The iron mill worker sat on the stone wall and watched as the autumn leaves tumbled off the oak trees and fell into the waters of the Saugatuck River. The bright blue sky reflected off the water and cast a hypnotizing spell on him as he dreamed of returning to his favorite fishing spot after his shift was over.
As I watched a fisherman cast his line into the Saugatuck Reservoir, a cold north wind jarred my imagination and brought me back to reality. The nearby ghostly stone wall, exposed from its watery tomb by a summer-long drought, had brought my imagination back to the distant past and the villages of Hull and Valley Forge. A time before the hamlets were swallowed up by Bridgeport Hydraulic Company Holdings’ construction of the reservoir in Easton, Redding and Weston.
Today, the land surrounding the 12-billion gallon reservoir is part of the Centennial Watershed State Forest created in 2002 when the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, The Nature Conservancy and Aquarion Water Co. agreed to preserve 15,300 acres in Easton, Newtown, Redding and Weston. The $90 million sale was the biggest land acquisition in the state’s history. The centennial was in honor of Connecticut’s 100th anniversary of the state forest system.
The 12-mile Saugatuck Trail runs around much of the reservoir’s western and eastern sides from the Samuel P. Senior Dam to a connection with the Aspetuck Trail. Both paths are part of the Connecticut Forest & Park Association’s 825-mile Blue-Blazed Hiking Trail network. The paths travel through three towns — Weston, Redding and Easton — with the Aspetuck ending (or beginning) in Newtown.
Though the trail keeps a safe distance from the shores of the reservoir to protect water quality, the impoundment is your constant companion especially in the late fall, winter and early spring when the leaves are off the trees. Rock outcroppings and vistas give visitors spectacular views of the reservoir and the surrounding forests which are free of human intrusions except for busy Route 53.
Much of the southern section of the trail stays high above the reservoir except for a short section in Weston off Valley Forge Road near the intersection with Route 53 and another section just over the border into Redding. This is the closest the trail gets to the western banks of the reservoir and the views are tremendous.
There are numerous stone foundations and stone walls along this section of the trail showcasing the farms and buildings that once dotted the banks of the Saugatuck River. The largest concentration of them can be found at the parking area along Route 53 just north of its intersection with Valley Forge Road.
The trail crosses Route 53 several times over a short distance, so hikers should be wary crossing the busy, curvy road. Shortly after crossing Tudor Road, look for a trail marked with white blazes. The mile-long path takes visitors to Redding’s Great Ledge, a 200-foot-high granite outcrop with some of the best views in southwestern Connecticut.
The ledge extends over the border into Weston with the highest point in Redding. The Redding Land Trust boasts that the Great Ledge “rivals the very best to be enjoyed from any promontory in southern New England.” The geography has led to some good-natured (I think) explanations on the Trust’s website.
“Folks down that way have historically called their part of the escarpment ‘The Great Ledge’ too,” a description on their website notes about Weston. “An impartial observer, however, would have to concede that, based on the quality of the view, Redding’s half of the ledge is by far the greater. Therefore, with apologies to our neighbors South of the Border, we have arranged our signs and maps to celebrate this territorial superiority. Ours is The Great Ledge. Theirs is the Ledge. Go in peace.”
Returning to the trail, the Saugatuck heads away from the reservoir and into the deep forest. The trail passes along the banks of the Saugatuck River and hikers can see what the waterway looked like before it disappeared under millions of gallons of water. The trail continues through the scenic Redding Glen.
A side trail takes hikers down to the Saugatuck Universal Access Trail where visitors of all abilities can take a path of crushed bluestone down to a wonderful wooden deck overlook of the reservoir and surrounding forests. Universal access trails are far too rare in the state and a wonderful way to get everyone out enjoying the state’s natural world.
The trail travels another 4 miles along the eastern banks of the reservoir with more overlooks. The path then travels away from the reservoir to a connection with the Aspetuck Trail. The trail continues the journey through the Centennial Watershed State Forest connecting with Collis P. Huntington State Park, named after the man who had a major role in completing the first transcontinental railroad.
It has been nearly a century since the Quinnipiac Trail, the Connecticut Forest & Park Association’s first Blue-Blazed Trail, opened the state’s natural world to hiking. The Saugatuck Trail is one of the association’s newest trails and will only uphold that proud tradition of opening up some of Connecticut’s most scenic places to explore.
Saugatuck and Aspetuck trails
Weston, Redding and Easton
The bottom line:The out-and-back Saugatuck Trail and a side trip to Redding’s Great Ledge have some of the best views in Fairfield County. The trail passes scenic rock outcroppings and overlooks of the reservoir and surrounding forests.
Difficulty level: Easy to moderately difficult with some strenuous climbs, especially along the western portion of the reservoir.
Total mileage: The Saugatuck Trail is a total of 12 miles with an additional 7 miles on the Aspetuck Trail.
Getting there: The main parking areas are along Route 53 and Valley Forge Road. Go to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s website for a color map of both trails.
Fishing: A permit is needed to fish in the reservoir.
Pet-friendly? Since it is a watershed, no pets are allowed.