Mountain laurel in bloom

Mountain laurel in bloom
Mountain laurel is in bloom at West Rock, as seen on the Gold Trail.

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West Rock User Guide

The Red Trail heading south from the Lake Wintergreen parking area is an easy way to travel, whether on foot, bicycle, horse, or wheelchair.
Welcome to West Rock Trails, a website designed to help you get the most out of your visit to West Rock Ridge State Park in Hamden. With 1,722 acres of land, West Rock Ridge is the second largest state park in Connecticut. Due to its large size and small amount of visitors, you are likely to find yourself one of the few people in the park, once you get away from Lake Wintergreen, the South Overlook, and Judges Cave, the three most heavily-used areas at West Rock.
This sign greets visitors at the entrance to the Lake Wintergreen parking lot.


Getting Started With Your Visit
To start your visit, first you have to get to West Rock! A central access location for most park users is the gravel parking lot near Lake Wintergreen, located at 40 Main St., Hamden. From Rt. 15, take Exit 60 (Rt. 10), and turn right to head south on Rt. 10. At the next traffic light past the parkway, turn right on Benham Street and take this to the end. Then turn left on Main Street and head south. At the turn in the road, turn right into the parking area.
I lead hikes there and on every hike there is at least one person who had not heard of the park, or been there. If you have driven on the Wilbur Cross Pkwy. between Exits 59 and 60, then you have literally driven UNDER the park. 
Heading north on the Wilbur Cross Parkway (Rt. 15),
you are about to pass under West Rock Ridge State Park.

The Park Map
The official state website for West Rock is located at http://www.ct.gov/deep/cwp/view.asp?A=2716&Q=325276. This website has limited information about the park, but most importantly, it has a full color map you can print.
The state map was updated in October 2016, so be sure to use the latest version, so you can find all the trails. There are some significant updates since previous versions of the maps with trail relocations on the Red Trail near Farm Brook Reservoir (listed on the map as Farm Brook Flood Pond), and the Purple Trail, as well as a color change on the North Summit Trail from Red to Blue-Yellow.
Black and white maps may be available from the park office at Sleeping Giant, 200 Mt. Carmel Ave., when it is open. It is unlikely to find maps on the signboard at Lake Wintergreen, so it is best to come prepared with your own map. The state park map shows all the major trails within the park.
This is the direct link to the map to download and print: http://www.ct.gov/deep/lib/deep/stateparks/maps/westrockparkmap.pdf
Another version may be downloaded to view on a smart phone: http://www.ct.gov/deep/lib/deep/stateparks/maps/westrockgps.pdf
This is a lower resolution JPG version of the state map.
For best quality, use the link to the state website to download and print the PDF version.

An interactive map created by mountain biker Rich Coffey based on the 2010 version of the map is available at http://www.vizettes.com/kt/bikemaps/westrock/index.htm. Thanks to Rich for creating this valuable resource and compiling the map closeups on the trail description pages. Note that there have been some updates to the trails since this was created. See the Trails Overview and Trail Map Updates page for details:http://westrocktrails.blogspot.com/p/trail-map-updates.html

Woodbridge has about 1 mile of trails within the Bishop Estate and Darling House properties, which are located on the west side of West Rock. This map is available at http://scrcog.org/wp-content/uploads/trails/woodbridge/RecTrails_WO2_6-2-16.pdf.


Wintergreen Brook as seen from the Red Trail.
General Information
West Rock Ridge State Park is open daily from sunrise to sunset for a variety of recreational uses, including hiking, dog walking, bird watching, bicycling, fishing, car-top boating, horseback riding, picnicking, cross-country skiing, and rock climbing. Check the specific pages of this website for information to guide your activity.
The park road (Regicide Drive) to the South Overlook and Judges Cave is open weekends to vehicle traffic from Memorial Day through the last weekend in October. The gate is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (or maybe 5 p.m.): the times are posted by the gate. Due to state budget cuts, the gate was only open on weekends in summer and fall 2016. Park access is free of charge for all users. The main entrance is located at 1134 Wintergreen Ave., New Haven, Conn.
When the park road is closed, users may park on nearby streets, such as Tierney Road in Hamden. Parking is not permitted by the main entrance. The lower parking lot at the West Rock Nature Center is blocked off by barriers, although you may be able to park four cars parallel to the barriers. Wintergreen Avenue is too narrow for parking.


