Fall is my favorite time to hike. On a muggy day in July, as I did my field research for this article, I stood at the viewpoint on the Pine Knob Loop Trail, looked out at the forested hills, and I knew that the Housatonic River Valley would come to life with vibrant colors by early October.
Although only 2.5 miles long, the Blue-Blazed Pine Knob Loop Trail in Housatonic Meadows State Park and Housatonic State Forest in Sharon covers a wide range of terrain and landmarks. It goes from flat to rolling to steep and rocky, and back to rolling and then flat again. It winds through a forest of oaks, maples, and other hardwoods, as well as pines and hemlocks. In some places, pine needles cushion your footfalls; in others, slanted rock slabs make for challenging footing—boots with soles that grip are a must!
The trail goes over rocky outcrops, including at least one with a cave—perhaps a shelter for a bobcat or a bear? Scrambling to the top of the knob can require using all fours. But easy sections of the trail let you look at your surroundings instead of your feet. We enjoyed examining the moosewood (striped maple) saplings, the Christmas Tree ferns with their stiff fronds that stay green year-round, various berries and mushrooms, and occasional wildflowers.
The homeward stretch of the route follows a beautiful section of Hatch Brook, with waterfalls, ledges, and mossy boulders. At any of the four viewpoints along the trail, you might see a soaring vulture, a hawk, or a crow; we were thrilled to spot a raven—a bird once rare in Connecticut but now becoming more common—flying across the valley below while making its distinctive croaking call.
The hike begins at an unpaved parking area on the west side of Route 7, 1.1 mile north of the intersection with Route 4 in Cornwall Bridge. When I hiked the trail, it wasn’t marked by a sign, but you can’t miss the trailhead. It’s the only trail there. The path leads northward and shortly crosses Hatch Brook over large, flat steppingstones. In two-tenths of a mile, a Y intersection marks the start and end of the loop. You can hike the loop in either direction, but we followed the advice of the Connecticut Walk Book West and traveled counterclockwise.
After an easy stroll for another two-tenths of a mile along level ground and across several small brooks, you begin passing between or climbing over rocks as you ascend Pine Knob. A steep, half-mile climb brings you to the first overlook, where trees partially obscure the view. You then descend and climb again on steep, rocky terrain for three-tenths of a mile, reaching a second and then a third overlook, which offer better views than the first. At this point, you’re on the northern summit of Pine Knob (elevation 1,120 feet). Next, the trail drops steeply over a large rock and then turns sharply right. (Donna and I were unsure about heading to the right here because we couldn’t see any blazes. But going left would have required a truly scary descent on a long rock slab. Right seemed the saner choice. In a minute or so, we started seeing blue blazes again. Whew!)
One-tenth of a mile from the right turn, the Pine Knob Loop Trail joins with the white-blazed Appalachian Trail as they both head southwestward, then south along a forested ridge to the south summit of Pine Knob (elevation 1,160 feet) and the fourth overlook. Descending from this summit is somewhat easier than from the north one. In three-tenths of a mile, the Pine Knob Loop Trail and the AT part ways. Here, you bear left to stay on the Blue-Blazed Hiking Trail as it heads southeastward past huge boulders and along the banks of Hatch Brook. When you reach the starting point of the loop, turn right to re-cross the steppingstones over the brook and return to the trailhead.
From the intersection of Routes 7 and 4 in Cornwall Bridge, drive north on Route 7 for 1.1 mile to the parking area on the left. (view on interactive map here)
Diane Friend Edwards is a writer, photographer, and lifelong lover of the outdoors. She lives in Harwinton with her husband, Paul.