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West Rock Options for Sleeping Giant Fans

The Sleeping Giant slumbers in this view from the South Overlook, June 2017. This picture is a close-up view.

If you are a fan of the Sleeping Giant and wondering how you can duplicate those hiking experiences at West Rock, this guide will help.



Some people hike at Sleeping Giant State Park because they are training for higher peaks and want to maximize their elevation gain on their hike. In general, there is not a huge amount of elevation gain at West Rock because the trails on and off the ridge are fairly mild. The greatest gain comes from these three areas: hiking west up the ridge, crossing the West Rock Tunnel on the Regicides Trail, or ascending to the Quinnipiac Trail at York Mountain.



One option for maximizing elevation gain at West Rock is to follow this loop: start at Lake Wintergreen, walk up the Gold Trail to the Regicides Trail, head south on the Regicides Trail, descend to Lake Wintergreen on the Orange Trail, turn right on the White Trail, then right again on the Red Trail south. Just past the main entrance, head up the ridge on the Green Trail, and turn south on the Regicides Trail. Shortly past Judges Cave, descend on the Westville Feeder, bear left onto the Teal Trail, ascend the ridge yet again on the Red Trail to the Blue Trail, take the Blue Trail over the West Rock Tunnel to the Orange Trail, descending a second time to the White Trail, take the White Trail to the Red Trail. This time continuing straight to descend the hill on the Red Trail, then ascend the hill by the spillway and return to the parking lot.



Some people enjoy the challenge of climbing the Quinnipiac Trail on the chin with its combination of steepness and loose rock.

There really is not an equivalent experience at West Rock. The closest options (and they are not nearly as challenging) are climbing to the South Overlook on the Red Trail or ascending on the Regicides Trail to the Quinnpiac Trail.



At Sleeping Giant, taking the Tower Path to the tower is a popular option for people seeking a gradual climb to an overlook.

At West Rock, start in Westville and take the Westville Feeder to the Regicides Trail, then turn right and head south to the South Overlook for a panoramic view of south central Connecticut, including the Sleeping Giant. Sorry, there is no tower at West Rock.
Another option is to hike from the Hill Street parking lot on the Red-White Trail and ascend to the ridge on the Red Trail to the view overlooking Farm Brook Reservoir. A third view is the Konolds Pond overlook, which is a short walk from the Lake Wintergreen parking lot via the White Trail to the Orange Trail.
Other viewpoints that involve longer walks are the following: the Lake Watrous overlook on the Regicides Trail, and the West River Valley view from the Quinnipiac Trail about half a mile east of Brooks Road.



For those seeking an easy walk, West Rock has plenty of options, most of which are located on the Red, White, and Red-White Trails on the east side of the ridge.



Some people may enjoy watching the mountain laurel bloom in June.

At West Rock, it is difficult to find a trail that doesn't have mountain laurel.



Those seeking to walk along a stream cascading down the ridge.

Sorry, there are no cascades at West Rock, but there is a waterfall and stream at the adjacent West Rock Nature Center on Wintergreen Avenue.



Some may enjoy the quietness of the trails at the back of the Giant.

The trails north of Lake Wintergreen tend to be lightly traveled and offer plenty of solitude.



For those who want to fish, here are three options at West Rock: Lake Wintergreen, Farm Brook Reservoir, and the Belden Brook Diversion Pond off Mountain Road.



For those who like a variety of options, and do not want to do the same hike all the time, West Rock has 25 miles of trails with three major trailheads: Lake Wintergreen, Westville, and Hill Street, offering a multitude of options. Those looking for more distance can easily combine West Rock with a hike on the Quinnipiac Trail, and the Woodbridge trails. Circumnavigating West Rock on Red and Blue provides a loop of about 13 miles.

There are two activities possible at West Rock that are not available at Sleeping Giant:
Paddle a boat on Lake Wintergreen, which may also include fishing.
Mountain bike on designated trails.

The pine grove at Sleeping Giant was destroyed by the May 2018 microburst. West Rock has a pine grove on the south border of the Lake Wintergreen parking lot. This grove suffered some damage during the March 2018 northeaster, resulting in some broken tree limbs, but is largely intact. The spruce tree in the middle of the parking lot had its top half snapped off during that storm, but is otherwise alive. 

Following storm damage in May 2018, the picnic "grove" at Sleeping Giant is now a grassy lawn, as seen on June 26, 2019.

