Taking A Hike: A Walk on the Saugatuck Trail

Sunshine dappled the foliage and the ferns on the forest floor. The fragments of sky visible through the canopy were blue. It was warm and a bit sticky, but not steamy hot. I was a short way down the Saugatuck Trail from its Easton, Black Rock Turnpike end, and so far was liking this hike quite well. Then two mishaps happened, one after the other.

Mosquitoes were about, not so as to be a big nuisance, but I was being nipped in places I couldn’t swat. I stopped, took out the DEET bottle, and aimed to squirt into my cupped hand. Instead, a spurt of repellant shot into my eye. I washed my eye frantically with water from my reservoir until I could open it without stinging pain. Then I set the DEET nozzle in the right direction, and slapped the stuff onto the back of my neck and behind my ears.      


Mishap number two: I reached a wooden footbridge across a black brook and noticed flies wheeling close by. Simultaneously with thinking “I wonder if they are biters”, they were on me – and they were not flies, but yellowjackets. Feeling a sting at my elbow, I swatted the perpetrator, and bolted up the trail before any of his companions got me.

The trail headed downhill, and so, figuratively, could have my hike. But my eye seemed to be working OK, and my elbow did not balloon up. Instead, there was birdsong, and the thin dirt line of the trail winding through lush ferns. I paused for water, and a turkey vulture landed on a branch close above, then flapped away to show off its feathers and its wingspan.      

It is 2-3 miles on the Saugatuck Trail from Black Rock Turnpike to Saugatuck Reservoir, and after an hour of deep-woods walking I began to look forward to the water’s edge, and perhaps a breeze. But, in truth, the Saugatuck Trail is rarely a waterside trail. Mostly it hangs back from the reservoir, offering glimpses but few big views. Even so, soon after I crossed from Easton to Redding, I made my way to a section of shore that was accessible if not exactly wide-open. I was rewarded with still, reflecting waters, but no breeze.

Ten minutes later the Saugatuck Trail reached the Little River and Newtown Turnpike. The Little River felt like an old friend. Last year, I followed it upstream from here, as best you can on foot – through Little River Preserve, up the Little River North Trail, and on to the river’s source north of Putnam Memorial State Park. It was March then. Today, overhung with green, the river was dark and diminished.

Now the Saugatuck Trail worked its way around the north end of the reservoir, a section of short, steep ups and downs. I had met no one on the trail yet, but here, above Newtown Turnpike, I heard shouts from cyclists below. If you wish, you can take a side-trail down to the road and a fine reservoir viewpoint at the end of a wheelchair-accessible trail. But the day was growing hot. The last thing I wanted was another down and up, so I pushed on instead toward the Saugatuck River.

The trail crosses the river on Route 53, in Redding Glen. Or rather, it crosses a narrow body of water that appears half-river, half-reservoir. Before 1938, this ambiguity would not have arisen. Back then, the Saugatuck River flowed free from Danbury to the Sound, and on its banks stood the hamlet of Valley Forge, now vanished beneath 100 feet of reservoir. The damming of the Saugatuck caused great bitterness in the 1930s, but now we see the result as a scenic and timeless part of our landscape. And without the reservoir, there might be no protected forest surrounding it, just development.

I still had half the Saugatuck Trail to do, the five miles that meander along the west side of the reservoir. They crisscross Route 53 and then wind above Valley Forge Road. I didn’t see many hikers, but I heard the motorized scenery-seekers cruising below. Oh, those big bikes! And yet, in places the trail was exquisite; a soft, clear, shady path through sturdy trunks and a fresh salad of ferns.

I planned to stop for lunch at some rocks beside the reservoir that I knew from previous hikes, but I overshot them. It turned out to be a lucky mistake. Farther on, high above the shore, I found sunlit boulders and even a faint breeze. After eating, I lay back on the rock and closed my eyes. There were no mosquitoes or yellowjackets here.

      It was still sunny when I reluctantly got up from my rock to resume hiking. I took this sun for granted; it was what was in the forecast. But as I hiked the last mile and a half of Saugatuck Trail, the afternoon darkened, and black clouds appeared above the reservoir. I had not thought to bring raingear. At trail’s end, I sheltered under the branches from the first drops of rain, until  my wife drove up just as the deluge became too much for the foliage to bear. Bad luck did not last long on this hike.          


Rob McWilliams is a local resident. Taking a Hike appears monthly. Contact Rob at “McWilliams Takes a Hike”, blog and Facebook. He’d love to hear from you.

PARKING START: Near 1165 Black Rock Turnpike, Easton.

FINISH: Near 205 Davis Hill Road, Weston.

DISTANCE 10.2 miles.
DURATION 6 hours, with a long lunch break.
MAP Saugatuck-Aspetuck Trail System (from ct.gov/deep, Centennial Watershed SF).
ROUTE Saugatuck Trail (blue-blazed).
WHAT TO TAKE Food, lots of water, bug spray. Pets not permitted.