Real Fit for Real Life
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The beauty of Topstone is that it is close enough and short enough to hike on a whim or do frequently as a gentle workout. Since it's so close & relatively easy for all ages and abilities, it's one we take our out-of-town guests to all the time to give them a taste of our CT beauty. I highly recommend you do the same ;)
It's easy to get to Topstone Road off route 7, just be sure to keep your eyes open and not pass the parking lot. Turn in (the turn will be on your right if you are coming from Ridgefield) and keep driving past the sign all the way toward the lake, where there is ample parking. Since this is also a life-guarded lake during the summer, you may be able to use restroom facilities, but they might be locked off-season-- alas, the lack of necessity thus far has prevented me to check on this very important tidbit of info! As usual, I make sure we all arrive with empty bladders! This hike is a loop, so you can start either to your left or right from this parking area. You can also explore the beach area first, where there is a playground for young kiddos. There are also basketball courts by the lake, if you bring a ball and want to shoot some hoops first. Talk about kid-friendly hike!
We always start on the trail head to the right for some reason, just a natural tendency. You'll begin with a slight downhill stretch & arrive at a wooden platform on the water. This is our favorite spot for yoga poses & snake-spying! Watch little ones here if you don't want them going for a swim! If the water levels are high enough, you can watch the water overflow down the man-made dam on your right.
Topstone is dog-friendly & even has a fenced doggie play area where the pups can run around off leash & even swim in the lake if they're brave enough (our Chloe doesn't love swimming, despite our attempts to throw her in our pool!) Plan for extra time on this hike if you want to enjoy the dog park, & of course scoop your dog's poop!
Shortly after the dog park, you'll see some fun exercise-playground equipment on your right. This is a definite must-do! The kids and I do tricks on the rings & practice the balance beam-- moms always think they're too old for this playfulness, but I say you're only as old as you move! So move like a kid ;) It's invigorating to hang upside down at any age!
The rest of the hike offers beautiful views of the lake, occasional streams over rock beds, ferns on the woods side & marsh grass & lily pads on the lake side-- maybe you'll get lucky and spot a frog on a lily pad or catch them flowering like a Monet painting come to life! It's really wonderful how compact this hike is-- so much to see & do on such a short hike! So take your time & take it in. To be truthful, I haven't mile-marked this one with my Runkeeper-- it's one we just go do. You could do it in 30 minutes, or have fun and play and spend an hour.
There are trails that take off into the woods area, but I have yet to explore these. I'll keep you posted!
What's also wonderful about Topstone is that you can enjoy it all four seasons. We've visited in the winter, spring, summer, & fall, & every time there's something new to observe & appreciate! Fellow hikers are always friendly, another reason why I love to take to the trails! It's refreshing to escape the angry people, all hustle & bustle & busy & thinking their schedules are more important than anything else in the world. I've had great conversations with lovely people out on the Topstone trail. So be one of those people. Show your kids how to be that kind of person. There's more to hiking than hiking, or even the exquisite beauty of nature. There's humanity. The simple truth that we share the trail, the planet, and the desire to feel peace, love, & joy.
And you thought it was just a hike.
This wondrous hike actually allows you to explore both Hemlock Hills & Pine Mountain-- honestly, this was a bit accidental, but I find the best journeys are often those unplanned ;) My original goal was to find the high point with the lookout, which I had been told was off of Pine Mountain Road. The day was foggy & cloudy, so I knew I wouldn't get the best view, but at least I could scope out the hike before bringing the kids next time. (It's always nice when I'm not lying to them, "We're almost there-- it's not that steep!" when really I have no idea! We moms are notorious liars.)
So I found the small parking area up Pine Mountain Road, and when I say small, I mean small. I'm lucky no one else was there that day. There are no facilities either, so be sure to potty first! (Which I did, but I still had to relieve my full bladder in the woods, another reason I was grateful for no other hikers around! It's tough to be a girl.) Now, here's where I went wrong but oh-so-right: I took the obvious trailhead. The one right in front of me next to the big sign.
