Prospect Mountain Preserve – Litchfield Land Trust

November 28, 2020 – Bantam, Connecticut

Difficulty: Moderate – strenuous (steep ascents, steep descents)

Length: Approximately 4.1 miles

Max elevation: 1,350 ft.– total elevation gain approximately 811 ft.

Route type: Circuit

Free Web Map: Prospect Mountain Preserve Trail Map

Trailhead parking: 213-127 Prospect Mountain Rd, Bantam, CT 06750


Preserve Overview:

Located in the Litchfield Hills Region of Connecticut, the Prospect Mountain Preserve includes 340 acres, west of the Borough of Litchfield. The preserve features most of a locally prominent hill with a nice viewpoint near its 1,350-foot summit, as well as a large pond to the west. The property is mostly forested, with several meadows indicating past agricultural uses. The area was subject to significant nickel-mining explorations in the nineteenth century. A number of mine shafts still exist on the property. Many are filled with water and visitors are cautioned to approach them with care.

Prospect Mountain Preserve

Prospect Mountain Preserve

There are three access points to the preserve, Cathole Road, lower Prospect Mountain Road (no parking), and the main trailhead on upper Prospect Mountain Road, where there is room for 6-8 cars. There are no restrooms available on site. Prospect Mountain is preserved by the Litchfield Land Trust and open to the public for hiking and recreational enjoyment. No hunting, ATVs, or vehicles are permitted on the property.

Prospect Mountain Preserve

Prospect Mountain Preserve


History:

Prospect Mountain was an area of exploration and excavation for mineral riches from the town’s earliest days. Between the mid-1700’s and the mid 1800’s, people used the land here for farming, grazing, logging, and mining (for iron ore, copper and nickel ore). Connecticut’s early history is full of mines. Litchfield’s Prospect Mountain is part of that mining history, and remnants of its copper and nickel excavations are still evident along the nearly 5 miles of trails that wind across the 1,350-foot summit. Industrial activity which had grown during the Revolution continued in the years that followed.

The area of most of the mining activity in Litchfield, in the mid-to-late 19th century, was Mount Prospect, where at least six mines or prospects were worked. Various companies were incorporated to do mining in the town of Litchfield, chiefly on Prospect Mountain, sometimes called Prospect Hill or Mount Prospect. The three principle mines were the Granniss Mine just west of Prospect Mountain, Buck’s Mine on the southwest slope of the hill, and the Connecticut Nickel Company’s mine, one mile south of the summit. The mines were worked intermittently from 1835 until 1880, but were too small and too low a grade to be commercially exploitable.

In 1860 the Connecticut Mining Company bought two mining rights on Prospect Mountain. They promised an abundant return for funds invested and labor performed.

Connecticut Mining Company

Connecticut Mining Company

In 1864, the Nickel Mining and Smelting Company purchased the rights to mine on the west slope of Prospect Mountain. Some nickel was indeed taken out of the mountain, and it is said that it was sold to the Government and used to make the nickel cents which were in circulation before the nickel five-cent piece was placed in use. Eventually, the venture shared the fate of the other Litchfield mines.

Image courtesy of the Litchfield Historical Society

Image courtesy of the Litchfield Historical Society

In 1983, 481 acres on Prospect Mountain were titled to the Litchfield Land Trust from the Nature Conservancy, a gift from Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Gagarin, the James J. Porter Trust and Mr. Thurston Green. Since then additional parcels on Prospect Mountain have been obtained and LLT has established and maintains 4 scenic trails on its Prospect Mountain Preserve offering views from the highest elevation in Litchfield.


Trails Overview:

