s a trail that gets little attention.
Harris Whittemore made the initial property acquisitions that became the Naugatuck State Forest in 1921. Whittemore, a Connecticut State Forest and Park Commissioner and an industrial mogul, wanted to surrender the forest properties to the state but died before he could do so in 1928. Whittemore’s family gave roughly 2,000 acres in his honor in 1931. The additional blocks were added later, with the Great Hill block being the most recent to be added.
In Naugatuck, a picturesque valley formed by the parallel Naugatuck River and Connecticut Route 8 divides the rising hills of the East and West blocks. The Naugatuck River watershed, whose sources and mouth are wholly within Connecticut’s borders and which is itself a tributary of the lower Housatonic River, contains the majority of the Naugatuck State Forest blocks. The towns of the Naugatuck Valley were established in the early 18th century and were typical of early New England communities. Dams were built over rivers, streams, and ponds to provide waterpower for gristmills, tanneries, and subsequently paper mills. Although huge areas of the Naugatuck State Forest blocks are made up of steep hills that make lousy agriculture, there are several stone fences indicating the limits of colonial period farms.
Fishing, hiking, hunting, target shooting, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, mountain biking, climbing, geocaching, and trail running are all popular activities in the Naugatuck State Forest. Several Blue-Blazed Trails, including the Quinnipiac Trail and the Naugatuck Trail, go through the woodland including the Whittemore spur. The Quillinan Block has many miles of single track path constructed in collaboration with the DEEP State Forester’s office, the New England Mountain Bike Association (NEMBA), and Thule Corporation.
The Trails of Naugatuck
There isn’t much information on the Naugatuck Trail online, although it isn’t more than 5 miles long ( Wikipedia says its over 7 miles). It’s in Connecticut’s New Haven area, in the Naugatuck State Forest.
We opted to hike/run this path from west to east so that some of the “highlights” were towards the finish. If you had the option, we would advise you to do the same! The path from the west starts quite rough. You practically walk half a mile down Route 8! Ignore the automobiles and keep staring left at the sheer cliff and woods. After about over half a mile, you leave the road area and begin a sequence of steep switchbacks into the woods that follows a lovely stream system.
After around 1.5 kilometers, you’ll come to a stone wall, which marks the end of any digital trail charting available online! Fortunately, we have preserved the file for you to download at the conclusion of this blog. Blue blazes are used to designate the path. It was amazing not to see anybody on the path that day.
There are a few features about this path that make it stand out. For starters, the rocks here seem to gleam with Quartz more than any other trail I’ve been on in Connecticut. You also pass through a wonderful rocky mini gorge at about 3 miles and wind through mossy paths surrounded by Mountain Laurel (the official flower of Connecticut) branches from time to time. It’s so serene and lovely. We completed this in January, and I have a strong suspicion that certain sections of this walkway may get overgrown in the Spring/Summer.
Viewpoint on Beacon Hill
After around 4 kilometers, you’ll find a right-hand bend that leads to Beacon Hill’s viewpoint. The trip out and back is definitely worth it to see the massive boulder at the overlook. The top is slightly over half a mile away if you follow the Blue Yellow blazes. People clearly picnic here and light fires, however I doubt there is much of a view in the summer due to the surrounding trees, but it doesn’t make it any less worthwhile. The detour adds roughly a mile to the trip and gives you access to a trail with massive solid quartz pieces embedded in the rock.
It’s less than a mile after you return from the out and back as you amble down the mountain following a stream system and ultimately hook to the right to take you to the trail’s conclusion near the road. During my descent down the mountain, I recorded 30 seconds of footage.
Backpacking and Camping
A number of Blue Blazed Hiking Trails provide backpack campsites. Each location has its own map that may be printed out. Only backpack camping is authorized at these locations; no dispersed camping is permitted. The Connecticut Forest and Park Association designed and maintains the Blue Trails, which are situated on both public and private property and rely on the goodwill of landowners in many situations.
Hikers are asked to remain on designated routes and to respect the rights and property of landowners along the trail and adjacent to it. Because the backpacking campsites are intended for actual backpackers, the duration of stay at each place is restricted to one night. Unless there are unexpected or severe weather conditions, the campgrounds are open all year.
Backpack camping places provide basic campsites with few amenities. Although some feature limited capacity Adirondack-style lean-tos, campers are urged to bring their own tents. Furthermore, drinking water is only available at designated state park and forest wells.
This hidden gem of a path is ideal for a couple hours of hiking. If you want to do an out and back, park near the eastern end of the trail. I’m surprised at how few people utilize this route but owing to the parking and the first walk along a busy road, it doesn’t give away its secrets readily.
Prepare for damp conditions underfoot in the winter by wearing waterproof shoes/ socks or hiking boots, and in the summer, certain sections of the route may get overgrown. Although parking and some aspects of this path are not ideal, it is definitely worth a visit.