Thank goodness for trail work crews. This is what I thought as my husband, Paul (picture to the right), and I climbed upward on rock steps set into the hillside. Similar staircases made the going easier in several places along the Henry Buck Trail, named for the man who had designed it and overseen its creation by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. (He was also the vice president of the Connecticut Forest & Park Association from 1928 to 1930.)
Back at the trailhead, where the land rises abruptly from the road, our initial reaction had been: “Well, this starts out steep!” But then we saw that the trail cut diagonally across the hill. “Not so bad,” I said to Paul.
Not bad, indeed. In fact, delightful. The trail goes up the convenient stone steps and occasionally follows a more level course through switchbacks. We passed boulders cloaked in moss and ferns, small waterfalls cascading into little streams, a wooden foot-bridge, cliffs, a broken boulder whose pieces looked like a jigsaw puzzle, and logs laden with turkey-tail mushrooms.
The 2-mile Henry Buck Trail is one of Connecticut’s Blue-Blazed Hiking Trails. It begins and ends on West River Road, just above the banks of the West Branch Farmington River, in Barkhamsted’s Pleasant Valley section. A 0.3-mile walk along the road brings you back to the trailhead, making for a 2.3-mile hike.
The trail rises gradually on the diagonal line across the hill, then levels off in a glen where you need to pick your way around rocks and tree roots. The trail then heads steeply uphill, following a stream, veering away from it and then back again. Soon some of the CCC’s rock steps appear, improving the footing (and minimizing erosion). About 0.8 mile from the trailhead, you will come to an old water wheel pit, which had been part of a long-gone cheese box mill, and a stone wall. We couldn’t help wondering why someone would build a mill on this steep hillside! Continuing on, the trail levels off a bit, crosses a wooden footbridge, cuts through a patch of mountain laurel (a native shrub that in June blooms with Connecticut’s state flower), then heads downhill before ascending again. More stone steps take you to a stone terrace at the base of a cliff whose face has a plaque honoring Henry Buck. At the overlook, enjoy the southerly view of the Farmington River Valley. In mid-April, we were surprised to see, on the most distant hill, a few snow-covered slopes at Ski Sundown in New Hartford. Leaving the overlook, the trail heads down a short distance before making a sharp left turn and then ascending steeply. This climb passes over a ledge and between glacial erratics—large boulders left behind when the ice retreated. I needed to use my hands to scramble up here. (Not surprisingly, the Connecticut Walk Book West’s description of this hike warns that this area is hazardous when wet or icy.) From here, the trail descends steeply, passing more erratics and crossing tiny streams, and finally reaches the road. Turn right and walk along the road back to the trailhead.
From the junction of Routes 318 and 181 in Pleasant Valley, go north on West River Road for 2.5 miles. The trailhead, with a sign and parking for four or five cars, is opposite the old stone bridge abutments that once supported a footbridge across the river.
From northwestern Connecticut: From Winsted, take Route 8 north to Route 20 (Riverton Road) east. At West River Road (just before the river), turn right and drive 1.4 miles, passing the first sign for the Henry Buck Trail, to the second trail sign opposite the bridge abutments.