Not being a mountaineer, I prefer winter hiking in an area that’s not too steep, nor too rocky, but that still has interesting terrain and plenty of trees to block the biting wind. McLean Game Refuge in Granby and Simsbury is one such place. This privately owned and managed wildlife sanctuary, which is open to the public, has more than 4,200 acres of forests and fields traversed by a network of hiking trails. When snow covered, some of the trails also make wonderful places for snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. On my most recent visit to the refuge, a friend and I hiked about 2.5 miles, following an access trail to one of the refuge’s most popular loop trails, the B Loop. Along the way, we passed hemlocks and pines, oaks and other deciduous trees, as well as small patches of mountain laurel and Christmas ferns. Various mosses, hugging rocks or poking up through the leaf litter, added splashes of green to the scenery. An occasional squirrel or chipmunk scampered across our path, and a red-bellied woodpecker called from high up in a tree. Tree trunks riddled with holes told us that lots of woodpeckers live in these woods. At a pond near the end of our hike, a gaggle of Canada geese serenaded us — if you can call their honking a serenade! — while we ate lunch on the porch of an old cabin. Throughout the hike, we met only a few other hikers and dog walkers, probably because it was midweek. (Note that refuge rules require dogs to be leashed.)
The 2.1-mile Blue Loop is one of 11 McLean Refuge trails described in the Connecticut Walk Book West. It overlaps with two other, shorter loops (the Red Loop and the Orange Loop), which gives you options if you decide along the way not to do the longer Blue Loop. All three loops begin as one trail, identified by a sign saying Red Loop (don’t worry; the other loops start here too). To reach the trailhead, begin at the refuge’s main parking lot on Routes 10/202 south of Granby center. From the northwest corner of the lot, walk along the paved access trail until the pavement ends, then follow a woods road for about 0.1 mile, and cross a bridge over Bissell Brook. The loop trailhead will be on your right. Easy-to-spot rectangular blazes in blue, orange, and red mark the first section of the trail, which is fairly wide and flat. About one-third of a mile from the trailhead, the Red Loop splits off to the left. Follow the main trail, which is now marked only with blue and orange blazes. This part of the trail becomes a little narrower and winds up and down over rolling terrain. At 1.01 mile from the trailhead, the Orange Loop diverges to your left. Now follow the dark blue blazes uphill to the top of a ridge, then steeply downhill to a woods road. Turn left onto the woods road, as indicated by a Blue Loop sign with an arrow. Don’t be concerned (as my friend and I were) that there are no blazes on the trees here; just stay on the woods road. In about a half-mile, the Orange Loop rejoins the Blue Loop. Less than a quarter of a mile beyond that, the Red Loop enters from your left, and the three loops follow the same trail along the woods road. Soon you will come to a junction with another woods road; turn left here and walk about 0.2 mile to the cabin at Trout Pond. (If the pond isn’t frozen, you too might enjoy a goose serenade!) Continue walking until you reach the beginning of the loop trail, then retrace your steps to the parking lot.
For allowed uses, the latest hours, and a current map, visit mcleangamerefuge.org.