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Safety and Comfort at West Rock

     However you use the park, West Rock is a safe place to spend your time. This is not the untamed west where you might be 20 miles from the nearest dirt road with menacing grizzly bears and stealthy cougars to eyeball, and raging rivers to cross with nary a bridge in sight. Nor is this the Amazon jungle where there are flesh-eating piranha fish in the water, venomous snakes hiking under the leaves, and brightly-colored lethally poisonous frogs where you might mistakenly place your hand.

     At West Rock, you are never more than half a mile from a road or house, often even closer. Trails have generally good footing for boots and traction for bicycle tires. There are no dangerous wild animals, although there are certainly coyotes and copperhead snakes at the park, not that I have seen either one. The biggest concern is deer ticks in warmer months, and even they are easily avoided by staying on the center of wider trails, or just walking the roads.
      In the following sections, I will address possible safety concerns with the activity, and relate that activity to West Rock.

Lake Dawson, a reservoir in Woodbridge, provides one of the many scenic views that can be safely enjoyed along the Regicides Trail.

Walking, Hiking, Bicycling, etc.
These are common safety and comfort issues with regard to hiking, bicycling, etc.:
  • Getting lost
  • Slipping and falling
  • Getting bit by a disease-carrying tick or mosquito
  • Getting bit by a snake
  • Dehydration
  • Getting overly tired
  • Hypothermia or heat exhaustion/heat stroke
  • Blisters
  • Poison ivy
  • Weather conditions
I address each concern below with suggestions to minimize any safety risk. Scroll down for information about canoeing/kayaking and ice skating and ice fishing.

Getting Lost
     To state the obvious, bring a map and compass (or at least the map) and know how to read them. I recommend planning out your loop before you leave home, and mark your route on the map with a highlighter.
    I often encounter people in the woods who do not have a map and are not aware you can download and print a map from the state website. If you are just strolling around Lake Wintergreen, or walking the paved road up to Judges Cave, you probably do not need a map, but then you might wish to take another trail, and then will wish you did bring a map.
Link for a full-color printable map:
Link to the GPS friendly map, which can be used on a smart phone:
     Do not depend on electronics for your safety. Batteries can fail in cell phones and GPS units. If you have one of these units and they are working, you could call for help and inform the police of your position using the GPS coordinates. Otherwise, it may be a bit of a guessing game as to where you are located.
     If you plan on hiking near dusk, carry a working flashlight, so you have a light source to guide you back in case your walk takes longer than expected. Even with that, it is decidedly tricky to negotiate the woods at dusk and at night.
     The suggestions in the next section, “Geographic Orientation,” can help keep you on track while traveling through the park.

Amrhyn Field and Westville lie at the feet of West Rock Ridge,
in this view from the South Overlook where the sights can be securely enjoyed.

Geographic Orientation
     West Rock is about six miles long, but only about one-half of a mile wide in most locations. This narrow width makes it somewhat easy to get to a road quickly if you are lost. The catch is that if you are between Lake Wintergreen and the southern end of Mountain Road, your passage is blocked by Wintergreen Brook (essentially a canal in this location), excepting the crossing at the Purple Trail.
     The actual width of the woods is somewhat wider because the Woodbridge Land Trust and the South Central Regional Water Authority lands to the west extend another half-mile to Rt. 69 in Woodbridge and Bethany. The woods are about a mile longer than the five miles within the park due to the various private lands to the north along the Quinnipiac Trail (which is beyond the park boundaries) extending to West Woods and Fans Rock Road in Hamden.

     The park follows the ridge, so that provides an easy to follow geographic feature. If you are on the Hamden side of the ridge (the east side), trails are generally flat to rolling in terrain. Trails are a moderate climb up to the ridge. Heading toward Woodbridge, the terrain drops much more steeply.

     In a broad sense, if you head off the ridge and are going east (toward Hamden), you will soon come to a road: Springside and Wintergreen avenues in New Haven (south of Rt. 15), Wintergreen Avenue in Hamden (Rt. 15 to the area by Wintergreen Magnet School), Main Street from Lake Wintergreen north to Chauncey Road, and then Dunbar Hill Rd. and Hill Street to West Shepard Avenue at the northern end of the park.

