Take A Hike — trails connect Valley's vast open space
Updated: Sep 15
• Benefits of Hiking Evident in Amazing Farmington Valley
This article first appeared as the cover story in the May edition of Today Magazine, our monthly publication
TAKE A HIKE! Do you associate the “take a hike” phrase with a positive or negative connotation? The dictionary defines the popular expression both ways, actually — “take a hike” can mean to simply and literally go on a hike ... or to go away, to leave, to get lost.
In this edition of Today Magazine, we’re contemplating the first definition — and we’re celebrating the amazing and abundant and multifaceted hiking trails that crisscross and connect the Farmington Valley’s forests and parks and open spaces.
Perhaps, though, we can see these two definitions as complementary rather than competing, and combine them — so “take a hike” becomes a call to both “go on a hike” and “get lost” in nature.
Each of the five core Valley towns — Avon, Canton, Farmington, Granby and Simsbury — has a nonprofit land trust dedicated to preserving the area’s remarkable pastoral beauty and natural resources. And this stunning display of nature’s bounty in the Valley is accessible via countless hiking trails.
The benefits of hiking are numerous. During the past year, as the COVID pandemic resulted in stay-at-home counsel and reduced access to society, hiking has become a favored way to exercise and safely spend time in the great outdoors.
Today Magazine has spoken with a number of Valley residents and officials about their hiking experiences. We hope you appreciate their illuminating and insightful observations about the value of hiking and the benefits of enjoying nature — along with their helpful recommendations for worthy hiking destinations in the Valley.
We asked them the following two questions:
1 — What is your favorite hiking trail in the Farmington Valley?
2 — What do you see as the main benefits of hiking?
These residents and their comments are listed in alphabetical order by town, and by their last names.
Heather Maguire • Avon Avon Town Council Chair
1 — We are so fortunate to live in an area with access to so many trails. I live close to the trails at Found Land and tend to walk those trails more often, but one of my favorite places to walk is the area around Fisher Meadows.
2 — I enjoy the exercise — the relaxing beauty and the woods and lakes clear my head. I love to take my dogs into the woods, they just love all the new smells!
Sarah Thompson • Avon Founder • ShopBlackCT • ShopBlackCT.com is a free website that lists and seeks to elevate Black-owned businesses in Connecticut
1 — The great thing about the Farmington Valley is that there are many choices when it comes to trails and hiking. Nothing beats the view from the Heublein Tower after hiking the trail at Talcott Mountain State Park in Simsbury, especially in autumn. Enders State Forest in Granby provides an amazing treat with a number of waterfalls at peak during the spring, and Stratton Brook Park is another great local spot with several trails and even a covered bridge and beach to enjoy in the summer.
2 — Hiking provides a connection to nature and a step away from constantly being "plugged in" to technology, which, for me, is much needed for self-care and mental health. Plus, it provides so many benefits for physical health that it's a win-win.
Terri Wilson • Avon President • Avon Historical Society
1 — The hike along the ridge up to Heublein Tower and standing where Mark Twain and his best friend, Rev. Joseph Hopkins Twichell, hiked every week to enjoy what they called the “Royal View” — or the view down into the Valley below. The tower itself is wonderful, and to be in the footsteps of Mark Twain, looking where he looked to see the same great view, is just very special.
2 — Benefits of hiking: fresh air and nature. Nothing like being one with the land and sky. It’s very natural to feel the pull of both when you hike. Hiking is invigorating and, during the pandemic, an excellent way to visit with friends outdoors. Sharing nature is a gift we need to preserve.
Bob Bessel • Canton Canton First Selectman
1 — Living in Collinsville, we have many “non-trail” places to hike. Our typical walk is up South Street to High, then down to Dyer and maybe pick up the river trail back to downtown Collinsville. Sometimes we head toward the Shops.
2 — Benefits of hiking are exercise, change of pace (ability to connect with people and surroundings at a slower speed) and better connection with the community around us. Hiking helps us break down isolation, notice the world and find things we didn’t know were there.
Jay Kaplan • Canton Director • Roaring Brook Nature Center • Canton
1 — There are so many hiking trails in the Farmington Valley, it is difficult to pick a favorite. My answer would probably depend on what I was hoping to find — perhaps birds, wildflowers, etc. For scenery, you can’t beat the trails in Peoples State Forest. I also like the Simsbury Land Trust’s trail that follows the trap rock ridge in West Simsbury. I think it is called the West Mountain Trail.
The Canton Land Conservation Trust’s Sun, Wind and Woodlands trails are worth watching. In 2016, the CLCT cleared a 10-acre parcel as part of an initiative to create habitat for the New England cottontail, and to attract brushland-loving birds. Although there are no rabbits at this time, the area has been successful at attracting birds that are declining throughout the area due to loss of habitat.
The CLCT also maintains other nice trails like the Humphrey-Goedecke trail that runs along Cherry Brook. Finally, the Quarry trail maintained by Roaring Brook Nature Center and running through the state-owned Werner’s Woods is a favorite.
2 — Hiking provides many benefits. There are obvious health benefits to an active lifestyle that includes physical activity. For many people, running is much harder on the joints than a brisk hike. There are also numerous studies that tie mental and emotional health to spending time outdoors.
In the pandemic era, hiking is one of the activities that can be done safely with appropriate social distancing. Then, there are the educational benefits of hiking to see wildlife, engage in photography, study wildflowers and so much more. Hiking can be easy or strenuous depending upon where you want to go and what you want to see. I highly recommend it!