The trailhead, by the way, is stunning. Not all hikes are gorgeous right out the gate, but this one was. It's the yellow trail and it begins with a very gentle downward slope. On a quiet fall morning you can hear the echoes of acorns dropping like mini cannonballs. Don't take it personally-- I had to convince myself there were no maniacally-laughing squirrels up in the treetops just hurling acorns at me. I knew the woods wanted me there. So I continued.
Right at the start you will see some beautiful rock formations and curlicue trees, and immediately, you will know this hike is special. It is one you will want to return to again and again-- magical and mysterious. Movies should be made here. Seriously.
At .22 you'll arrive at a little wooden bridge-- stand here & listen. It is otherworldly. If you disagree, you have lived in CT far too long & take it for granted. Open your eyes and ears a little more, & you will recognize the fairy-tale-likeness of this spot. I have added it to my Favorite Spots on the Planet List.
At .32 you'll have to traverse large boulders! Be careful! Adventurous kids will love this part, but be sure they are cautious. Also, while dogs are allowed here, if your dog tends to be a puller (like mine), I'd leave him/her home, simply because dogs are more agile than we are & forget that a 2-footed clutz is behind the leash! On the other hand, pullers are great to have on steep climbs ;) And a steep climb is upon you at this point of the hike!
Once you arrive at the blue-yellow fork, stay on yellow. Also keep your eyes on those trail markers-- they can be spaced far apart. At .5, it gets swampy-looking. In the summer, I'd be sure to have generous amounts of bug-spray on. It's not swampy for long, as you arrive to what almost looks like a landscaped set of stepping stones. At .64, you have the option to go left onto yellow-blue toward Lake Windwing or go straight onto Blue. But for this hike, turn around at this point, because you still have the grand finale to get to, and that's at Pine Mountain!
I actually did go down both trails for a bit before I realized I was heading into a much longer hike than I anticipated that day. If you are hiking without kids, you should definitely explore these longer trails. The blue trail will eventually take you towards Miry Brook, where you could hop on the orange to the parking lot on Ned's Mountain. Had I continued on the yellow-blue (the online trail map has this as a brownish orange line, very confusing to a girl alone in the woods!) I would have ended up down by Lake Windwing on the first Hemlock Hills hike I blogged about! See, I'm beginning to get my bearings & see how all these trails and parks connect! But the internet was quite confusing.
Anywho, go back, staying on the yellow trail. If you're lucky like I was, you'll run into James & Ray, mountain bikers who I coincidentally ran into also on last week's Farrington hike! Great minds think alike I suppose. They were the ones to kindly tell me I had missed my intended trailhead! I asked how long the hike was to the looking point, and they said I could do it in 10 minutes. So once I made the return trip to my car, I dropped off my backpack, retrieved necessary provisions for being a girl in the woods who has to pee very badly, and crossed the street, where right behind my van was the trailhead I had come for! The true trailhead was a bit down the road with a wood sign, but I took what was closest and was also clearly a trail, though it had no marking. So it'll be a bit before you see the official yellow trail markings.
Luckily the mountain bikers were right-- the Pine Mtn. Lookout (also known as the Ives' Cottage location, though no cottage exists there & now I want to know the history here) was not too far. But it is a very good climb! Be patient if you have small hikers with short legs-- this is a sweat-inducing hike. But when you tell them it isn't that far, you are not lying ;) This hike isn't nearly as pretty as the Hemlock Hills, but the view is spectacular once you arrive! Rest here, take a lot of photos. I've heard this is one of the highest points in Ridgefield-- it's definitely the best vista I've found so far. On a clear day, you can see the Long Island Sound. But I didn't get a clear day. Still, it was incredible to be above the treetops. I can't wait to return when the leaves change color even more!
Had I only done this hike, I would've continued along the yellow to see the chimney ruin and do the loop. There are red trails that connect to this as well, which lead to Bennett's pond or even Wooster Mountain State Park. I love the infinite possibilities of these trails so close to home! Because these trails all connect, there can be a lot of confusion as to trail names. This Pine Mountain hike has also been called Bennett's Pond because it eventually connects there. However, it is pretty far from the actual Bennett's Pond & Bennett's is another hike (off Bennett's Road) that I have yet to blog about that I did with the kiddos. It wasn't my favorite, but it's worth exploring.