     Heading west off the ridge, you have a choice of the Blue-Yellow Trail (North Summit Trail), which is a moderately steep descent into Woodbridge, or at the northern end, the Sanford Feeder is a gradual descent on an old woods road. Other than these two choices, the sheer steepness of the terrain should let you know you are headed toward Woodbridge, and that is not the direction to head if you are lost.

     To further help with orientation: the Blue-Blazed Regicides Trail extends the length of the ridge on the west. The Red Trail extends the length of the ridge on the east. The paved park roads extend the length of the ridge in the center of the park.
The canal portion of Wintergreen Brook, which parallels the Red Trail, as seen from the culvert at Lake Wintergreen.

Trail Blazes
     Having hiked in many places in Connecticut, I definitely have experienced frustration at hiking somewhere where the map indicated trails, but the blazes were faded, visible in some places and not in others, or non-existent. These conditions motivated me in 2007 to get involved as a volunteer to solve this problem at West Rock.

     I have personally marked all the trails at West Rock and since I started my volunteer work in 2007, no trail has gone more than five to seven years without being reblazed. I cannot account for random trees that fall or lose their blazes before I can get back there to reblaze. I also cannot be held responsible for bootleg trails that people create without permission. Bottom line: the blazes at West Rock should be clear and easy to follow in most places.

     Know how to read a blaze (the painted marks on the tree). On most trails, if you are at one blaze, you should be able to see the next blaze, or maybe go a few steps from one blaze to see the next one. Exception: On the Red Trail where it is a wide woods road, a spread the blazes out a bit further because the trail is so obvious.

A single blaze means go straight. If you see two blazes stacked and one is offset, the trail turns in the direction of the top blaze. If you see two blazes that look like an equals sign, you are at the end of the trail.

     If you are hiking and suddenly realize you have not seen a blaze in a while, stop and backtrack until you find the last blaze you passed. From personal experience, I know it is much more effective to backtrack than to plow ahead, hoping you will rediscover the trail.
The two blazes indicate a turn in the trail. The higher blaze is offset to the right to indicate the trail turns right. The brush on the ground is an added reminder that the trail does not continue straight.
A single blaze means continue straight ahead. Under ideal conditions when you stand at one blaze, you can see the next blaze. In the real world, that next blaze may be around a slight bend because there was not a tree growing in the ideal location, hidden by leaves that grew after the blaze was painted, or on a tree that fell down after the last trail work event. If you cannot see the next blaze from where you are standing, go a short distance, maybe 100 to 200 feet, and see if it becomes visible. If not, backtrack to the last blaze you saw and see if the trail headed off unexpectedly in a different direction. 
An equals sign (=) indicates the end of a trail and this is the second marker for the Orange Trail in case you missed the first set 100 feet away on a tree. At the overlook of Konolds Pond, this is one end-of-trail marker you do NOT want to miss as a few steps beyond here is a drop of about 300 feet. This area of West Rock is the only real cliff where there is a possible danger of falling from the edge.

Slipping and Falling
     This is the most common hazard in the woods. As a hiker, it is frustrating to encounter steep sections of trail where the footing is slippery and there are precious few handholds. Such places can be muddy slopes, long rock faces, trails where you have to get down on all fours to proceed, steep drop-offs, or tricky stream crossings, all of which are considerably more difficult to negotiate in wet, icy or snowy conditions. Remember this phrase: “Wet rocks are slippery rocks.”
     I almost always use hiking poles as they are useful for keeping your balance in any conditions, but especially when conditions are muddy, icy, and when descending steep slopes.
     If conditions are icy, I recommend (by brand) Kahtoola Microspikes. Some people may balk at the $60 price tag, but that is far cheaper than a visit to the emergency room. Microspikes give excellent traction in icy conditions.