David Leff • Canton Canton Poet Laureate + Deputy Town Historian
1 — Ever since the National Park Service appointed me poet-in-residence for the New England National Scenic Trail for 2016-17, the section of the New England Trail (NET) that runs along Avon Mountain and the Talcott Ridge (also known as the Metacomet Trail) is my favorite for its rugged terrain and great views.
2 — Hiking challenges our bodies and soothes the spirit. In the rhythm of a hike, the legs and heart are in conversation with the mind making dreams seem possible.
Michael Kelly Blanchard • Unionville Director of Operations • Singer-Songwriter • Quail Ministries • For the uninitiated: Unionville is a distinct section of Farmington
1 — Presently my favorite trail is Suburban Park in Unionville. A trail full of history — signage explains the 1895 to 1905 amusement park of the same name and there are even ruins to explore — and beauty: a splendid brook to walk along as well as well-cleared trails through the hilly woods.
2 — Cardio workout: Slight to steep trails get the old heart a-pumping throughout. Well worth the visit!
Paula Kelley • Farmington President • Farmington Food Pantry
1 — Our favorite trail is the portion of the Farmington River Trail from the River Road parking lot in Unionville up to the center of Collinsville. The beauty of the Farmington River never gets old.
2 — The main benefits for my husband and I are the physical advantages gained from walking. We control the pace and distance, and the added bonus is the serenity and beauty of the river. We have regularly seen bald eagles, great herons, numerous varieties of water birds … always a surprise and delight watching for them.
C.J. Thomas • Farmington Farmington Town Council Chair
1 — My favorite trail in the Farmington Valley is the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail — the sheer number of runners, walkers and riders it brings outdoors is amazing. When I am looking for a peaceful hike, the Canal Aqueduct & Henry Mason Trail is a great one. There is a tremendous history behind the trail as well as markers describing some of the flora you will encounter on your journey. Any hike along the river is a great one in my book.
2 — Any hike I take offers a chance to get fresh air, exercise and time to reflect. We are so fortunate to live in an area with ample opportunities to enjoy our natural surroundings. This past year has highlighted just how important that is.
Connor Hogan • Granby Director • McLean Game Refuge • Granby + Canton + Simsbury • The main entrance to McLean Game Refuge is in Granby — along with most of its acreage — but smaller parts of the refuge are in Canton and Simsbury
1 — Two of my favorite places for wildlife viewing are Great Pond State Forest in Simsbury and Dismal Brook Wildlife Preserve in Granby. One of my favorite places to visit for old forest is Belden Forest in Simsbury.
2 — Though I enjoy trail running, snowshoeing, skiing, etc., I most enjoy going to the forest to simply enjoy nature. I love the chance of seeing something new or unexpected. That may be an animal encounter, a view, a new plant or just a beautiful light through the trees.
James Q. Rice • Granby Chief Investment Officer • JQR Capital
1 — My favorite hiking trail in the Farmington Valley is probably the Jessie Gerard Trail in Barkhamsted — a 2.9-mile loop that rises 692 feet for a western view of the Farmington River. Within the footprint for Today Magazine, my favorite trail is probably the extended Spring Pond Loop on the south end of McLean Game Refuge in Granby. It can be accessed from Canton Road and it offers views of Spring Pond and a breezy sanctuary on hot days due to its shaded and elevated disposition.
Park on Canton Road and head down the Pond Road. Skip the Pond Trail and take a left at the next T onto North Trail. Take a left onto Esker Road and enjoy the hike past Spring Pond before taking the right back up Pond Road to your car. This 2.1-mile loop is a perfect after-work release.
• Editor’s Note — Today Magazine covers the five core Farmington Valley towns: Avon, Canton, Farmington, Granby and Simsbury — the town of Barkhamsted is part of the Farmington River watershed, but isn’t part of the geographic area known as the Farmington Valley •
2 — The benefits of hiking include a low-impact exercise regimen that can be done almost anywhere. I usually wear my hiking shoes during the work day or keep them in the back of my car so I can catch a quick hike between meetings around the Farmington Valley.
Other benefits are an immediate stress relief from daily worries and a more direct connection with our amazing planet that we call home. There is no secret that Finland is the happiest country on earth because they so frequently take a "woods bath" by donning their muddy boots to literally get lost in the great outdoors.
Eric Wellman • Simsbury Simsbury First Selectman
1 — My favorite trail is the Farmington River Trail and an easy-to-miss side trail that leads into Ethel Walker Woods. My daughter and I discovered this trail at the beginning of the pandemic and have been taking hikes together weekly.
2 — There is so much evidence about the mental health benefits of walking in the woods. This is something that really hit home for me during the pandemic, when I discovered the trails in Ethel Walker Woods. One of the great things about Simsbury is the plentiful trail system, but if you get lost you just need to walk half a mile and you'll find a neighborhood.
Linette Branham • Simsbury President • Rob Branham Foundation • Facebook comment
1 — Favorite trail: Tanager Hill in Simsbury
2 — Main benefit: A great chance to get outdoors, get sunshine and fresh air, and relax!
Rosemary Smith • West Simsbury • Facebook comment
1 — Favorite trail: McLean Game Refuge — trails in Granby, Canton and Simsbury
2 — Main benefit: Hiking is a great stress reliever … as John Burroughs said, “I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.” +
After reading these cogent answers to our two questions, we have a question for you — don't you want to take a hike?