The hiker, with a loaded backpack and hiking sticks at his side, emerged from the deep forest with a stunned look on his face. He opened his mouth and slowly whispered “Wow!” as if not wishing to break the peace and quiet that unfolded before him as meadow merged into rolling hills and then into distant mountains.
On his journey from Tennessee to Mount Katahdin, Maine, the hiker stopped briefly at Rand’s View in Salisbury. We made some small talk and he told me it’s one of the best views he’s seen on his journey. I agreed with him that the view is one of the most spectacular along the state’s stretch of the Appalachian Trail — if not in all of Connecticut.
Not bad for the 48 miles of the AT that skirt the northwest corner of Connecticut. Of course, he still had Lions Head and Bear Mountain — the tallest peak in Connecticut — ahead of him. But having seen both before taking in Rand’s View, I would have to agree it matches or tops those pair of overlooks.
The trailhead for my visit is Great Falls, also known as the “Niagara Falls of New England,” in the Falls Village section of Canaan. Most of the time, Great Falls only displays its power during spring freshets as the Housatonic River thunders over a 60-foot cliff. But after near-record rainfall in July, the flow was impressive, nearly matching those snowmelt days.
A few short trails travel to several overlooks of the falls, so you will want to spend a few minutes here before hitting the AT. A small park just above the dam showcases the history of the Ames Iron Works that made cannons, shovels, wagon wheels, railroad rails, stoves and nuts and bolts during the 1800s.
After crossing the road from the parking lot, look for the white blazes that mark the AT. While I haven’t done the entire stretch in Connecticut, I’ve done most of it, which automatically gives you bragging rights to tell your family and friends that you’ve hiked the AT. You can just leave it open-ended like that.
The early stages of the hike cross through patches of forest and fields before passing deep into the woods past huge glacial erratic boulders. There are some steep stretches, but it’s mostly a gradual, rocky climb. Be on the lookout for a spring coming out of the hillside with some of the clearest — and coldest — flowing water I have ever encountered.
The trail eventually reaches the top of Mount Prospect at 1,461 feet. The overlook is impressive with views to the east of the Housatonic Valley and Canaan Mountain. Below there is a scattering of houses and farms with silos and corn fields. But it’s mostly a view devoid of civilization.
Once hikers reach Mount Prospect, the trip to Rand’s View is pretty much all downhill through the forest. Although I had seen photos of the view, nothing prepares you for it as you emerge from the deep, dark forest into a sun-filled meadow with a panorama of hills and mountains before you. The scene leaves you breathless and wondering why it took you so long to come see it in person.
Rand’s View includes Wetauwanchu Mountain, Bear Mountain, Jug End and Mount Everett. It really is a one-of-a-kind view with everything merging like the final pieces to a puzzle. The meadows, hills and mountains blend perfectly like a real-life landscape painting as the shadow of clouds dance along the green tree foliage. It is one of those places you will want to check out in all seasons, from a snowy February day to an autumn afternoon filled with the kaleidoscope of colors.
The bottom line: A five-mile hike along the Appalachian Trail from Great Falls to Mount Prospect to Rand’s View will give hikers a taste of the world’s longest path with a pair of spectacular views.
Difficulty level: Moderate. The climb up from Great Falls to Mount Prospect isn’t steep, but it is a bit long and arduous. Once you get over Mount Prospect, the trip to Rand’s View is less than a mile away.
Total mileage: The trail to Mount Prospect and Rand’s View is 5.4 miles out and back. The hike is about a mile longer if you start at the parking area near the iron bridge.
Directions: Route 126 into Falls Village. Take a left on Railroad Street and bear right on Water Street shortly after the railroad underpass. There is a parking area on the right before the iron bridge. This is a good spot for those who want to hike across the bridge and then along the banks of the river which showcase the waterfall. The main falls parking area is located by taking a right on Housatonic River Road after crossing the bridge and looking for the iron gates on the right about a half-mile along the road.
Pet friendly? Leashed dogs are allowed and must be cleaned up after.
Things to do Nearby
The restaurant’s mission is “to nourish and nurture our community by providing fresh, wholesome and delicious foods made with ingredients from local farmers, growers and producers.” Chef Andrew Ignace creates the farm-to-table menu with cafe favorites, twists on American classics and inventive vegetarian options. Menu items include Johnny Cash skillet, an egg-white delight on an English muffin with tomato, spinach and goat cheese, and entrées like streusel French toast and whole-wheat pancakes. 251 Route 7 South, Falls Village, 860-824-7876, mountainsidecafe.com
There aren’t too many places in Connecticut where you can see animals whose origins span six of the seven continents. Visitors can see animals like African zebra, Watusi cattle, Asian water buffalo, South American llamas, North American bison and elk. Take a safari across 18 acres and watch them roam. 337 Torrington Road, Goshen, 860-482-4465, actionwildlifefoundation.com
Great Falls Brewing Company
Located in the historic refurbished Canaan Union Station Railroad Depot in North Canaan, the brewery offers drinks like Gedney Farm Pumpkin Imperial stout, Peanut Butter Happy Camper, Canaan Mountain lager and Baryshnikov’s Last Dance. The brewery “aims to brew a diverse variety of styles of some of the best tasting beers.” 1 Railroad Plaza, Canaan, 860-453-4076, greatfallsbrews.com