     West Rock is an excellent place to hike year-round because the footing is generally good throughout most of the park throughout most of the year. The muddy spots are generally in level areas. There are few long rock faces, and only a couple of places where you need to get on all fours to proceed. There are no tricky stream crossings, as there are few streams at West Rock, and they are easily crossed on bridges or culverts.
Stay away from the edge at the overlook near Konold's Pond. The drop is about 300 feet!

     There is only one drop off where you could slip and plunge a couple of hundred feet. This is the overlook of Konolds Pond, slightly past the junction of the Regicides (Blue) and the Orange Trail. Be careful in this area because the cliff face is irregular and there is an opening on the southern end into which you could step if you are not paying attention. If you are paying attention, the area is safe. In this area, there are also informal trails directly along the edge. The marked trails (Blue and Orange) stay at least 100 foot from the drop-off.

      Sadly, a Woodbridge hiker died from a fall in August 2014 and was found at the base of the ridge near Bradley Road in Woodbridge. Since he was alone, officials cannot definitively state what happened. Those closer to the story believe that he walked over from his parents' house in Woodbridge and was walking around on the rocks at the base of the ridge when he fell and had a fatal head injury.

     The Connecticut news media has widely reported the story of a man who fell to his death at West Rock from the South Overlook area on Sunday, Oct. 25, 2015, around dusk. I offer my condolences to the family and friends of the man. I offer my reassurances to park users that the park is safe for hiking. The man was reported to have climbed over the fence and railing designed to keep people back from the edge of the cliff. Park users who stay on marked trails are kept well back from any cliff edge at the park. Updates will be published as they become available.

     Be extra careful if you hike at nearby Sleeping Giant State Park, and stay on the trail, as there seems to be about one incident per year over at Sleeping Giant where someone falls and needs to be rescued. These seem to happen in the quarry area at Sleeping Giant where people get off the trail. According to a 2012 article in the Hartford Courant, seven people died in falls at Sleeping Giant between 1998 and 2012.

These are the potentially slippery spots at West Rock:
  • In icy conditions, the Regicides Trail is probably NOT your best choice of a place to hike, but you can easily divert to Baldwin Drive when necessary.
These are the tricky places on the Regicides Trail:
  • Crossing over the West Rock Tunnel, the trail is steep and footing is not the easiest.
  • At the junction of the Gold Trail (coming up from Lake Wintergreen), there is a place where you may have to turn and walk down with hands and feet through a rocky slot where the trail descends about 5 feet.
  • At the northern end of Baldwin Drive, the Regicides Trail has a tricky rock face to negotiate. In dry conditions, footing is not an issue, but in snow and icy, pass carefully.
  • The Regicides Trail ends at the Quinnipiac Trail, but getting up there involves carefully picking your way along a steep trail.
This rocky slab at a turn on the Red Trail when ascending to the South Overlook is one of the few spots in West Rock that may be slippery to navigate in wet and snowy conditions.
Briefly tricky sections along other trails:
  • Red Trail: Most of the Red Trail is flat and easy. At the southern end, there is a short rock face midway up the climb to the South Overlook. If conditions are icy, it could be a bit difficult getting past this point.
  • Red-White Trail along Lake Wintergreen: If conditions are icy, I recommend staying on the Red Trail and avoiding this brief rocky scramble.
  • Green Trail: This steep trail is prone to becoming a sheet of ice in the winter. Either use the paved road from the main entrance, or take the Regicides Trail to Judges Cave.
  • Gold Trail: Up to the water tank, this trail is a wide woods road. Between the water tank and Baldwin Drive is a long rock face, which could be slippery in icy conditions. A safer alternative in icy conditions is to take the Orange Trail instead to get up the ridge.

     These trails have no issues with traction in any conditions: White Trail, Orange Trail, Purple Trail, Purple-Orange Trail, Purple-White Trail, Yellow Trail, Red-White Trail by Farm Brook Reservoir, Westville Feeder (Blue-Yellow), and the Sanford Feeder (Blue-Red).
The Gold Trail is a wide woods road to the water tank, and is plowed in the winter up to the tank. Beyond that point, the trail narrows and steepens and is potentially slippery in winter conditions.

