Castle Craig Offers Towering Views of Fall Foliage

Over the past six months I’ve been exploring Connecticut’s castles (the state is home to a surprising number of them) for an ongoing series we’ve done on these captivating structures. From historic ruins that preservationists are rushing to save to multi-million-dollar new castles currently on the market, these stone architectural wonders always seem to have a compelling story behind them. But, nowhere in Connecticut (at least that I’ve visited so far) do you get a more epic, fantasy-esque, I-feel-like-I’m-in-Lord-of-the-Rings sense than at Castle Craig in Meriden, a soaring tower that sits sentry-like atop East Peak on the Hanging Hills.

This ripped-straight-from-a-fairytale watchtower is open to the public and is part of Hubbard Park, which is operated by the city of Meriden. Without paying an entry fee, guests can climb the 32-foot-high spire, by means of a spiral staircase, and enjoy a vantage point 976 feet above sea level. The panoramic views afforded at the mountain’s peak and at the top of the tower are nothing short of spectacular, especially this time of year when foliage begins to work its multicolored magic on the Connecticut countryside. On a clear day views to the south include Sleeping Giant Mountain Range, New Haven and the glistening water of Long Island Sound, as well as the dim outline of Long Island itself. Northern views include the Berkshires and Southern Massachusetts.

For more great fall views see our recent story on foliage in Connecticut  The castle was built in 1900 out of native trap rock by local stonemasons. It was commissioned and then donated to the people of Meriden by local philanthropist Walter Hubbard, president of the Bradley & Hubbard Manufacturing Company. Hubbard also donated the 1,800-acre park that bears his name; the park was designed by Hubbard in consultation with the Olmsted Brothers, sons of Frederick Law Olmsted, co-designer of New York City’s Central Park.

Prominently visible from I-691, Castle Craig has long been a part of the fabric of the Meriden community. “It's probably one of our most recognizable icons,” says Juliet Burdelski, director of economic development for the city of Meriden.Today, there are several ways to visit the castle. You can drive up the 3.3-mile access road (which is open from 10 a.m. until 4:45 p.m. from May till the end of October), or walk that same access road. There are also hiking trails to the castle’s peak and a trail map is available through the Meriden Land Trust. These trails provide a route to the tower that is shorter in distance than the main access road but the hiking route is also steeper and more difficult. Burdelski warns this route is better suited to experienced hikers.

This year, the town has decided to open the gates to the access road from 6 until 10 p.m. during full moons in August, September and October. The first full moon event was well attended, for the second one the weather didn’t cooperate fully and attendance was limited. If the weather cooperates Burdelski expects a decent size crowd on Wednesday, Oct. 8, the next full moon. (To find out full details on this and some other fun things to do in Meriden as part of your visit to Castle Craig, check out meriden2020.com.)Since the castle was built, more than 100 years ago, it has often captured the imagination of those who see it, sometimes in unusual ways. According to local lore the area around Hubbard Park is occupied/haunted by The Black Dog of West Peak, an otherworldly canine with a spooky bite. According to an entry about the myth on Damned Connecticut:

Over the years, people have told of encounters with a small, vaguely spaniel-like, shorthaired black dog. Often, it is described as having come out of nowhere, and despite its sad eyes, being quite happy to have human companionship. Like any good phantom, it leaves no footprints and makes no sound when it barks or howls, yet it leaves quite an impression. For it is said of the Black Dog: "If a man shall meet the Black Dog once, it shall be for joy; and if twice, it shall be for sorrow; and the third time, he shall die."

On my recent trip I opted to drive to the peak rather than walk. The 3.3-mile access road has a 15 mph speed limit and is full of winding turns and steep inclines. It’s slow going, sometimes frustratingly so, but as I wound my way up the mountain the anticipation and sense of adventure built, as did my appreciation of the rugged beauty of the scenery around me. Rock trap cliff walls are visible during the ascent; bodies of water reflect the color of the leaves, and when I caught my first glimpse of the tower through the trees I could not help but feel a rush of excitement. Though, I didn’t catch a glimpse of the Black Dog, when I stepped out of my car and climbed the winding staircase to the top of the rampart, I enjoyed a view of the Connecticut countryside that was (and is) certainly fit for a king.

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