Walking to where the trailhead should be, my friend Donna and I were at first perplexed by a sign reading: “State Land. No Trespassing. Public Water Supply.” Then we spied the blue and yellow blazes, so we knew it was a designated trail and OK to hike here.
“Here” was the southern end of the Reservoir Loop Trail, a fairly easy 1.5-mile trail in Middletown. That trail plus a roughly 0.3 mile walk on a dirt road would allow us to link up with the more challenging Blue-Blazed Mattabesett Trail and follow that 2.3 miles back to our car.
What a fun adventure it turned out to be. It had just about everything I like in a hike: varied terrain; jumbled rock outcrops; traprock ridges; large stands of gnarled, old mountain laurel; little brooks; vernal pools; and scenic views of pretty reservoirs. Our only disappointment was encountering very little wildlife. We heard the calls of a red-bellied woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) and a raven (Corvus corax), watched a veery (Catharus fuscescens) hop through a shrub, and glimpsed the back end of a large black snake—probably a black rat snake (Elapheo. obsoleta)—slither away under the leaf litter. (Don’t worry: The black rat snake “is a gentle snake,” according to the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. It does not bite, and it is not dangerous to people.)
Mountain Laurels Under Hardwoods
Our 4.1-mile counterclockwise hike began where the Reservoir Loop Trail begins, on Brooks Road at the southern end of Asylum Reservoir No. 2. We first followed the blue-and-yellow-blazed trail northward to unpaved Reservoir Road, then headed eastward on the road, and turned left to join the Blue-Blazed trail. Our route crossed the Blue Trail once and then came very near it again before we turned onto it at our third encounter. You could pick up the Blue Trail earlier than we did if you wanted to do a shorter hike, as the map at the Reservoir Loop trailhead shows.
To follow our route, park on the side of Brooks Road near the southern end of Asylum Reservoir No. 2, at a pull-off with a view of the water. A kiosk there posts a map showing this stretch of the Mattabesett section of the New England Trail and its side trail. (The NET consists of the Mattabesett, Metacomet, and, in Massachusetts, the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail). Then walk a few yards east along the road until you see, on the left, the side trail, the blue-and-yellow-blazed Reservoir Loop Trail.
Reservoir Loop Trail, Northbound
You will walk through a profuse grove of mountain laurels that flanks the mostly level path as you set off through the hardwood forest. Soon you will pass a vernal pool and cross a tiny stream (these might be dried up by summer). After another stand of mountain laurels—obviously old ones, with thick, gnarled trunks and branches—arrive at an outlook with a nice view of Asylum Reservoir No. 2. Continuing on, go over the top of a rock ledge, passing a little depression and a cave on your right. About a mile from the start of the hike, bypass a signpost marking the intersection with the Blue-Blazed Mattabesett/NET. Continue straight for about one-tenth of a mile, following the blue-and-yellow blazes. When you reach Reservoir Road, turn right and begin following the road. In a few dozen yards, you will see the blue-blazed trail on your right. Ignore it and continue on the road. (Along the way you might notice old, faded blue-and-yellow blazes, which marked a segment of the Reservoir Loop Trail that has now been abandoned.) In about 0.3 mile, you should see a sign for the New England Trail and blue blazes on your left. Turn left here to pick up the Mattabesett Trail.
Mattabesett Trail, Southbound
Cross a tiny stream and follow the trail as it passes around and behind a rock outcropping, revealing a gigantic jumble of rocks. After crossing a small stream and walking through a stand of mountain laurel, you’ll come to an intersection where faded blue-and-yellow blazes lead to the left; ignore them and stay on the Blue Trail.
Follow an old woods road along the base of a ledge on your left. When you see two massive, diagonal rock outcrops, take a minute to admire them. Donna and I were awed! The trail here turns left in front of the outcrops. Soon you will see the cave known as Rock Pile Cave. It’s a perfect den for a bear or a bobcat.
Next, climb a ridge and walk along it. You’ll see more mountain laurel. This is also where Donna and I saw the black snake. (Snakes like to sun themselves on ridgetops.) Now descend to a big rock outcropping that offers a wonderful view of what many call the Twin Reservoirs. They’re actually one reservoir: Asylum Reservoir No. 1, which is bisected by the Reservoir Road causeway.
A steep climb down from the outcropping brings you to a ledge. Another steep, rocky descent leads you to a stream that flows into the reservoir. After crossing the stream, the trail goes straight for a bit, then bears left. It’s not easy to see the next blaze here, so you might have to look around. Go up another ridge. Cross Reservoir Road and stay on the Blue Trail this time (you will recognize this area from your trip out on the other trail). Cross another stream. A straight stretch brings you back to the intersection with a signpost marking the crossing with the Reservoir Loop Trail. Pass the signpost, staying on the Blue Trail. The last half-mile of the trail will take you up and over two more rock outcrops and a ridge with a view of Reservoir No. 3. After descending from the ridge, arrive at Brooks Road. Turn left and follow the road back to your car.
From Route 9, take exit 11. Turn right (east) onto Randolph Road (Route 155). Go 0.2 mile to the traffic light at the top of the hill. Turn right (south) onto Saybrook Road (Route 154). Go 0.3 mile and turn left (east) onto Brooks Road. Follow that 0.8 mile to the pull-off at the shoreline of Reservoir No. 2. Park along the side of road. (This is a different parking area than the one noted in the Walk Book.)
Note: The Reservoir Loop Trail has been modified since the last edition of the Connecticut Walk Book West. The book is currently being revised, and the new edition will be published in 2017. An updated interactive map is available online at ctwoodlands.org.
Diane Friend Edwards is a freelance writer, nature photographer, and lifelong lover of the outdoors. She has written this column for several years. She lives in Harwinton with her husband, Paul. She assists with proofreading of this magazine. All photos by Diane Friend Edwards.
Investigating the cave.