“Taking a Hike” Columns

It’s not far off a year since I posted anything much about my Taking a Hike newspaper column, but seven articles have appeared since spring 2018, as reliably and perhaps more punctually than the seasons themselves. Here’s a photo for each one:


The corresponding editions, top left to bottom right, are:

Early Spring—Ragged Mountain, Connecticut
Late Spring—Tunxis Trail, Connecticut
High Summer—Baxter State Park, Maine
Late Summer—Mohawk Trail, Connecticut
Early Fall—Scotland versus New England hiking comparison
Late fall—Hemlock Hills, Connecticut
New Year—Naugatuck Trail, Connecticut

The edition names align with publication date, not always with the hikes themselves. Most fit OK, but when I was in Baxter State Park it was definitely spring, not high summer (though in New England the transition from one to the other seems to occur in an instant). I hiked the Mohawk Trail in four outings between early spring and the dog days of August. And “dog days” is a suitable teaser for the next Taking a Hike.

Baxter State Park – Two Short Hikes

Before and between my longer Baxter hikes (Traveler loop, Pogy backpack, and The Owl), I took a couple of shorter walks, both about five miles.

SOUTH BRANCH MOUNTAIN TRAIL to Black Cat Mountain (2,611′) and back was mainly notable for a high ledge with fine views over Upper South Branch Pond to The Traveler and the other summits I planned to climb the next day. Black Cat summit, like most of the rest of the hike, was wooded in.

Between my Traveler hike and Pogy backpack, I took it easy on FOWLER BROOK TRAIL and its extensions to Middle Fowler Pond. These were gentle trails leading to two scenic ponds, popular with brook trout fishermen and inhabited by outsized tadpoles.

Before I wrap up my Baxter posts, my latest “Taking a Hike” column was of course about the trip. Click for “Endurance and Delight in Baxter State Park” in The Norwalk Hour and Hersam Acorn Newspapers. Farewell to Baxter until the next time!

Tunxis Trail—Connecticut’s Wild Woodlands

The Tunxis Trail “northern terminus” is a remote, tranquil spot

The Tunxis Trail northern terminus

Wildness, like pretty much everything else, is relative. If you’re from Maine, the idea of wild Connecticut woods may provoke a chuckle. If you’re a city-hound, almost any forest may seem way too nature-dominated. I’ll be the first to admit that some of Connecticut’s forest tracts are small and intruded upon by civilization (Connecticut’s Wild Corner is a notable exception). But in Tunxis State Forest, Katie and I walked for 13 miles without seeing a car, or hearing a leaf blower, or meeting hardly any other hikers at all. We found moose scat and knew for sure that bears were in the neighborhood. Wild.

For a change, I am posting my Day Hike Notes (below) and my Taking a Hike column simultaneously. Katie and I took this hike over a month ago. Here are the links to the column:

Tunxis Trail in The Norwalk Hour
Tunxis Trail in Hersam Acorn Newspapers

I am, by the way, just back from the wild Maine woods. More to follow.


DATE: Friday, May 11th.
START: Pell Rd at CT-MA line, Hartland CT (GPS 42.037715, -72.898143).
FINISH: CT Route 219 northeast of Saville Dam, Barkhamsted CT (GPS 41.926324, -72.925151).
ROUTE: Tunxis Trail south.
DISTANCE: About 13 miles.
TIME: 8 hours (8:50 a.m. to 4:50 p.m.)
TERRAIN: Only moderate elevation gain and loss, but often rocky & rooty underfoot.
MAP: I carried the CT Walk Book (a bit bulky, really).

WEATHER: Sunny and warm, high in upper 60s.
WILDLIFE: I don’t associate Connecticut with moose, but some do live here, and we saw their scat!

BREAKFAST: Cheese & bacon hard roll from Pleasant Valley General Store, Barkhamsted.
LUNCH: Sandwich and snacks somewhere in the Tunxis State Forest.
UPS: 13 miles of tranquil forest.
DOWNS: Worrying about my (still newish) car on rutted and potholed Pell Rd.
KIT: This was the first hike of the year when I carried my water reservoir instead of bottles—no chance of freezing up and a greater quantity of liquid required.
COMPANY: Katie McWilliams from beginning to end; 3 encounters with other hikers, mostly nearing the end.

Clouds above Indian Council Caves

Clouds above Indian Council Caves

“Taking a Hike” at #62

Taking a Hike TNH

Taking a Hike Edition #62

I have not, for six months and more, said anything here about my “Taking a Hike” newspaper column. The culprit has been a lack of posting time. Often, too, “Taking a Hike” is about an outing for which I have already posted “Day Hike Notes”, so the incentive to post is reduced.

