Hiking: Craving adventure? Check out the Dinosaur Caves in eastern CT

Ah, the Connecticut cave. So many caves across the Constitution State don’t really constitute a cave in the truest sense. Whether they are coined the Leatherman caves or King Philip’s Cave, they are usually large overhangs or huge glacial boulders piled high on top of each other or tumbled next to ledges.

There are some true caves usually tucked away into the limestone of the northwest corner like Twin Lakes Cave — the state’s first and only tour cave — long closed to the public. Bolton’s “Squaw Cave,” New Milford’s “Tory’s Cave” and the caves within Seymour’s Little Laurel Lime Park also reach that honest-to-goodness cave status.

Pretty much everything else across the state falls into the category of an abandoned mine, a huge rocky overhang, piles of large boulders or a split boulder. The “Dinosaur Caves” along the border of Connecticut and Rhode Island are a mix of gigantic overhanging ledges and huge boulders. The caves are located along the Connecticut Forest & Park Association’s Narragansett Trail and sit within the Pachaug State Forest, the largest forest system in Connecticut, encompassing 26,477 acres in six towns — Voluntown, Sterling, Plainfield, Griswold, North Stonington and Preston.

The forest system began in 1928 with a 1,011-acre land purchase from the Briggs Manufacturing Co. in Voluntown. The word “Pachaug” is derived from a Native American term meaning “bend or turn in the river,” which is exactly what the Pachaug River does on its way from Beach Pond to the Quinebaug River. Voluntown, the small northeastern Connecticut town where the dinosaur caves are located, was once part of a six-mile-square tract that was granted to the King Philip’s War veterans, according to a history of the state forest. “It was from this act that the town of Voluntown or ‘Volunteer Town’ received its name. Volunteer Town was incorporated as Voluntown in 1721,” the history notes.

The caves are located near the Rhode Island border where the Narragansett Trail, a 16-mile path through Ledyard, Voluntown and North Stonington, turns into the Tippecansett Trail in the Ocean State. The Narragansett can be accessed at the scenic Green Fall Pond near a camping area.

A trail marked with blue and red blazes or blue and orange will connect hikers from the parking area to the Narragansett, which is marked with solid blue blazes and is part of the association’s 825 miles of “Blue Blazed Trails” across the state. The blue and orange trail is easier, taking hikers along the banks of the pond. The blue and red trail is more difficult across rugged and rocky portions, but offers more panoramic pond views.

Dinosaur Caves, Voluntown

The bottom line: A scenic journey along the Narragansett and Tippecansett trails to the "Dinosaur Caves," a jumbled mix of rocky overhangs and large boulders.

Difficulty level: Easy to moderately difficult to difficult. There are some nice, level hikes and difficult rugged climbs.

Total mileage: The out-and-back trail to the caves is about three miles. But there are miles and miles of trails to explore across the Pachaug.

Directions: Take Route 49 several miles south of its junction with Route 165. Take a left on Fish Road, an unimproved dirt road. Take a right on Green Falls Pond Road and follow around the pond to the campground and trailhead. Go to portal.ct.gov/DEEP for trail maps.

Pet friendly? Leashed dogs are allowed.

The trail follows the energetic Green Fall River and passes abandoned mill ruins that once harnessed the waterway. Hikers pass over a neat underground stone sluiceway that helped to power a mill. Take a few moments to explore the well-crafted sluiceway and some of the Yankee ingenuity that has made it last over the centuries.

The trail passes Burnt Swamp and a series of ledges through a pitch pine understory, a rarity in Connecticut. While one might not think of swamps as a scenic view, the scenery from the overlook is stunning, especially with the flocks of waterfowl that use the waters.

The Narragansett merges with the Tippecansett Trail from Rhode Island about 1.3 miles from the starting point. Hikers follow the blue- and yellow-blazed path south right along the states’ border to the Dinosaur Caves and cliff complex. Hikers are first greeted by what is known as the “upper cave” — a large fissure in the rock — where explorers have been known to squeeze through.

A side trail before reaching the cliff will take explorers down to the lower cave, a huge, well-defined rock overhang with gigantic boulders creating the appearance of a cave. The reaction to the caves has been mixed on some online sites. “The caves are not that large and are not the products of dinosaurs,” the Hiking Project website notes, “but it is a nice big slab of bedrock scraped by the glacier so it is still cool.”

According to David R. Brierley, who showcases hikes in Rhode Island known as the Yawgoog Trails, the caves got their names because of their surroundings. “The wild and rocky terrain there seems appropriate for prehistoric monsters and, therefore, the name of Dinosaur Caves and Cliffs,” he notes.

If you want to continue to explore the state forest, I would recommend visiting the Pachaug-Great Meadow Swamp, designated as one of Connecticut’s National Natural Landmarks in 1973. According to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the area is “considered one of the finest and most extensive Atlantic white cedar swamps in Connecticut.” It’s also home to a native rhododendron sanctuary, with the stand’s spectacular blooms peaking in July.

Mount Misery, one of the most scenic overlooks in northeastern Connecticut, is a mile from the swamp along the association’s Nehantic Trail. Although the initial ascent can be difficult, the path levels out before a final climb to the top of the 441-foot-high hill.

This article originally appeared in Connecticut Magazine. You can subscribe here, or find the current issue on sale here. Sign up for the newsletter to get the latest and greatest content from Connecticut Magazine delivered right to your inbox. On Facebook and Instagram @connecticutmagazine and Twitter @connecticutmag.