September 12, 2020 – Norfolk, Connecticut
Difficulty: Easy – Moderate
Length: Approximately 2.5 miles
Max elevation: 1716 ft.– total elevation gain approximately 495 ft.
Route type: Circuit
Free Web Maps: Haystack Mountain State Park Trail Maps (DEEP)
Avenza App Map (FREE): Haystack Mountain State Park Trail Map
Trailhead parking: Route 272 – North St, Norfolk Historic District, CT 06058
Please Note: From November 1st through the third weekend in April, this park is a “walk-in” facility with limited parking available at the entrance.
Haystack Mountain is a 1,716-ft. high mountain topped with a stone observation tower that is the main feature of the 292-acre Haystack Mountain State Park, a public recreation area in the Litchfield Hills region of northwestern Connecticut, in the town of Norfolk. The mountain is called Haystack from a fancied resemblance to a stack of hay. The park is managed and maintained by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. The Norfolk Land Trust maintains the trails.
The park has hiking trails, a pond, picnic tables and a compost toilet at the upper trailhead.
The 50-ft. high stone tower at the summit of Haystack Mountain (1716 feet above sea level) allows visitors to see the Berkshires, and peaks in Massachusetts, New York, and the Green Mountains of Vermont.
Travel the twisting mountain road or hike the rugged trail to the top, either way you will be astounded at the beauty of mountain laurel in June and the spectacular colors of foliage in the fall.
In the nineteenth century, a Norfolk resident, Robbins Battell (1819-1895), bought the mountaintop in order to preserve it. In 1886, Battell, a philanthropist and adviser to Abraham Lincoln, built a carriage road (now part of the Tower Loop Trail) to the summit and had a wooden tower erected which he called the Haystack Belvedere. He granted public access to climb the hill and admire the views, which was a very unusual move for the time. The original tower was destroyed during a storm and was no longer standing by 1924.
A single acre on the summit of Haystack Mountain was purchased for $1,200 in 1917 from Mr. and Mrs. Carl Stoeckel, in the hope that upon that slender foothold it might sometime be possible to erect a suitable observation tower to replace the earlier one constructed in 1886 by Mrs. Stoeckel’s father, Robbins Battell.
Subsequent acquisitions by the state of Connecticut of adjoining lands, increased the size of Haystack Mountain State Park to 292 acres.
After the passing of Carl Stoeckel (1858-1925), his wife Ellen donated $50,000 in 1929 to the state, to build a stone tower with a beacon light at the top. The beacon no longer exists. The Haystack Mountain Tower is also known as the Stoeckel Memorial Tower.
Haystack Mountain Tower is a stone lookout tower 22 feet in diameter and 50 feet high. It has eight window openings at the top. Erected in 1929 (the date is incised to the right of the door), it is now the centerpiece of Haystack Mountain State Park. From the first floor, which is 4 feet, 6 inches above grade, helical concrete steps three feet, three inches wide hug the wall on the way to a middle landing and an upper landing. The walls are 30 inches thick.
A plaque hangs over the entrance to the tower, its verse written in Latin and translated: “To thy God, state and town be thou ever faithful.” The plaque, dedicated in memory of Robbins Battell, was moved from the original wooden tower.
A second plaque, dedicated to Mrs. Stoeckel’s husband, Carl Stoeckel, was attached to a wall inside the tower, but is now missing. It read: “Requiem Anternam dona els Domine et lux perpetua luceat els” (Eternal rest give unto him, 0 Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon him).
Stepped stone piers flank the six stone risers that lead to the 3×7 ft. doorway, which no longer has its original red oak door hung on wrought-iron butts and hinges.
Haystack Mountain Tower is significant architecturally because it is a good example of a monumental Tudor Revival-style structure, showing medieval influence, designed by a well-known architect of the period, Erick K. Rossiter, who had a summer home nearby.
The paved parked road, called Stoeckel Drive, was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s, runs from State Route 272 (North Street) through the grounds and up the mountain to a parking area.
Haystack Mountain Tower was struck by lightning on the evening of July 3rd, 2002, setting the roof and supporting timbers on fire. While people gathered in front of the National Iron Bank to watch the flames, the volunteer firemen climbed the mountain in full gear and saved most of the structure.
Haystack Mountain Tower was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993.
There are two ways to get to the tower. The park’s road is open the third weekend in April until the end of October and brings visitors to a parking area. The tower is a half-mile hike from the parking area. The road is closed Nov. 1 until late April so visitors can hike about two miles up the paved road or take a mile-long path along the yellow-blazed Tower Loop Trail that runs along parts of an old carriage road to the tower and sometimes rocky terrain.
The upper trailhead is at the end of the paved park road as you follow it up the mountain. There is a small parking area with a compost toilet nearby.
The lower trailhead is located to the right of the entrance gate to Haystack Mountain State Park on Route 272. Please park so as not to block the entrance gate.
At the rear of the parking area is the start of the connector trail. I have seen it referred to as the White Trail, but I did not notice any blazes. In about 320 yards, the connector trail comes to a T-intersection with the yellow blazed Tower Loop Trail. Here we veered left and followed the yellow blazes as they lead up towards the summit of Haystack Mountain.
In another 300 yards, the Tower Loop Trail reaches a T-intersection with a woods road. We turned left and in another 65 feet, turned right on a short footpath that leads to the summit of Haystack Mountain and the stone tower.
We climbed the tower and were greeted with outstanding views.
When we were done enjoying the majestic views from the top of Haystack Mountain Tower, we walked back to the woods road and turned right, walking around the back (northern side) of the tower. The Tower Loop Trail runs along this old woods road and descends Haystack Mountain gradually. This is the original road that was used to access the tower, built by Robbins Battell in 1886.
In about 0.9 mile, The Tower Loop Trail comes to a 3-way junction where the yellow blazes go both left and right. The left leg of the trail descends toward the main entrance of the park by Route 272. We turned right, leaving the woods road and began following the yellow blazes uphill on a footpath.
In about another 0.3 mile, The yellow-blazed Tower Loop Trail turns right, marked by two blazes on a tree. Here we turned left and followed the unmarked connector trail downhill, back to the parking area, where the hike began.
Although short, this was a really good hike, with the payoff being the 360° views from the top of the stone tower. Even though we got an early start, about 8:00am, we saw several couples in the vicinity of the tower. However, we did not see anyone else after leaving the tower until we arrived back at the trailhead. When we were done, we had a picnic lunch by the pond and spent a few hours there. All in all, a great day spent at Haystack Mountain State Park.
Well marked trails, Haystack Mountain Tower, scenic views, not much foot traffic.
Blue spray paint all over the trees on a section of the Tower Loop Trail.
Take a hike!