The Tower Trail at Sleeping Giant has been newly resurfaced with gravel, and has drainage system underneath to handle storm water. The Sleeping Giant Park Association has cautioned dog walkers that the gravel may be rough on dogs' paws until the gravel wears down. In this view taken 0.25 miles from the parking lot on June 26, 2019, the trees in this section appear to be largely intact. Story: https://www.ctpost.com/news/ctpost/article/Dogs-paws-inflamed-after-walk-on-14054947.php#item-85307-tbla-8

However, 1.1 miles from the parking lot, the loss of tree cover from the microburst is apparent in this photo taken on June 26, 2019.

The northern end of West Rock Ridge is screened by trees in this view from the top of the Sleeping Giant tower on June 26, 2019. The WTNH antenna between Downs Road and Westwoods Road near Choate Avenue may be seen  in the right center of the photo.

Sleeping Giant State Park Reopened Friday, June 14, 2019
     Sleeping Giant State Park reopened Friday, June 14, 2019, a year and a month after it was devastated by a microburst on May 15, 2019. By sheer number of visitors, Sleeping Giant is probably by far the most popular state park for hiking.
     One question I have not seen in the media regarding the storm and subsequent clean-up is this: Why did the state have to depend so heavily on volunteers from the Sleeping Giant Park Association (SGPA) to clear storm damage from along the trails?
     The state did hire a contractor to clear out the parking and picnic areas, as well as the Tower Path. One would think that with such a popular state park that the state could find the money to hire a contractor to have the trails cleared by a paid crew, thereby opening up the park months earlier. According to the press release below, 75% of the clean-up costs will be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA):

     I received this thoughtful reply from Julie Hulten, SGPA Outreach Chair. I agree with her reasoning that a contractor who does not know the park would not put the same care into clearing trails that the volunteers who have invested their time to maintain the trails.

She wrote in a June 16 email:
     "Sleeping Giant Park Association is exceedingly grateful to DEEP and the State Parks personnel for the help and assistance they provided as we undertook the task of clearing the back trails at the Park after the May 2018 storms. We are also most appreciative of the trust they placed in us to proceed professionally, in accordance with safety standards, and in close communication with them. 

     "There are essentially two reasons why the SGPA was anxious that our Trails Crew handle the clearing of the back trails:
     "The size of Sleeping Giant State Park has increased over the years through direct land donations to SGPA and/or, most often, through land purchased by Sleeping Giant Park Association through donations by members and other interested individuals.
     "Once purchased these lands have been turned over to the State for inclusion in the Park. Since SGPA expanded the Park's footprint, it seemed only fitting that the subsequent trail system that was laid out and developed in the early 60's by then SGPA President, Ned Greist, and Richard Eliot, become SGPA's responsibility.
     "While the State maintains the (former) picnic area, public facilities, parking areas, and Tower Path, maintaining the back trails has always been the responsibility of our volunteer Trails Crew with some involvement on the Quinnipiac Trail by the Connecticut Forest and Park Association (CFPA). 
Given the massive nature of the damage suffered throughout the Park trails, the only way the State could/would have cleared the trails would have been with big logging trucks. We thought it unlikely that they would send in individual crews to surgically clear the trails.
     "The expedient solution would have undermined our goals:
     Contractors with big equipment would have destroyed the personality of the trails as being 'backwoods' - it was our goal to keep trails as unchanged as possible so that people would continue to have that 'getting away from it all' feeling.
     "Many of our Board members felt strongly that since the storms were a naturally occurring event our "repairs" should be minimally invasive to the regeneration of the forest - at the same time we will be vigilant in spotting incursions of invasive plant species that might take advantage of the new openings in the canopy to gain foothold."

News Articles about the reopening:


On a related note, the town of Wallingford opened up the storm-damaged Tyler Mill Preserve on May 25, 2019. Some trails may be closed or diverted due to storm damage. According to one online post, the Orange Trail is closed only to horses. News article on the reopening: http://www.myrecordjournal.com/News/Wallingford/Wallingford-News/Wallingford-set-to-reopen-Tyler-Mill-May-25.html
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2 comments:

  1. interesting ... is the West Rock Nature Center open? I've never seen an article about it.

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  2. The West Rock Nature Center is operated by the New Haven Parks and Recreation Department: https://www.newhavenct.gov/gov/depts/parks/our_parks/west_rock.htm The historic center with its exhibits and animals has been closed for many years. This previous operation is described in travel books about Connecticut. The buildings are used for special programs by the parks department. The grounds are available for hiking during daylight hours. The nearest similar experience to the former nature center operation is the Ansonia Nature Center, 10 Deerfield Lane, Ansonia, http://ansonianaturecenter.org/

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