A week or so ago, I wandered into Shenipsit State Forest in Connecticut to climb Soapstone Mountain. I went about 9.5 miles round trip in an out and back. Soapstone Mountain was about a third of the way in and while not tall, was a rigorous climb with some nice views at the top. It’s in the middle of a state forest, maintained by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) which I’m guessing means that volunteers do a lot of the work. From DEEP’s website:
Shenipsit State Forest began in 1927 with the purchase of land at the summit of Soapstone Mountain in Somers to erect a fire tower to keep a lookout over the forests of the eastern woodlands. Over time, additional acreage was purchased to form the sprawling 7,078 acres state forest we have today in Ellington, Somers and Stafford.
Shenipsit is dominated by nearly pure stands of oak, particularly red oak, as a result of repeated clear-cutting for charcoal production and as a result of fire. All of this occurred prior to State ownership. Oak reproduction favors the open, full-sunlight conditions created by clear-cutting and by fire. Additionally oak seedlings and saplings almost always re-sprout from the root collar and grow vigorously after the above-ground part of the tree has been killed. Oak trees produce valuable timber as well as important wildlife food – acorns are an important source of nutrition for deer, turkey, squirrels and other wildlife.
I started from the north side of the forest (CT 190) and walked south over Soapstone mountain and beyond. I had great weather and was able to move at a decent pace, completing the hike in about 4 hours. I carried a full pack for the workout and to continue to get used to the weight. I try to keep it around the weight I would go backpacking with – complete with food and water. It helps to stay in hiking shape between longer trips, which for me are unfortunately few and far between.
The weather was good for my hike which was surprising given all the recent rain. The trail itself was washed out in places, necessitating wandering into the woods a bit or rock hopping through it if possible. I wore my gaiters to prevent my boots from getting too muddy. I probably could’ve gotten away without them but I like keeping dry so no harm done. The trail was fairly level and was well marked and maintained. I stayed on the blue-blazed Shenipsit Trail the entire way, walking north to south. Soapstone mountain was a short but steep climb. And, like much of the Northeast, the trail went straight up the mountain. Switchbacks would make things too easy! On the top, and noted on the trail map, is an old observation tower. Originally, there was a fire tower but that is long gone, replaced by the observation tower. Unfortunately, it’s also permanently closed – they cut off the first flight of stairs. One could climb up with without much trouble but I just kept walking.
The views from the top of Soapstone Mountain were decent but once the foliage comes in, there wont be much to see. It will be simply a green tunnel for most of the trail. I continued down the other side and after a fairly steep decent, the trail leveled off for the rest of the ground I covered. I had hoped to make it all the way to CT 140 on the south side of the forest but I ran out of time and had to turn around about 2 miles short of my goal. I didn’t pass too many people along the way although the sounds of a nearby gun range were ever present. I quite enjoyed the hike and would recommend it for those wanting more elevation (1075′) than your basic town trail in Massachusetts or Connecticut. Thank you to the Connecticut Forest and Park Association for maintaining the property. Trail systems wouldn’t exist without volunteers – your work is appreciated!