Getting Bit by a Tick or Mosquito
     The most dangerous animal at West Rock is Ixodes scapularis, aka, the black-legged tick, or the deer tick (as it is popularly known). This blood-sucking parasite carries such charming guests as Lyme Disease, babesiosis (a malaria-like disease), and Human granulocytic anaplasmosis (HGA) (previously known as Human granulocytic ehrlichiosis), which is another bacterial infection.

     You are most likely to pick up ticks on narrow trails, particularly portions of the Regicides Trail, and fairly unlikely to encounter them on wide trails like portions of the Red Trail, and the White Trail by Lake Wintergreen. If you hike with snow on the ground, or the temperatures are below freezing, ticks are likely to be underground and not a threat.

     If temperatures are above freezing, I recommend hiking in long pants with your socks over your pants. There are various repellents available. I prefer the natural approach and have been using geranium essential oil, which you can get at a natural food store. After returning from a hike, immediately shower and do a tick check.

     The last time I wore shorts in the woods, it was during the summer when I was doing trail work. I got back to my car after three hours in the woods. I brushed a crawling tick off my hand. I drove home and did a tick check. I found a tick embedded in the skin under my knee. I promptly ripped it out with a pair of tweezers. I brought it to my local health department and had it tested by the state. They said it had not started to draw blood yet, so I was not at risk.

     Bring a tick that has gotten into your skin to any local health department. The health department will ship it to the state for testing at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven. The state prefers live ticks, so the recommendation is to put the tick into a container with a blade of grass and a couple of drops of water. Note that the state will only test for the presence of Lyme spirochetes, and not any of the other co-infections. It takes 2 to 3 weeks to get back an answer, so monitor for symptoms while the tick is being tested.

     When removing a tick, I have learned the best approach is to pull sideways. If you pull up, the barbed portion of the tick’s mouth will dig into your skin and removal is difficult.

     If you have been in the woods and are showing funky symptoms: fever, extreme fatigue, etc., get checked for Lyme, etc. promptly. The earlier you treat, the more likely you will make a quick and full recovery.

     I wore long pants tucked into my boots for trail work in 2014. I used geranium oil, a natural essential oil as a tick repellent. After 150 hours in the woods, I found ZERO ticks on my clothing and myself.

     To avoid mosquitoes, hike in the winter! Between the first frost and the final thaw, mosquitoes are not a problem. In warmer weather, I have had good success with natural products that repel them. These products are usually a blend of essential oils.

     The worst time for mosquitoes is around sunrise and sunset, and after a heavy rain. Swampy areas at West Rock are also a habitat for mosquitoes, in particular the Red Trail north of Lake Wintergreen, and the Red Dot Trail by Farm Brook Reservoir.

     Mosquitoes can possibly carry West Nile Virus, or Eastern equine encephalitis virus (EEE). While the media hypes up virus warnings every summer, I consider Lyme Disease to be a far more prevalent threat.

Fall colors frame Lake Watrous in this view from the Regicides  Trail.
Getting Bit by a Snake
     There are two poisonous snakes in Connecticut: the northern copperhead and the timber rattlesnake. According to Stephen P. Broker, science educator and member of the West Rock Ridge Park Association, there are copperheads at West Rock, but not directly on any trail. He said there are extremely docile. He has not seen rattlesnakes at West Rock. I have not seen copperheads or rattlesnakes at West Rock.
     I have seen the occasional northern black racer, otherwise known as the rat snake, at West Rock. They prefer the rocky slopes off the trail. These snakes are not poisonous and will quickly slither away if they see you. According to Steve, they may rattle their tail in the leaves, making a convincing imitation of a rattlesnake, which is scary to an approaching hiker.

     Dehydration is a definite safety concern, particularly in hot, humid weather. There are no public water sources at West Rock: no restrooms with running water, no fountains, and no wells with pumps. The only stores are miles away in Westville or Hamden.

     Be sure to bring water sufficient for the length of your hike, since you are probably not going to be carrying a water purifier. In warmer weather, naturally bring more water than in cooler weather, in part because you may wish to dump it over your head to cool down. I recommend one water bottle for every hour to hour and a half you plan to be outside.