  • Prospect Mountain Trail – blue blazes – 1.9 miles – is rated moderate/challenging as it includes a 400-ft. elevation gain to the summit, as well as some steep and rocky areas. The Prospect Mountain Trail transects the preserve. This trail was once a portion of the blue-blazed Mattatuck Trail. Highlights include rocky terrain, mountain laurel, a stand of young black birch (regeneration from tornado destruction in 1989), a steep ravine, and Prospect Mountain’s south and north summits, each with long views.
  • Yellow Trail – 0.7 mile – is rated moderate/challenging. This trail forms a loop with the blue-blazed trail, traveling through a predominantly birch forest. It crosses seasonal wetlands and ascends steeply to meet the Prospect Mountain Trail near the mountain’s 1,350-foot summit.
  • Grannis Pond Loop Trail – red blazes – 1 mile – west of Prospect Mountain Road, is relatively easy. It passes along the south shore of Granniss Pond then turns north, crossing a footbridge, below the pond along its western shore on a boardwalk. This loop trail continues on through a pine plantation, old stone walls, an old farm road, an old high meadow, and back down towards the pond’s eastern side. The last feature before completion of the loop is an old horizontal mine shaft opening and a pond overlook.
  • Graham Thompson Trail – white blazes – 1.2 miles – is of moderate difficulty. The trail begins at Prospect Mountain Road, initially loops southeast, passing through wetlands and an old pine plantation, then recrossing the wetlands before turning sharply to the right and through barway. It continues in a northerly direction through mostly open forest of moderate inclines and descents. Finally, the trail bears more easterly, becoming steeper until it meets the Blue trail near the south summit.

The entire Prospect Mountain Preserve trail system is part of Connecticut Forest and Park Association’s (CFPA) statewide system of trails, and is jointly administered by CFPA and Litchfield Land Trust (LLT).


Hike Overview:

Always looking for interesting places to hike, I came across this preserve on social media and became interested. This hidden gem packs a lot of enjoyment for the novice and avid hiker alike. A novice hiker will enjoy its well marked and easy to follow trails. The avid hiker will enjoy the relentless ups and downs throughout the rugged landscape. There aren’t too many level stretches of trail to be found at Prospect Mountain Preserve. The views are enjoyable enough as is the scenic Granniss Pond. The mines provide another point of interest to search out along the trails.

Not knowing much about this place and not being able to find much info online, I was hoping to take in as much of what it has to offer. Unfortunately, we missed a mine or two during our visit and we did not hike the White Trail.

This hike follows the Blue Trail from Prospect Mountain Road (main trailhead), in a counterclockwise lollipop loop (Blue, Yellow, then Blue back to trailhead). Then following the Grannis Pond Loop Trail counterclockwise around Grannis Pond and back to the trailhead.

Prospect Mountain Preserve – Litchfield Land Trust

Prospect Mountain Preserve – Litchfield Land Trust

This hike climbs to the North Summit of Prospect Mountain twice and both routes are steep.

Prospect Mountain Preserve elevation profile

Prospect Mountain Preserve elevation profile


The Hike:

From the main trailhead on Prospect Mountain Road, follow the blue-blazed Prospect Mountain Trail as it heads northeast. To the left of the trail, mere feet from the trailhead, is an old water filled mine. Hikers should use caution in the vicinity of the mines, as their deep water filled pits, especially when covered with leaves, can be dangerous.

Main Trailhead - Prospect Mountain Preserve

Main Trailhead – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Blue Trail - Prospect Mountain Preserve

Blue Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

This water filled shaft, near the trailhead, is part of the Granniss Mine.

mine - Prospect Mountain Preserve

mine – Prospect Mountain Preserve

mine – Prospect Mountain Preserve

mine – Prospect Mountain Preserve

In a short distance, the Blue Trail turns right, crosses a small stream on rocks and soon runs along a stone wall that borders a meadow.

Blue Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Blue Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Blue Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Blue Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

At the end of the stone wall, the trail begins a steep ascent. For about 300 yards, the trail climbs straight up the mountain, no switchbacks.

Blue Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Blue Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Blue Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Blue Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Blue Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Blue Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Blue Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Blue Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Blue Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Blue Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

At the top of the rise, the trail turns left, dips down a little and climbs again. To the left is a short spur trail that leads to Gagarin Grove, where there is a small grove of giant, 200-plus-year-old Sugar Maples. You may want to stop a minute to catch your breath as you view these ancient trees.

Blue Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Blue Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Gagarin Grove – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Gagarin Grove – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Gagarin Grove – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Gagarin Grove – Prospect Mountain Preserve

The trail continues northeast, descending into a hollow, then climbs out of the hollow, gradually at first, then the climb steepens. In about another 420 yards (from Gagarin Grove), The Blue Trail reaches the North Summit of Prospect Mountain and turns right.

