April 14, 2019 – Meriden, Connecticut
Length: Approximately 4 miles
Max elevation: 976 ft.– total elevation gain approximately 831 ft.
Route type: Circuit
Trailhead parking: Hubbard Park – Mirror Lake Dr, Meriden, CT 06451
Hubbard Park has 1,800 acres of parkland available for year-round use. The park includes the East and West Peak which offer panoramic views for miles. On a clear day, an observer may see the Sleeping Giant Mountain Range to the south, and catch a glimpse of New Haven, the glistening water of Long Island Sound, and even the dim profile of Long Island. To the north, the foot hills of the Berkshires in Southern Massachusetts, vicinity of Mt. Tom, are discernible. These are also known as the Hanging Hills of Meriden and is part of the Metacomet Ridge that runs from Northhampton, MA to Branford, CT.
Down below, the park includes woodland, lake and stream, flower gardens, and picnic areas that were designed and constructed with the help of Frederick Law Olmstead (designer of New York’s Central Park). Mirror Lake, at the southerly area of the park, was also constructed as part of this design process. The band shell was built in 1956 and is the site of numerous concerts and outdoor festivals including the Daffodil Festival usually held in April.
Castle Craig is a stone observation tower atop East Peak in Meriden. The tower was given to the people of Meriden by Walter Hubbard, President of the Bradley & Hubbard Manufacturing Company. At 1,002 feet above sea level, the top of Castle Craig offers spectacular views of the Greater Meriden area. There are hiking trails to the Tower as well as a road which is open from May 1st through October 31st from 10:00 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.
Hubbard Park was donated to the people of Meriden in 1900 by Walter Hubbard, industrialist. He had spent years assembling tracts of land and followed through on his belief that great cities needed great parks with ample land dedicated to public use.
Working with the best landscape architects of his day, he planned out roads, ornamental Mirror Lake, the looming tower on East Peak known as Castle Craig (reminiscent of towers along the Rhine River), and Fairview Observatory (also known as Halfway House), a pavilion on the lower deck of the main mass of the mountain below East Peak.
For lovers of legend, the Hanging Hills were the occasional abode of a 19th century wanderer known as the Old Leather Man, who sometimes slept in a cave in the hills. It was said that there was a spot so deep in the hills that snow and ice were to be discovered in the shadows throughout the year.
The Black Dog of the Hanging Hills is an allegedly supernatural hound that appears in local folklore. Folklore holds that it has haunted the region since the early 19th century and that it manifests as a small black dog, often gregarious in nature, which leaves no footprints and makes no sound. According to the legend, to see the Black Dog the first time results in joy while a second sighting is a warning. Seeing the Black Dog a third time is said to be a death omen. At least six deaths have been blamed on third meetings with the Black Dog.
With the exception of the blue-blazed Metacomet Trail, the trails are not well marked. The blazes, when present are badly faded or far apart in some instances. At times you may have to turn around to check for blazes going in the other direction. There should be enough foot traffic on the trails to make it somewhat difficult to get lost. Nevertheless, a compass and a paper map is something a hiker should have with them on any hike.
According to their brochure, the total trails distance is approximately 15.5 miles. Any number of hikes can be completed, from easy to difficult, ranging between 1 and 6 miles.
Hubbard Park offers some of the most spectacular vistas available in Meriden, including views from West Peak, East Peak and South Mountain (which actually lies outside of the park). These trap rock ridges are extremely steep, and care should be taken. In addition to trails that climb to ridgelines, there are other trails that follow relatively level terrain.
The blue-blazed Metacomet Trail – The Meriden segment of this New England National Scenic Trail, ascends steeply to the ridgeline and is considered remarkably rugged and scenic, with many viewpoints along its route.
I visited Castle Craig several times in the past and hiked up to it once, several years ago. It was time for a return visit if the weather would cooperate. Rain was expected in the afternoon so I wanted to keep the hike short enough so that we didn’t get caught in a downpour. The paved road that leads up to the tower is closed from November 1st to May 1st and that played a factor in doing this hike while the road was closed. This is a popular spot and gets quite crowded when the road is open, and people are able to drive right up to the tower.