     Even if you carry a water filter, there are only three realistic sources of water, all on the eastern part of the ridge: Lake Wintergreen, the unnamed pond off Mountain Road, and the Farm Brook Reservoir. Under no circumstances should someone attempt to drink unfiltered water from any of these sources, as who knows what parasites and bacteria may lurk in the water.

     On a related topic, be sure to bring enough food to match the length of your hike.

Getting overly tired
     Be realistic in how much of a hike you can handle. If you are just getting into hiking, maybe the 1.5 mile stroll around Lake Wintergreen is the right fit for you, as compared to the 6 mile loop to the South Overlook and back.

     One great advantage that West Rock has over many other hiking locations in Connecticut is that the trails are not overly challenging. If you are starting from Lake Wintergreen, the return trip will mostly be downhill or flat (unless you are coming from the South Overlook on the Red Trail, in which case you will have a gradual uphill most of the way back), so if you are tired, the easy terrain eases the strain.

     The major climb is getting to the top of the ridge, which most people can do in 10 minutes. One you reach the ridge top, the elevation changes are gradual enough that you will hardly notice them (excepting the climb on the Regicides Trail or the Green Trail over the West Rock tunnel, and the climb on the Regicides Trail up to the South Overlook).

     If you are tired, be sure to drink and eat enough and take breaks. If you are up on the ridge, walking back the road is far easier than walking a trail.

This beautiful view of Lake Dawson, a water company reservoir in Woodbridge, can be enjoyed from a vantage point just off the Regicides Trail, a bit north of the junction with the Gold Trail.

Hypothermia or heat exhaustion/heat stroke
     In the winter, don’t wear cotton, especially in snowy conditions. Cotton gets wet, stays wet, and steals heat from your body as it is trying to dry the cotton. Instead, wear synthetics or wool that will keep you warm, even if they are wet.
Wear a hat and gloves. Carry an extra set in your pack in case the first set gets wet.
     Dress in layers, so you can keep your body temperature steady, especially as you warm up climbing hills, and cool down at breaks.
Bring a rain poncho because it may rain unexpectedly, even when none is forecast.
     Wear waterproof boots year-round, as trails can be soggy, and wet feet will make your hike miserable, and possibly dangerous.
     In the summer, I prefer jeans to nylon pants because jeans breathe to a certain extent, and nylon simply traps your heat and sweat. If conditions are wet, stick with the nylon pants for reasons stated above. In summer, pace yourself, drink plenty of water, and be aware if you are overheating.

     I always wear two pairs of Merino wool socks when I hike. This soft type of wool provides excellent cushioning and keeps your feet warm, even when they are soggy.
     Needless to say, wear a comfortable pair of hiking boots, and make sure they are broken in. For many parts of West Rock, a pair of sneakers is fine, but on the rocky Regicides Trail, boots provide the ankle stability you need.
     If you feel a hot spot developing, deal with it sooner, rather than later to avoid making the problem worse.

Poison ivy
     There certainly is poison ivy in the woods at West Rock: climbing up the side of trees, along stone walls, next to the trail, etc. Certainly remember, “Leaves of three, let them be,” but there’s more to the picture than that. The hairy vines that cling to the sides of trees are poison ivy. Be aware of stems that branch off from the main vines and hang over the trail. Also beware of fallen trees that may have poison ivy on them.

     Poison ivy can trigger a rash, even when the leaves are off the vines. The risk of touching poison ivy is greatest on trails like the Regicides where the trail is narrow and it is difficult to avoid brushing the plants along the side. There is the plenty along the Red Trail north of Lake Wintergreen where it parallels the brook/canal, but the trail is wide enough that staying in the center will keep you away from it. Since poison ivy may be on stone walls and trees, look carefully before taking a seat to eat your lunch.

     The trails crew will clip poison ivy when it can, but we will never get rid of it, just slow down its spread.

      As a remedy, I have had excellent results from Hyland's Poison Ivy and Poison Oak, a homeopathic remedy. Like other homeopathic remedies, it works best when taken just as you start to feel itchy and see blisters forming. Like other homeopathic remedies, what works well for me may not work well for you. This product can be purchased in any natural food store or vitamin store.