Blue Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Blue Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Blue Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Blue Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Blue Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Blue Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Turn left on the Yellow Trail and walk a short distance to a rock outcrop, furnished with a bench, to north and west-facing viewpoints of the surrounding countryside.

turn left to North Summit view

turn left to North Summit view

Yellow Trail - Prospect Mountain Preserve

Yellow Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

At the summit of Prospect Mountain, you will see a welcoming bench dedicated “In loving memory of Peter and Tekla Litwin from their son Ted Litwin.” This is a good place to take a break. Up to this point, you have hiked about 0.8 mile with more than 350 feet of elevation gain.

North Summit - Prospect Mountain Preserve

North Summit – Prospect Mountain Preserve

The north and west views were opened in spring 2011, when the Litchfield Land Trust created the yellow-blazed trail from Cathole Road to the summit.

North Summit view - Prospect Mountain Preserve

North Summit view – Prospect Mountain Preserve

North Summit view - Prospect Mountain Preserve

North Summit view – Prospect Mountain Preserve

North Summit view from bench - Prospect Mountain Preserve

North Summit view from bench – Prospect Mountain Preserve

When you are ready to continue, retrace your steps back to the junction with the Blue Trail and proceed ahead, now going southeast along the ridge. The trail climbs a little, descends into another hollow, passing a vernal pool on the left then gradually climbs until reaching the South Summit.

continue ahead on Blue Trail

continue ahead on Blue Trail

Blue Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Blue Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

South Summit – Prospect Mountain Preserve

South Summit – Prospect Mountain Preserve

The South Summit affords a south-facing viewpoint and another place to stop along the way.

South Summit view – Prospect Mountain Preserve

South Summit view – Prospect Mountain Preserve

The mountain visible to the far left is Mount Tom. If you zoom in with your camera or binoculars, you can see the stone tower at the summit.

South Summit view – Prospect Mountain Preserve

South Summit view – Prospect Mountain Preserve

The Blue Trail descends from the summit, rather steeply in places. In about 300 feet, the Blue Trail comes to a T-intersection with the White Trail, which begins on the right. The Blue Trail turns left in front of a large rock cliff and a short distance later, turns right, and climbs up and across the same cliff, heading in a southerly direction.

Blue Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Blue Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Blue Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Blue Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Blue Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Blue Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

turn left to remain on Blue Trail

turn left to remain on Blue Trail

turn left to remain on Blue Trail

turn left to remain on Blue Trail

rock formations at junction of Blue/White Trails

rock formations at junction of Blue/White Trails

Blue Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Blue Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

The trail soon begins a steady descent on what appears to be an old mining road. Stay alert for the “Pool Mine” which is in this area. We missed this mine when we got distracted stopping to talk to the president of the Litchfield Land Trust, who was hiking with a small group. He commented that they are working on a new trail. By the time we realized that we had passed the mine, we did not feel like climbing back up to look for it.

Blue Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Blue Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

The trail soon makes a left turn, leaving the road and passes through Mountain Laurel thickets.

Blue Trail turns left

Blue Trail turns left

Blue Trail turns left

Blue Trail turns left

Blue Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Blue Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

The Blue Trail passes some interesting looking rock formations and a short distance later, at the base of the descent, reaches a junction with the start of the Yellow Trail. Turning right on the Blue Trail here will lead to the Cathole Road trailhead. Continue straight, now following the yellow blazes.

Blue Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Blue Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Cathole Road trailhead junction

Cathole Road trailhead junction

The Yellow Trail soon crosses a small stream on rocks and begins a steady ascent of Prospect Mountain.

Yellow Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Yellow Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Yellow Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Yellow Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Yellow Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Yellow Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

In about 375 yards from the start of the Yellow Trail, there is a pile of mine tailings (waste rock) to the left of the trail. Just past the pile is one of the vertical shafts of the Smith Mine. The other water filled shaft is about 200 feet south.

Yellow Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Yellow Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

The Smith Mine, located in the upper northeast area of the mountain, was first worked by the Connecticut Mining Company in the late 1850’s. In the late summer of 1859, they had a twenty-foot shaft dug with “a beautiful show of mineral wealth” according to a company prospectus. Two years later, the shaft had been increased to fifty feet and had produced well over 400 tons of ore analyzed at three percent and more of nickel content.

Smith Mine - Yellow Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Smith Mine – Yellow Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Please exercise extreme caution in the vicinity of these mines. They are deep water filled pits and the ground around them may be unstable, which could cave-in without warning.

Smith Mine - Yellow Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Smith Mine – Yellow Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

As there are two shafts at this location, it is assumed the second one was started around this time also.