We parked in the trailhead lot adjacent to Mirror Lake. It is to the left of the road and slightly elevated with room for about 10 to 12 cars. If that lot is filled there is parking along the lake and a large lot at the northeast end of Mirror Lake.
This hike was done in a clockwise fashion from the northwest end of Mirror Lake.
This hike begins at the northern end of the parking area, just beyond several large rocks that block the trail. An old Boy Scout sign marks the entrance to the trail. Although I did not see any blazes right away, this wide woods road is the White Trail. The trail travels west through Crow Hollow, parallel to Interstate 691, which is on the right. In a short distance, another trail comes in from the right and joins the White Trail. There are several unmarked footpaths in this area as well. We ignored all of them and continued straight, staying on the White Trail.
In about 1/2 mile, the White Trail turns right and crosses a pedestrian bridge over I-691. After crossing the bridge, the trail veers right and begins to climb on a woods road. Soon the trail crosses a high footbridge and veers right again.
Bear right at the Beehive Spring, but do not follow the white blazes when they make a second sharp turn to the right. Continue straight on the red-blazed trail a short distance past the first blue-blazed trail that angles sharply back to the left toward West Peak. Turn left and follow the second blue-blazed trail that ascends steeply on the left toward East Peak.
The spring got its name from its beehive design and was once a source of spring water.
The blue-blazed Metacomet Trail climbs the notch between East and West Peak steeply. Just before the paved road, follow the blue blazes to the right, which drops down into a ravine then climbs steeply again and leads to spectacular overlooks of Meriden.
To the south, one can see how Hamden’s Sleeping Giant State Park got its name. The prominent mountain looks like someone lying on their back from a distance.
The blue-blazed Metacomet Trail continues to climb and soon reaches more views from rock ledges. There are panoramic views of the surrounding area, with Mirror Lake, the lower section of Hubbard Park and I-691 visible below.
The trail continues along the ridge with more views from open rock ledges and soon passes straight across the parking lot for the 32 ft. Castle Craig tower.
Castle Craig Tower is one of the highlights of Hubbard Park. The tower was constructed from native trap rock by local masons in 1900 and sits atop Meriden’s East Peak. Donated by the park’s namesake, Walter Hubbard, the tower is 32 feet in height and 58 feet in circumference and is at an elevation of 976 feet above sea-level. An interior stairway provides access to an observation deck where on a clear day, views to the south are available of Sleeping Giant, Greater New Haven, and even Long Island Sound and Long Island.
To the east, there is a nice view of South Mountain, Mine
Island and Merimere Reservoir.
The blue-blazed Metacomet Trail continues east along the ridge, just past the end of the stone wall.
Follow the blue blazes down into a ravine to a junction with a steeply descending white-blazed trail. Continue straight on the blue-blazed trail for about a third of a mile to beautiful overlooks of Merimere Reservoir, Mine Island and South Mountain.
Retrace your steps back to the junction with the white-blazed trail, turn left and descend steeply to the carriage road. Instead of turning right, which would take you back the way you came, TURN LEFT. Follow the white-blazed road past the Halfway House, past the southern edge of Merimere Reservoir, and turn right on the paved road.
Turn right on the next road (Notch Rd.) and pass under I-691. Turn right at Mirror Lake, heading west, past the Spring House, and follow the paved park road to return to your starting point.
This is a fantastic hike which features many points of interest. The views are outstanding and Castle Craig is, well a castle, and who doesn’t like castles? Overall the area is quite scenic and the trails are a mix of rugged terrain and easy walking. On the day of this hike, the road leading up to Castle Craig was not yet open to vehicular traffic, which meant only a handful of people came and went at the castle. When the road is open, Castle Craig becomes a very popular tourist attraction. The Metacomet Trail offers some rugged hiking as well as some open ridge walks with views aplenty. The area around Mirror Lake is beautiful, but is often crowded. This is a must do hike that has a little for everyone.
Pros: Castle Craig, Metacomet Trail, outstanding views.
Cons: Popular hiking spot and does attract crowds, some trails are poorly blazed.
Take a hike!