For this hike, the lookout is your summit, then you will return down. In total, this Pine Mountain portion is just .9, so add that to the Hemlock Hills portion (about 1.3), and that gives you a perfect 2.2 mile hike. Because you'll want to take a lot of photos and give your kiddos some breaks on that climb, plan for 1.5-2 hours. This really is my favorite so far!
As always, wear good athletic shoes, bug spray, and pack plenty of water & snacks! It may be wise to bring hiking poles for the steep downhill stretches, but they're not mandatory. Feel free to share your own experiences in the comments!
This week's hike was actually solo for me, and it was nice-- nobody whined or asked, how much longer?? ;) But as I hiked, I did consider just how kid-friendly each trail was. So here goes . . .
Finding Farringtons Park (or Farrington Woods as the little wooden sign says) is a little tricky. It is located in Danbury, very close to the NY border-- in fact, at first I passed the entrance and had to U-turn, crossing the state line twice to get there! Basically, heading east on 202, look carefully for an obscure entrance that appears to be a private drive. In fact, you will have to drive past a few private properties on a gravel road before locating the parking lot on your left. It's small and has no restrooms, so make sure you've all pottied beforehand! There's a Starbucks nearby just in case ;) From my research, this park is still under construction, so they should be adding restrooms and more marked trails by Spring!
I will say right off the bat, this isn't my favorite hike I've done in the area, simply because it is so close to 84 and you can hear the traffic noise for much of this hike. That said, it had some pretty views that still make this a worthwhile hike, and some city-folk are comforted by the sound of traffic, knowing civilization is not far away! Also of note: this is a great site for mountain bikers! In fact, I felt it was geared more toward bikers than hikers, with several options of bike trails.
Hikers will want to start on the right of the sign, stay on the white trail. The initial stretch of trail is really pretty, flanked by ferns and tall marsh grasses. At the fork, go straight on the wider, rockier path. (I read that the trail is so wide because of decades of jeeping! So that's a plus for kids who don't like the woods to touch them at all while hiking-- very wide trails!) This is a gentle climb with some interesting old rock property lines. At the fork, take the red trail (about .27) This takes you onto the soft dirt trail and continues a gentle climb. It does begin to get steeper but not for too long. Veer left at the top around .73. You'll notice on the right the remains of a chimney, which I assume is all that remains of Isabelle Farrington's residence. I couldn't find much info on the history of the land, only that the city of Danbury purchased it in 2010 to turn it into a recreational haven, which in my opinion is always a great cause! Anywho, if you'd like to capture a pic of the chimney, you'll have to go off-trail, so be sure you have long socks & pants and always be mindful of where you are stepping! Also be aware of how best to get safely back to the trail.
Continue your hike, & at about .85 you will come to Sanford Pond, which is a very serene sight, especially in the fall-- the blue of the water & sky accented surrounded by green with accents of reds, oranges, and golds is just exquisite. Here is where you will finally lose the traffic noise, too. The trail by the pond wasn't yet marked, but you will notice bright pink and orange ribbons tied around trees, designating the bike paths. At this point, the trail fizzles out a bit currently. But having hit the 1 mile mark, I decided to backtrack and hike back in, for a nice one-hour hike.
On the way down, there are stretches where the rocky terrain can be sketchy. So with kids, hold hands or use hiking poles. Otherwise, it's an easy hike for the entire family & you can head to Trader Joe's after for some healthy treats :)
This past Monday, the kids had off school, & the weather was utterly perfect-- a crisp, cool fall morning, the first long-sleeve weather day of the season. So we ventured off to find Hemlock Hills, one of many hikes on my To Do List of hiking. I wanted to hit one of the high points of elevation while sticking to a do-able mileage for my kids (typically 1.5-2.5 miles for a one-hour hike total). So here are the details . . .
Drive toward Ridgebury Elementary School on Bennetts Farm Rd, then turn onto South Shore Dr. This will bring you to a baseball field, where you can park. Here is where this particular hike begins. As always, bug spray & sunscreen up, and be sure to pack enough water for all hikers, depending on heat/humidity.
Mother of 3. Fit-philosopher. Showing my kids how to be fit via living life to the max. Newbie photographer. Simplistic cook who shares easy, healthy meals. Lover of kid-friendly hikes & getting outdoors & unplugged.