Weather conditions
     Check the forecast before you go. From the top of the ridge, you can see bad weather moving from the west toward West Rock. In a thunderstorm, you do not want to be on top of the ridge where the lightning can more easily strike you. If you are out hiking and you see a thunderstorm rolling in, get off the ridge fast (and head east toward Hamden). Even off the ridge, the woods are a bad place to be in a thunderstorm.
     If only rain is falling, you can be fine with proper rain gear, but be aware of slippery footing. Remember that wet rocks are slippery rocks.

     The road to Judges Cave and the South Overlook is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day on weekends, so be aware of this when walking Regicide Drive (as the road is called). The road is curvy, narrow, and often sightlines are poor. Walk in the right side facing traffic, unless the curve is so tight that drivers cannot see you and you may be better off walking on the opposite side in that section.
Baldwin Drive (the paved road heading north from the main entrance) is permanently closed to the public, although you may encounter the occasional maintenance vehicle on the road. You will certainly see bicyclists on both roads.

     As you are hiking, you may encounter the occasional bicyclist on some trails. They may come up fast and without warning. Although bicycles are supposed to yield to hikers, it is often easier for the hiker to step off the trail and let the cyclist pass. I have never seen a horse at West Rock, but if you did see one on a trail, the protocol calls for the hiker to yield to the horse.

     Many of the comments for hiking apply to bicycling as well. West Rock is a good place to mountain bike for many reasons, but it is also an excellent place for beginners to try the sport because the trails range from easy (the Red Trail north of Lake Wintergreen to Mountain Road, and the Red Trail north of Mountain Road where it is a gravel road) to moderately technical (the Red Trail between the Mountain Road loop, as well as the White Trail. Even better for beginners, the moderately technical trails are relatively flat which means you can deal with the roots and rocks without the added challenge of a steep hill.

      Baldwin Drive has rough pavement that is best suited to a mountain bike or a hybrid bicycle. In particular, there are several places when descending south to the main entrance through the switchbacks where the pavement has peeled away, leaving large enough holes that someone could be knocked off their bike if they were going too fast.
Mountain bikers enjoy a rare opportunity to ride on Lake Wintergreen in late February 2015, after a month of subfreezing weather. Since the state does not monitor ice thickness at West Rock, this type of access is strictly at users' own risk.
Canoeing and Kayaking
     As a small, calm lake, Lake Wintergreen is an excellent place for beginners to paddle in a safe, secure location. However, even in calm lake, there is always the risk of tipping over and ending up in the water. Knowing how to do a wet exit and re-entry is an excellent skill to have. Paddling with a partner is always recommended.

     By state law, you have to have a life jacket in the boat for each person at all times. Adults are required to wear the life jacket between Oct. 1 and May 31 of each year. Children younger than age 13 need to wear one at all times while in a canoe or kayak. Most people who drown while boating are NOT wearing life jackets, according to the DEEP.
     Additional boating information is available in the Connecticut Boater’s Guide at

     Cold-water paddling is risky due to the fact that you can quickly become hypothermic if you get wet when the water and temperature are below comfortable temperatures. Minimum temperatures for boating without a wetsuit or a drysuit are typically defined as water temperatures below 50 degrees and air temperatures below 70 degrees. Even at these temperatures, you can quickly become incapacitated.

Ice Skating and Ice Fishing
    The state does not monitor the thickness of ice on any body of water at West Rock, so any ice skating and fishing you do is strictly at your own risk. Lake Wintergreen has two areas where ice is likely to be thinner, due to water flow. These include the entry culvert near the parking lot, and spillway at the southeastern end of the lake. Winter 2015 was cold enough that people were safely and freely walking across Lake Wintergreen.

     I have seen people ice skating and ice fishing on Farm Brook Reservoir off Hill Street. Be aware of thin ice near the stream that feeds the reservoir at its northern end and of the outflow at its southern end near the dam.
    I have not seen ice skating or ice fishing at the unnamed pond off Mountain Road, nor would I recommend it due to its isolation. If someone got into difficulty here, it is unlikely another park user would see them, and there are no neighbors adjacent to the pond. This pond has a spillway crossed by a steel deck bridge at its southeastern end.

