Fact: You don’t even need to hike to Heublein Tower to get an amazing view.
Late morning, mid-week at Talcott Mountain State Park is a happy compromise. There are enough people hiking to fend off the thoughts had by a solo adventurer who has been fed a steady diet of American fear, but few enough so that a goal of hiking — solitude — is achievable. This is less true on weekends and in the autumn when people rejoice in the foliage display.
Talcott Mountain State Park spans Simsbury, Bloomfield, and Avon; it offers views well beyond any of these towns, allegedly allowing visitors to see as far as Long Island Sound.
Most people experience the park this way: drive up Route 185, park haphazardly in the “parking area,” and head up the yellow blazed trail. There is nothing wrong with this, but it’s only part of the picture. There are other trails in the park, including the Metacomet Trail.
Let’s not be too wild and just assume you take the yellow trail, the easiest to find from the parking area, which, by the way, is not striped or really leveled. Leave that fancy attitude at home and drive up over the curb like everyone else. Another option is to bike up and lock to a post at the bottom– no bicycles are allowed on the trails.
There are maps available at the trailhead — a kind gesture but not necessary as the yellow trail, at least, is clearly marked. The same cannot be said for all other trails in Connecticut. A small picnic table and spacious outhouses mark the beginning of the ascent. The trail has a fairly even surface, making it manageable for most people, but there is a definite incline. People who hike and walk regularly should have no trouble with this; those who opt to take the elevator to travel one floor up will be winded. Luckily, there are a handful of benches along the trail. Just when you are wondering what you were thinking when you set out on this walk, a bench appears, inviting you to sit down, catch your breath, and return to the trail momentarily.
The rewards of this walk take only ten minutes, which is when the steep incline stops and you emerge from the woods to a view of farms and white steeples below. You could end your hike here, which I have done many times. This ridge offers enough of a scenic overlook to make the wobbly legs worthwhile. You might hear gunshots. Don’t panic. This is near the Metacon Gun Club, but not too nearby. You will likely also hear tractors, small aircraft, and the wind through the leaves.
You can continue on for another fifteen or twenty minutes if you need to go to the tower. This part of the walk is notably less demanding. Unlike some of the other popular parks and recreation areas in this area, this trail actually has a decent canopy, meaning that in summer months, you won’t immediately regret forgetting the sunblock.
When you come to the fork in the road — one sign points toward the tower, another to outhouses – it actually does not make any difference which path you take. At this stage, you are there. Head toward the tower, you’ll see the tower; venture toward the restrooms, you’ll see the tower. The water fountain is on the side of the tower where the outhouses are.
You’ll notice several picnic tables, but follow the signs and you will see an even larger picnic area. There is an historic barbecue built in 1950 by the Hartford Times for some celebration or another involving Dwight D. Eisenhower. Talcott Mountain State Park has been a Republican magnet, also attracting to it Ronald Reagan, before he was President.
Let’s back this up.
Why would a now defunct newspaper have built something for a political event? Questions of bias aside, the Hartford Times actually owned the property for some time, which you can read about more extensively at Connecticut Museum Quest.
There is a small museum inside the tower that can be explored in five minutes. The reason to go into the tower is for the view six storeys up, so bring your binoculars and camera. It’s not uncommon to spot hawks from here. A map and signs posted in the observation room can help you to figure out what you are looking at.
A reasonably fit person can make it to the tower and back to the lot in an hour and change– longer if you need to linger.
If this trek is somehow not fulfilling enough, there are two nearby excursions to help you meet your nature needs. Practically across the street from the Talcott Mountain State Park entrance is that for Penwood State Park in Bloomfield. The Metacomet Trail continues through this park, where bicycles are welcome everywhere except for the Metacomet Trail itself. There are a few ponds and a lake visible from the trails.
Like Talcott Mountain State Park, there is no parking or admission fee. Unlike the park across the town line, this one posts information about bears, who probably do not decide to turn around when they reach Talcott Mountain State Park.
And, if you still need satisfaction, a good reservoir is nearby. No, not the paved one on Farmington Avenue. With double-wide strollers jamming up the paths, that place is the antithesis of rest and relaxation. Try Reservoir #6 located on Route 44.
It’s not desolate, but perhaps because the trails are packed dirt and gravel instead of pavement, they are less popular. There’s no real incline and the path is level, making this a more accessible option for those who might not be thrilled about being dragged along with you on your adventures.