March 14, 2020 – Washington Depot, Connecticut
Length: Approximately 1.5 miles
Max elevation: 1,325 ft.– total elevation gain approximately 393 ft.
Route type: Circuit
Trailhead parking: Mt Tom State Park – Washington Depot, CT 06794
Fees: There are separate weekend/holiday parking fees for non-residents at Mount Tom State Park.
The park is open from 8 am to sunset.
Mount Tom State Park is a public recreation area lying south of US Route 202 in the towns of Washington, Litchfield, and Morris, Connecticut. The state park occupies 231 acres on the southwest shore of Mount Tom Pond and is home to the Mount Tom Tower, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993. It is managed by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
The park offers fishing, swimming, and canoeing on 56-acre Mount Tom Pond, hiking on the nearly 1.5-mile-long loop trail that ascends Mount Tom to the stone observation tower, and picnicking with charcoal grills.
The park is one of the oldest in the Connecticut state park system, having been among the 15 created between 1913 and 1918 by Connecticut’s first State Park Commission. The park’s land had been donated in 1911 for use as a state park by Charles H. Senff. Following Senff’s death, his widow, Gustavia A. Senff, saw the transfer of the property through to completion. In 1915 it was established as a state park.
A condition of the Senff gift was that a permanent observation tower be maintained at the summit of Mount Tom. The State Park Commission recommended that a stone tower be built to replace a wooden structure that had stood at the spot since 1888. The commission’s secretary, Alfred M. Turner, drew up plans which were not closely followed. The present structure was completed in 1921, using stone (black gneiss) from the site. The needed cement, water, sand, and lumber had to be hauled up the mountain. The tower stands 34 feet high and 15 feet in diameter and marks the highest point in Mount Tom State Park, at 1,325 feet above sea level. Visitors can climb to the top for views that extend to Mount Everett in Massachusetts, the Catskills in New York, and Long Island Sound.
This hike follows the yellow-blazed Tower Trail along an old woods road to the site of a stone observation tower, with 360° views. The trail is well blazed and easy to follow. The route up is steep with an approximate 400 ft. of elevation gain. The return route is slightly more gradual as it descends the mountain. This hike can be done in either direction, but we tackled the steep section first, which is a quicker route to the tower. Going clockwise (the route we took) makes for a rockier ascent, but the return is more of a dirt road, which makes the descent more pleasant.
We arrived at the park just before 9:30 am and it was empty. We drove around a little bit trying to find the trailhead. We parked in a small dirt lot, just above the main lot on the lower park road. There is a wooden post with a sign directing hikers to the trail.
Walk across the grassy area, ascend some stone steps and cross a park road. Across the road, the yellow blazes of the Tower Trail come into view.
The yellow-blazed Tower Trail ascends steeply on an old, eroded woods road. In a short distance, the trail passes a foundation and a massive fireplace and chimney. The trail then turns right and ascends more steeply.
The trail soon reaches a level, swampy area where the yellow blazes split. Stay left and continue heading uphill. You will return to this junction on the way back. The trail soon curves to the left and a short, unmarked spur trail leads to a south-facing viewpoint.
Return to the yellow trail and continue a short distance uphill to the site of the Mount Tom Tower.
The 34 ft. high tower which was completed in 1921, marks the highest point in Mount Tom State Park, at 1,325 feet above sea level. The tower is in the Town of Morris, abutting the Morris/Washington line, as delineated on a 1932 survey.
There are views over Mount Tom Pond from the base of the tower if you choose not to climb it.
For the 360° views of the surrounding area and beyond, climb the wooden stairs to the top.
The observation platform is open. Its floor is concrete, with a diameter of 10 feet, 2 inches and a parapet of 3 feet, 3 inches. The view extends on a clear day to Mount Everett in Massachusetts, the Catskills, and Long Island Sound.
When you are done enjoying the view, head back down the tower and take a peek out of the windows on your way down. You may want to take a break and enjoy the historical significance and beauty of this stone tower.
Mount Tom Tower is significant historically because of its early contribution to the formation of the State of Connecticut park system. Its land was the first to be offered to the state for a park. The structure is significant architecturally because it is an example of a plain lookout tower. A more sophisticated plan for the tower, which was not executed, influenced the design for the Haystack Mountain Tower.
When you are ready to continue, retrace your steps along the yellow-blazed Tower Trail. At the level, swampy area that you crossed earlier, bear left and follow the yellow blazes as they head southwest. Soon the trail turns into a pleasant dirt road which descends gradually through the woods.
As the trail nears the base of Mount Tom, it becomes a gravel road. A short distance later it reaches a wooden gate across the trail.
This is the sign on the other side of the wooden gate. You will see the back of the sign on your way down if you do the hike clockwise. From here you can continue down to the paved park road, turn right and walk the paved road back to your vehicle.
You can also turn right on the Forest Road (as marked on the trail map) and head northeast until the Fire Road reaches an unmarked footpath, which then reaches the yellow-blazed Tower Trail. Turn left here and retrace your steps from the beginning of the hike, crossing the paved park road, across the grassy field and back to the parking area, where the hike began.
This is a really nice short hike with 360° views from the tower. The steep ascent up the rocky and eroded woods road is manageable by most, with the stone tower and views being the payoff. The descent (if done clockwise), is a very pleasant walk through the woods. On the day that we visited, we were the first in the park on a Saturday morning (approximately 9:15 am), and didn’t see anyone until we were almost at the bottom, near the completion of the hike. Keep in mind that Mount Tom State Park has a beach, picnic tables and grills. In warmer weather it could get crowded. Nevertheless, truly worth the visit. When you are done, take an 11 minute drive (6.5 miles) to Camp Columbia State Park and take a short walk to another stone tower.
Mount Tom Tower, 360° views, well blazed trail, Mount Tom Pond.
Only one marked trail which is rather short (Tower Trail), Place attracts crowds in warm weather.
Take a hike!