Smith Mine (2nd shaft) - Yellow Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Smith Mine (2nd shaft) – Yellow Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Yellow Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Yellow Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

After passing the mines, the trail levels off briefly, then resumes its climb, gradually at first then becomes much more steep.

Yellow Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Yellow Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Yellow Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Yellow Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Yellow Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Yellow Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Yellow Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Yellow Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Yellow Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Yellow Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Yellow Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Yellow Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Yellow Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Yellow Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Yellow Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Yellow Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Yellow Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Yellow Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

After about 0.7 mile from its start, the Yellow Trail reaches the North Summit. You may want to take a break and enjoy the views here once again.

North Summit – Prospect Mountain Preserve

North Summit – Prospect Mountain Preserve

North Summit view – Prospect Mountain Preserve

North Summit view – Prospect Mountain Preserve

North Summit view – Prospect Mountain Preserve

North Summit view – Prospect Mountain Preserve

When you are ready to continue, follow the yellow blazes a short distance to the junction with the Blue Trail and turn right. Now retrace your steps along the Blue Trail as it descends Prospect Mountain, steeply in places, and follow the blue blazes all the way back to the Prospect Mountain Road trailhead, where you began the hike.

turn right on Blue Trail

turn right on Blue Trail

Blue Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Blue Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Blue Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Blue Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

If you would like to continue the hike, look for the red-blazed Grannis Pond Trail which is directly across the road. This trail can be hiked in either direction, but we chose to do it counterclockwise because the Granniss Mine would be at the beginning and the skies were threatening rain. Walk a few feet up the road until you see the start of the other end of the Red Trail. Follow the red blazes down the hill and in a short distance, the Granniss Mine is on the right.

Red Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Red Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Granniss Mine - Prospect Mountain Preserve

Granniss Mine – Prospect Mountain Preserve

The Granniss Mine was part of a 12-acre tract on the western slope of the mountain that was begun in 1864 by the NY based Nickel Mining & Smelting Company. Here, a tunnel was extended some 75 feet under Prospect Mountain Road with the intent of reaching a nearby vertical shaft, but was never completed. It stands today as a dead end horizontal shaft leading to nowhere. It has the distinction of being the only mine on Prospect Mountain that over 150 years later, can still be entered.

Granniss Mine - Prospect Mountain Preserve

Granniss Mine – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Granniss Mine - Prospect Mountain Preserve

Granniss Mine – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Just ahead is the scenic Granniss Pond.

Granniss Pond – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Granniss Pond – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Follow the Red Trail as it climbs the hillside, veering away from the pond and crosses a small stream on a wooden footbridge. The trail travels through an area with interesting rock formations and if the leaves are down, you may be able to see Granniss Pond down below on the left.

Red Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Red Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Red Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Red Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Red Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Red Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Red Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Red Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Red Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Red Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Red Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Red Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

The Red Trail passes through several stone walls as it wraps around the pond then goes through a pine plantation.

Red Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Red Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Red Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Red Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Red Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Red Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Red Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Red Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

As the trail comes close to the edge of the pond, it runs on wooden planks, passing a Beaver Lodge.

Red Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Red Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Beaver Lodge - Granniss Pond

Beaver Lodge – Granniss Pond

Red Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Red Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Red Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Red Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

In a short distance, the Red Trail crosses an outlet stream of the pond and turns left, soon reaching the south shore of Grannis Pond. The trail now runs along a grassy woods road, passing a bench and continues uphill to its terminus on Prospect Mountain Road, where the hike began.

Red Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Red Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Granniss Pond – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Granniss Pond – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Red Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Red Trail – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Main Trailhead – Prospect Mountain Preserve

Main Trailhead – Prospect Mountain Preserve


Review:

This hike and preserve far exceeded my expectations. It is surprisingly rugged with its endless ups and downs. The trails are well marked and easy to follow. We only ran into a group of about 6 people and a solo hiker on our visit and for the most part, had the place to ourselves. The scenic landscape with its interesting rock formations, mines and viewpoints, make it a worthwhile destination for a day hike. Prospect Mountain Preserve has a little bit of everything that most outdoor lovers will enjoy.

Pros:

Historical features, scenic views, mines, rock formations, not much foot traffic, well marked trails, well maintained.

Cons:

Would be helpful to have informational signs about the mines and/or history of the preserve.


Take a hike!

Prospect Mountain Preserve – Litchfield Land Trust

Prospect Mountain Preserve – Litchfield Land Trust


Sources:

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