Local Hikes: Cockaponset State Forest – Chester
Last month my trusty and ever faithful companion Cinnamon and I hiked Millers Pond State Park and the northern portion of the expansive Cockaponset State Forest. As a follow-up to that adventure, we decided to hike the Chester portion of the forest in the Pattaconk Reservoir region. Cockaponset State Forest is a rather large expanse of woods that is broken into a half dozen separate non-contiguous areas from Clinton/Westbrook in the south to Middletown/Middlefield in the north. The entire forest is over 16,000 acres. The section in Chester extends from Route 148 north along the entire length of Chester into the Turkey Hill area of southern Haddam.
The Pattaconk Reservoir section is accessed via Cedar Lake Road in Chester, about 4 miles from Route 9, Exit 6. There is a well marked entrance and a very large parking area. However, I imagine the parking lots seem small on weekends. From the parking areas there are some very nice views of the Pattaconk Reservoir. Many of the Forest’s trails meet at or near the parking areas.
We decided to take the blue blazed trail heading north on the west side of the reservoir. This trail is a singletrack with an abundance of small stream crossings. It is well marked and cleared. If you were to try this trail on your mountain bike be prepared for some tough sections of rocks and roots. It is also much more hilly than the multi-use trails that can also be found in this forest. We very much enjoyed the small waterfalls and cascades that we passed on this trail. The blue trail intersects the Blue/Red trail at the northwestern tip of the reservoir. From this point going north, the blue trail becomes even more rustic. I suspect it gets much less use than the previous section. Nevertheless, it is well maintained and clearly marked all the way to its terminus at the Old County Road, a quiet gravel road that runs along the southern border of Haddam. From here we walked along Old County Road until we found the Red, multi-use, trail. This trail was much wider than the blue trail and does not involve trekking up and down hills. There is enough room on this trail for both bikes and hikers with room to spare. We followed the red trail south for almost a mile until we intersected the gravel access road leading to the camping area on the north side of the reservoir. We were surprised to see the well maintained and sturdy shelters that were built for the camp sites. By our count there were at least (5) shelters well spaced along the northeast banks of the reservoir. For the rest of our hike back to the parking area we took the Blue/Gold trail that follows the eastern shore of the reservoir. Here again, I would caution the biker that there are some sections of this trail suited only for hiking due to the rocks, roots, and other hazards. We arrived back at the car about 2 hours after we started. Our total mileage was just over 4 miles.
Sometime later this summer we hope to hike another portion of this State Forest. We would highly recommend this section of Cockaponset for your hiking and biking pleasure. If you are not a seasoned mountain biker I would recommend sticking to the multi-use trails. We are truly blessed with an abundance of nice hiking and biking destinations here in Connecticut, all of which are easily accessible and well maintained. Now, get outside and do some hiking.