July 8, 2017 • Devil’s Hopyard State Park • Gillette Castle State Park
By our second weekend here in Connecticut, we were ready to get out of town and go do some hiking. I had several options saved on Google maps that were relatively nearby, free, and dog friendly, so Curtis saved a few letterbox clues and off we went. We first drove to East Haddam, directly NW of New London, and began our day at Devil’s Hopyard State Park. I had originally found this park while looking through waterfall hikes, but we found that there was also a decent loop hike that we could do through the park that would take us to a few other scenic spots. If we had just come for the waterfalls, our stay would have been incredibly short because they are only a tenth of a mile from where we parked!
We have been pleased with the maps the state parks in Connecticut have made available, both at the trailhead and easy to find online. Especially with coming from New York, where we were disappointed all around by the trail maps — or lack thereof. Here’s a link to the trail map for Devil’s Hopyard State Park. We followed the Vista Trail (orange) counter-clockwise to the vista on the South side of the park. We veered off the trail to check out the Devil’s Oven, but after a steep climb up to the boulders, we were a little disappointed and very much out of breath. Other than that, the trails were wide and easy to follow, all the way up to the top of a hill, and then down a stretch to the vista. And to our surprise, the vista was actually a great view to the South, without trees blocking the way! Who knew we could find this in Southeastern Connecticut? Curtis found some letterboxes and we enjoyed the view in peace.
After this, we hiked back up to the loop, but decided to extend our hike a bit longer and follow the White trail back to the parking lot. From here, we finished by walking to the falls. This waterfall is called Chapman Falls and is 60 feet tall, with several cascading layers. We sat and enjoyed the breeze the falls created, which felt amazing as it was now around noon and the humidity had been creeping up all morning. Altogether, we hiked 3 miles through the park, and while it wasn’t the longest or hardest hike we’ve done by any stretch, the heat and humidity were already wearing us out.
We then decided to drive to Gillette Castle State Park. This one also has free admission and some trails, but the main attraction is the castle itself. We decided to pass on touring the castle because we had Charlotte with us, but we arrived right in time for an outdoor 2-person act giving the history of the life of William Gillette. Gillette was an actor, playwright, and stage manager in the late 19th century to early 20th century. However, he is best remembered for playing Sherlock Holmes in plays and film. He actually contributed some accessories to the character: the deerstalker cap and the curved pipe. The act today was right outside, across from the castle, and was a fun and memorable way to learn about Gillette. Even Charlotte behaved for the whole performance! After that, we walked around and admired the castle and the Connecticut River, then set off on one more hike for today.
Before arriving in Connecticut, Curtis learned about a fun challenge the state does each year to encourage people to get out and visit different parts of the state. It’s called The Sky’s the Limit Challenge, and this is the third year they’ve done this. Basically, there are 14 sites around the state of which you need to visit at least 10 this year (2017), take pictures of yourself in each location, and submit them to earn a prize. You can read about the challenge and see the locations for this year listed here. Since we finished a hiking challenge in New York during our time there, we’d been looking for something similar to encourage us to visit different places, and this challenge seems doable for our short time here. I mention this now because we were able to visit our first location for the challenge in this state park today!
If you look through the locations listed, you’ll see they mention specific state parks, then have a certain spot in the park that you must take a picture of. In Gillette Castle, the feature we were looking for was the Gillette Railroad Tunnel. We found it on the short hike, walked through and took pictures on both ends. Then, along with this challenge, people have planted letterboxes around each of the challenge locations, so of course we went looking for that as well! That’s one down for us, 9 to go!
We finished our day of hiking in the best way possible: ice cream! We stopped at Salem Valley Farms Ice Cream on the way back to New London. While waiting in line, Charlotte won the love and attention of everyone around her as she laid down with the most pathetic look on her face. As soon as she saw people receiving ice cream cones, she sprung to life and tried to make friends with each of them. It seemed like a no-brainer that we needed to get her a pup-cup — she had hiked just as far as we had today! We got our ice cream and took it to a picnic table, and set Charlotte’s bowl down on the ground for her. She immediately picked up the bowl, carefully carried it under the table into the shade, and enjoyed the whole thing. It was adorable. 🙂