September 8, 2019 – Durham, Connecticut
Length: Approximately 4 miles
Max elevation: 610 ft.– total elevation gain approximately 563 ft.
Route type: Circuit
Trailhead parking: Cream Pot Road Parking Area – Durham, CT 06422
The 100-acre Mica Ledges Preserve was purchased jointly by the Middlesex Land Trust and the Madison Land Conservancy for permanent protection in 1996.
With its exposed granite ledges rising 400 feet above the Coginichaug River Valley, Mica Ledges offers magnificent vistas south to Long Island Sound and west to the trap rock ridges. Notable features include a number of caves and fascinating rock formations created by the cliffs and boulder field on the eastern side of Mica Hill, as well as the beautiful 6-acre Whitney Pond.
The Mica Ledges trail complex is both challenging and rewarding. Special features include marvelous views from high granite ledges to the east and especially to the west along the Mattabasset Blue Trail, great rock jumbles, several streams, vernal pools and a beautiful pond. Most of the trails are in Durham as only 17 acres of the 100-acre preserve are in Madison. In Madison, a bit south of the Maria Schmidt Memorial Trail, a section dips south into Town of Madison open space. The Mattabesett Trail allows hikers to connect to adjoining lands and preserves.
This hike follows the blue-blazed Mattabesett Trail west, passing Pyramid Rock and then south along the exposed Mica Ledges. Then on the orange-blazed Maria Schmidt Memorial Trail to the red-blazed Mica Ledges Trail north, turning right on the Mattabesett Trail, briefly retracing steps, then turning right on the yellow-blazed Selectmen’s Path down to Whitney Pond and retracing steps back to the Cream Pot Road Parking Area.
From the trailhead, follow the blue/yellow blazes of the Cream Pot Road Access Trail as they head south. This short trail uses an unimproved section of Cream Pot Road in Durham to provide access to the Mattabesett Trail.
Follow the dirt road south marked with the blue and yellow blazes a short distance, turning right where the blue-blazed Mattabasset Trail leaves the dirt road and heads west (right) as the yellow blazes continue straight. Take care to follow the blue blazes as a number of woods roads and old trails cross the path. At the eastern base of a major north-south running ridge, the trail reaches Pyramid Rock, a large block of outcrop displaced from the ridge above by glacial forces 10,000 years ago.
Here, just past the rock, the red-blazed Mica Ledges Trail leads south (left). Continue steeply upward on the blue-blazed trail. At the ridge top, the trail swings southward and, at times, breaks out into openings on the high granitic ledges that give the Preserve its name. Splendid views to the west of the valley below and the basaltic trap rock ridge beyond can be had from these heights.
About 0.5 mile from Pyramid Rock, in a slight saddle along the ridge, the yellow-blazed Selectmen’s Path leads to the east (left) and down to Whitney Pond. This is an east-west cross-over trail. Continue on the blue-blazed Mattabesett Trail and just beyond this junction, a pile of stones marks the spot where the towns of Durham, Madison and Guilford share a common boundary.
Just south of the sparkling Mica Ledges is an area known as the Selectmen’s Stones. The rocks have dates and initials carved in them going back to the 1800’s. The stones were carved as proof town officials had inspected the boundaries of the three towns under a law known as “perambulating the bounds.”
A few yards south of the cairn, the trail descends steeply and crosses a small stream, then ascends steeply once more to bare rock and dry oak forest. At times, understory of huckleberry and blueberry give way to dense mountain laurel. Eventually, the trail dips and then rises very steeply through another ravine.
Once again, the Mattabesett Trail emerges out on west facing ledges and continues south, passing a junction with the orange-blazed Maria Schmidt Memorial Trail. You can turn left here or continue about another 120 yards to another viewpoint. This viewpoint is not as good as the previous ones, but it is the last one before you leave the ridge.
The species of pine found here, pitch pine, is found in such places where moisture is limited and where fires occasionally occur. Heat helps the cones to open and disperse their seeds.
This is your turnaround spot, if you continue south on the Mattabesett Trail, eventually it crosses over to Bluff Head, the southern end of the trap rock ridge to the west.
Turn around and retrace your steps back to the junction with the orange-blazed trail. Turn east (right) onto this Land Trust trail.
This orange-blazed trail is the west end of the Maria Schmidt Memorial Trail. Follow it east a few hundred feet to where a loop of the trail branches right and eventually rejoins the main trail just a short distance ahead.
The loop trail descends into a protected valley strewn with boulders whose rounded edges attest to their glacial transport and deposit. Follow the trail into Town of Madison open space and then upward onto a flat outcrop where in 1998 a fire burned for several days. Dead trees and a heavy grass cover now bear witness to the event.
Continue back into Mica Ledges Preserve to where the loop rejoins the main trail and proceed north (right) and northeast through a forest with chestnut and red oaks now taller and of finer quality than on the ridge just traversed. As the trail descends into the sheltered, moist, northeast-facing valley, beech, red maple, and black and yellow birches become more abundant.
The Maria Schmidt Memorial Trail ascends once more through laurel thickets on the ridge before ending at a junction with the yellow-blazed Selectmen’s Path (east-west crossover trail) that connects with the Mattabasset trail to the west (left) and Whitney Pond to the east.
A few yards to the east is the south end of the north-south running red-blazed Mica Ledges Trail that leads back to Pyramid Rock.
The red-blazed Mica Ledges Trail ascends steadily through the woods, with views of Whitney Pond visible through the trees down below to the east. The trail levels off at times and passes through a wet area on wooden planks. After almost 0.5 mile, the trail reaches a high point and begins a steady descent.
The red-blazed Mica Ledges Trail travels down and to the north, passing near the eastern drop-off where a series of caves were formed by the fractured rock tallus.
Follow the Mica Ledges Trail to its terminus at Pyramid Rock and turn right on the blue-blazed Mattabesett Trail, now retracing your steps from earlier in the hike.
When you reach the woods road marked with yellow blazes (Selectmen’s Path), you can turn left and walk a short distance back to your vehicle or turn right and follow the yellow blazes to the scenic Whitney Pond. The walk to Whitney Pond and back to this junction is about 0.8 mile.
The yellow-blazed Selectmen’s Path goes past a metal gate and then a kiosk. A short distance later, the trail reaches to Whitney Pond.
From the south end of Whitney Pond, retrace your steps on the Selectmen’s Path for about 0.5 mile and back to the Cream Pot Road Parking Area, where the hike began.
A really good hike through diverse landscape. The ridge walk on the Mattabesett Trail is the highlight of the hike. The orange-blazed Maria Schmidt Memorial Trail is the lowlight due to it being overgrown in spots and a little hard to follow. Whitney Pond is worth the little extra mileage and it is quite picturesque and tranquil. The red-blazed Mica Ledges Trail with its jumble of large rocks is a must do, if hiking the preserve. On our visit we only ran into a family on their way back from Whitney Pond. Worth a visit.
Whitney Pond, Pyramid Rock, Mattabesett Trail, Mica Ledges Trail, scenic views.
Maria Schmidt Memorial Trail overgrown and hard to follow (September 8, 2019).
Take a hike!