The state posts this sign by the main entrance gate from Nov. 1 to the end of May
each year. The gate opens the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend.
  • Bicycles and horses are limited to the Green, Red, Red-White, Yellow and White Trails, and the paved park roads. The Red-White Trail by Lake Wintergreen has an extremely rugged section that is not suitable for bikes or horses.
  • Dogs must be kept on a leash at all times.
  • Boat access at Lake Wintergreen is limited to human-powered craft, including canoes, kayaks and rowboats, and boats powered by electric motors. Ice skating is prohibited in the park.
  • Fishing is permitted to licensed users on a seasonal basis.
  • Hunting is not permitted in most Connecticut state parks, including West Rock Ridge, so you can leave your blaze orange clothing at home.
  • All-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and dirt bikes are not permitted in any state park or forest, including West Rock.
  • The Red Trail is suitable for wheelchair access, if the wheelchair has oversized tires designed for a gravel surface. The trail is flat from the Lake Wintergreen spillway to the southern section of Mountain Road, other than a slight slope descending to the dam, and a moderately steep slope from the parking lot to the trail heading north. The user would need some help getting around the gate by the parking lot, descending the short slope to the Red Trail heading north, and navigating the brief decline to the dam. At the junction with the Red-White Trail, there is a suitable place for someone to park a wheelchair and go fishing.
West Rock Ridge is a carry-in, carry-out park with no trash facilities, so users are asked to take out any items they bring with them.

Baldwin Drive is closed to traffic, except for maintenance purposes, so it offers park users the opportunity to travel along a 5.6 mile long paved road without any distractions from motor vehicles.
The 1.25 mile Regicide Drive to the South Overlook (with an additional 0.2 mile spur to Judges Cave) may be enjoyed by hikers, equestrians, and bicyclists without motor vehicles from November through late May.
There are picnic tables available at the South Overlook, Judges Cave, and Lake Wintergreen. There is a small pavilion at the South Overlook. There are no grills at West Rock.
New Haven Harbor is visible in the distance from the South Overlook.
The South Overlook offers superb views to the west, south and east, including Sleeping Giant State Park with its distinctive profile, East Rock Park with its striking red cliffs topped by the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, the city of New Haven, including the harbor, Long Island Sound, and Long Island.
There is a composting toilet by the Lake Wintergreen parking lot, which is the only restroom facility available in the park. There is no running water available for drinking at West Rock Ridge.

Southern Connecticut State University and East Rock Park as seen from the South Overlook.
A closer view of Southern Connecticut State University and East Rock Park on a clear day.

Ways to Help Make West Rock a Better Place
Since summer 2007, I have logged more than 1,000 
volunteer hours of work at West Rock, plus an additional 200 hours as a state seasonal employee in summer 2008. These efforts have included reblazing virtually every trail in the park. All of my work has been done under the guidance of former Park Supervisor Lori Lindquist and current Park Supervisor Jill Scheibenpflug.
If you would like to help out at the park, please contact Jill Scheibenplug at the park office, which is located at Sleeping Giant State Park, at 203-287-5658. This website is not affiliated with the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), but certainly has far more information than the official website! I have verified details with state officials, so the information you are reading here is accurate.

What can you do to make West Rock a better place? Follow these simply steps:
  • Stay on marked trails. The topsoil is thin and easily eroded. When people create their own trails, they create erosion and encourage others to go where they have gone themselves. There is also the risk of carrying seeds from invasive plants, helping to spread these unwanted flora to other parts of the park.
  • Take all your trash with you. West Rock is a "Carry in, carry out" park. Even better, bring a bag and take with you trash left behind by other visitors.
  • Helium balloons can be commonly found in the woods from people who release them after parties at their homes and in the community, and they drift over to West Rock, creating litter.
A deflated helium balloon litters the woods at West Rock.
  • If you have a dog, please use bags to pick up their droppings. Please DO NOT bag the poop and leave the bag along the side of the trail. This is worse than having them do their business on the trail and knocking the remains into the woods with a stick or having them run off into the woods to take care of things. I am amazed by the number of poop bags I find by the trails, usually near Lake Wintergreen. Why do people bother to bag the poop and then leave it behind? I have been told that people do that so they can pick it up on the way out, but I have seen some bags at the park and then seen them again on another day, so I am not sure how much this idea is actually true.
This is funny, but true sign posted on the map board at White Memorial Conservation Center in Litchfield. People should follow this notice wherever they bring their dogs.
  • If you see small branches and loose rocks lying on the trail and you can move them safely off the trail, other hikers will appreciate your efforts. Branches are easy to trip over and rocks can cause hikers to lose their footing.
  • Don't take anything from the park: plants, rocks, etc. as that is prohibited by state regulations.
  • Don't build fires; in addition to be prohibited, they can easily spread and burn other things.

The tree with a swing in the field near Hill Street was a popular gathering spot for high school and college students. An area of grass burned in August 2015, possibly due to a campfire. The Hamden Fire Department put out the fire before it spread into the woods. The state cut down the tree without warning in February 2016, due in part to the concerns of having youth gather at this location. See the comments section below for more info.
  • Always wear close-toed footwear, and watching where dogs walk. Due to West Rock's past history as a party spot when Baldwin Drive was open to traffic through the 1970s, plus some current litter problems, there is broken glasses in assorted locations. I have removed more than 1,000 intact and broken bottles, mostly along Baldwin Drive, and there are likely many more under the leaves. The particular problem areas that I have cleaned, but have more glass than I can remove include the following: the South Overlook, Judges Cave, the rocky overlooks near Lake Dawson, and the semi-circular pull-off midway up Baldwin Drive where the North Summit Trail descends into Woodbridge.
  • If you see water running across the trail, don't lay down logs to create a higher surface because this will simply redirect the water along another section of the trail. In trail building terms, this is called corduroy. In a low area where water is not running, this can be a useful temporary solution, but raising the low spot with rocks is the best solution.
  • Report problems. If you see someone using the park in an unsafe or illegal manner, contact the park office at 203-287-5658, or the State Environmental Conservation Police at 860-424-3333. Illegal activity includes the use of ATVs, creating trails without permission, using gas-powered motors on Lake Wintergreen, camping, and building fires. Also call the park office to report large trees blocking the trails.
Heading up the park road leads people to Judges Cave and the South Overlook. Bicyclists and walkers have the road to themselves from Nov. 1 to the Friday before Memorial Day weekend. In winter, cross-country skiing is also a possibility.