    Those looking for proven ice should head to Osbornedale State Park in Derby, which is the only state park where the state measures ice thickness. Website:
Ice fishermen on Farm Brook Reservoir, Jan. 2015.
Safety, Comfort, and Perception
     The final safety question relates to other park users and how they may affect your visit to West Rock. People will post remarks on review sites and comment on how the park looks isolated and abandoned, which it does appear to be at the main entrance when the gate is closed.

     An occasional question I get with regard to West Rock is the concern, “Is it safe to hike there?” The question is framed in the context of West Rock’s past crime history from the 1970s and earlier when Baldwin Drive was open to traffic. There were certainly crime incidents along the road during those years, but once easy access was cut off, the crime disappeared.

     The state Environmental Conservation Police will sometimes write an article in the newsletter for the West Rock Ridge Park Association newsletter. I can recall reading ONE incident a couple of years ago regarding a break-in at the Lake Wintergreen parking lot. Regrettably, the graffiti and litter in certain locations, particularly the South Overlook does not help the public perception with regard to feeling safe.

     I have more than 1,200 hours of volunteer service at West Rock, another 200 as a seasonal state employee in 2008, and a couple hundred other hours as a park user. I have never had an issue with another park user. At times I have seen the occasional sketchy person and kept moving just to be sure.

     Obviously, going with another person always increases your safety. The loop around Lake Wintergreen draws the greatest foot traffic. There are often people fishing at Farm Brook Reservoir. During the summer months, there are frequently people enjoying the view at the South Overlook. In other parts of the park, you likely will see few people to no people.

    This past history as a party spot has created one other problem for West Rock: broken glass. For this reason, I would advise always wearing close-toed footwear, and watching where dogs walk. 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.

     There is no denying that New Haven has ringed the southern end of the park with public housing projects, which had prior long-standing issues with crime, issues that rarely spill over into West Rock. Those projects are in various phases of redevelopment, which has greatly improved conditions in those areas.

A comprehensive look at this topic is presented in this senior thesis by Woodbridge resident Adam Wolkoff, who graduated from Columbia University in 2004. The thesis entitled "Creating a Suburban Ghetto: Public Housing at New Haven's West Rock" was printed in the book Connecticut History and is available at
For more information on the West Rock neighborhood, read the New Haven Independent
        In summer 2014, the city of New Haven blocked off the West Rock Nature Center lower parking lot on Wintergreen Avenue, due to problems with illegal dumping, an issue that also plagues the park's border along Wintergreen Avenue. Parking is still available alongside the jersey barriers, yielding perhaps four parking spaces. Parking is also available at the New Haven-owned parking lot adjacent to the West Rock main entrance.
     I recommend NOT parking in this parking lot or inside the main entrance as I have found broken window glass there on four occasions between 2007 and 2014. Instead, you are probably better parking on Tierney Road, which is just north of the main entrance. I have parked there on many occasions with no issues, but, of course, anything is possible. I would be leery about leaving a car for a long period of time at Judges Cave, which is semi-isolated, and where I found broken window glass in 2014. Of course, if you are near the car, there should be no issue.
     I have also parked without incident at the various parking locations I describe on the "Driving Directions and Parking Information" page, including Lake Wintergreen, Hill Street, and the Early Childhood Learning Center.
Late afternoon sunlight brightens the southwest face of West Rock, steps away from the parking lot of the Early Childhood Learning Center, corner of Blake and Valley Streets, New Haven.


  1. I encountered a copperhead on the Westville connector today. This year I've seen several deer, two turkeys, one coyote, a few black racers, and now a copperhead. Watch your step.

  2. Great hike, I did the whole loop, 13 miles.
    Trails are very clearly marked and very well maintained. I never knew how beautiful this place is. Hiking is moderate and rewarding . I did get lost a couple of times, my fault, I was using my GPS instead of my map.