This sign points the way up Regicide Drive, Nov. 2015.
Children and West Rock
West Rock is an excellent place to bring children to spend time in the outdoors. There are many ways to use the park to hold the interest of children.
  • The trails are well-suited for hiking with children. Options include the easy walk around Lake Wintergreen, the steady climb from Westville to the South Overlook and/or Judges Cave on the Westville Feeder to the Regicides Trail, or the hike to the Farm Brook Reservoir overlook from Hill Street.
  • Children can fish at Lake Wintergreen, Farm Brook Reservoir, or the unnamed pond off Mountain Road on the Red Trail.
  • There are a variety of easy bicycling options, including the Red Trail from the Lake Wintergreen spillway to the southern section of Mountain Road, the loop around Lake Wintergreen, or the gravel road extending from the northern portion of Mountain Road to Farm Brook Reservoir.
  • Lake Wintergreen is a safe place to canoe or kayak with children, due to its small size and calm conditions.
  • Judges Cave is a fun place to explore and climb through. The rocks that form the cave has been worn to slippery smooth in spots, due to the wear from feet and hands, so make sure kids have a firm grip on the rocks as the scramble about. Also be careful of the broken glass left by thoughtless users.
This tunnel through the middle of Judges Cave
is an appealing place for children and adults to explore.



Food, Water, and Post-West Rock Activities
For those needing food and water, there are many stores on nearby Dixwell Avenue in Hamden, on Whalley Avenue in New Haven, and just north of Rt. 15 on Rts. 63 and 69 in Woodbridge.
For those seeking a meal after their visit to West Rock, there many options near the park, ranging from delis to sit-down restaurants.
From the Lake Wintergreen parking area, the closest shopping centers are located on Dixwell Avenue (Rt. 10). From the parking lot, turn left on Main Street, then right on Benham Street out to Rt. 10. Go in either direction on Rt. 10, or straight across into the shopping center. Hamden Plaza and other chain stores are located north of Rt. 15, which is a left from Benham Street.
From Westville and the main entrance, the closest options are the stores along Blake Street and Whalley Avenue.

Support local farmers and help keep land as open space in Hamden.

New Haven has many cultural activities, including museums, plays, and concerts, plus restaurants serving food from around the world.
  • The Westville Village Renaissance Alliance has a list of local businesses and other features for this neighborhood at the foot of West Rock: http://www.westvillect.org/

5 comments:

  1. The tree that stood tall in the field at Hill St, with the swing that had been up over 30 years, was cut on Monday Feb 1 2016. Angry about it, trying to find out who/why.

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    Replies
    1. In February 2016, without any notice, the state cut the nearly 100-year old bitternut hickory tree in the middle of the meadow that locals called the Field of Dreams. The state has blocked off access to the field, saying the tree was removed in the interest of creating a wildlife habitat. There were also concerns about the area being a hang-out for local youth with resulting problems of litter, plus a brush fire in summer 2015. The signs the state posted by the field said the trail was relocated to create the habitat. Actually, I relocated the trail to provide a better experience for hikers, and the state is now using the trail as a way to keep people out of the meadow. Several people have seen me doing trail work in the area, and have lamented the loss of the tree.
      According to the legislation that created the park, the state is required to work with the West Rock Ridge Advisory Council, which has representatives from the four towns in which the park is located: New Haven, Hamden, Woodbridge, and Bethany. The West Rock Ridge Park Association, the group of volunteers that worked to pass the legislation to create the park, has called upon the state to plant a new tree. The park association is also asking the state for a copy of its wildlife plan for the meadow. An article about the controversy was published in the New Haven Register on Feb. 10, 2016: http://www.nhregister.com/article/20160210/NEWS/160219745

      Delete
  2. A detailed accounting of the tree situation is available at this website. I had typos in my two previous comments, hence I deleted them for this improved version. https://kjurgens01.wordpress.com/2016/03/19/park-community-determined-to-see-deep-reconsider-meadow-plan/

    ReplyDelete
  3. This is the best blog to give guidance to the user..
    user guide

    ReplyDelete
  4. Very useful - particularly the information about connecting to the Woodbridge trails on the west side of the ridge.

    ReplyDelete