“Taking a Hike”, however, is alive and well, approaching its 63rd edition. And I don’t think I ever mentioned that last year it placed second in the general column category of the 2017 Connecticut Press Club awards. (Though, who knows, there may only have been two entries!)

For five years, “Taking a Hike” was a monthly column. Last fall, I decided to move to eight times a year. Time was a factor, but so too was wanting to continue to enjoy writing the column, avoiding its becoming a grind. What use would that be to writer or reader? The schedule for “Taking a Hike” is now, roughly, as follows:

Easter or early April
Memorial Day
July 4th
Labor Day
Columbus Day
New Year
Presidents’ Day

And the columns since I last posted have been:

Hunter Mountain in the Catskills
The Pacific Crest Trail
Redding CT’s Westway, close to home
West Kill Mountain, Catskills again
Three winter hikes in Connecticut

Taking a Hike Montage

FROM TOP LEFT, CLOCKWISE: Devil’s Path to Hunter Mountain, September; W. Branch Saugatuck River, Weston CT, New Year’s Day; Devil’s Path to West Kill Mountain, December; Cracked Crag, Sierra Nevada, September; Redding’s Westway, November

McWilliams is not taking a hike—yet

Lake Erie Sunset

Lake Erie Sunset, west of Cleveland

Oh dear, a month has passed since I posted and almost as long since I hiked.

The main culprit has been work, but there was also a lightning trip to Ohio to see in-laws and a friend’s visit from the UK. The Ohio trip did not involve any hiking, but it did yield a memorable Lake Erie sunset which I am happy to share here.

My last hike was a quick loop at Peoples State Forest in Barkhamsted CT at the end of July. The outing provided raw material for August’s Taking a Hike column:

The View from Peoples State Forest at Hersam Acorn Arts & Leisure.

I never got around to posting July’s Taking a Hike either. Here it is:

A Walk on the Saugatuck Trail in The Hour.

Finally, the good news is that I do have a hiking adventure pending!

I booked an airline ticket to Reno NV for late September. I’m not going gambling; I’m planning to hike in the Sierra Nevada, including a section of the Pacific Crest Trail. Much more about that plan to come. I can buy Cheryl Strayed red bootlaces at REI, right?

PCT Lower Echo Lake

Pacific Crest Trail, Lower Echo Lake – courtesy of Ray Bouknight–https://www.flickr.com/photos/raybouk/

Taking a Hike Columns – May and June

I am behind with posting my Taking a Hike columns. Here are May and June together:

May: As has become something of a spring tradition, the subject was the Connecticut Appalachian Trail. This time, there was a hefty dose of memoir in the article, revolving around an inept backpack on the trail 15 years ago. I’ve got better since then, but you never stop learning from mistakes. “There’s No One Way To Tackle CT Appalachian Trail” in The Hour and at Hersam Acorn.

On Schaghticoke Mountain, CT AT Mile 5

On Schaghticoke Mountain, CT AT Mile 5

June: No big surprise that June’s column was about Silver Lake Wilderness, part of my Big Spring Outing to the Adirondacks. “Alone in the Dacks” at Hersam Acorn and The Hour.

Beaver pond, Silver Lake Wilderness

Beaver pond, Silver Lake Wilderness

Taking a Hike – Fahnestock Summits

My April Taking a Hike column has been published by The Hour and Hersam Acorn Newspapers. It describes an early spring (aka wintery) hike in Fahnestock State Park:

Relishing hardship, starkness of Fahnestock State Park at Hersam Acorn
Gray skies don’t dim the appeal of state park trek at The Hour

One thing I liked about the hike is that it helped me join up some bits of local landscape. I’d hiked in Fahnestock twice before, but it had stayed a disconnected, standalone kind of place in my mental atlas. I knew the Hudson River was off to its west and Connecticut to its east, and that the Appalachian Trail ran through it. Other than that, I had little sense for how it fitted with other places I like to hike.

Bull Hill (right) and cliffs south of Storm King Mountain (center) from Round Hill

Photo 1 – Hudson Valley from Round Hill, Fahnestock SP

The joining-up happened on west-facing slopes near the end of the hike. I saw the Hudson Valley, the steep-sided part of it near where the river flows between Breakneck Ridge and Storm King Mountain (Photo 1). Now, I had seen this stretch of valley from another angle, on another hike, years ago (Photo 2).

Most of the scenery in Photo 2 (taken looking south from Sugar Loaf Mountain) is hidden in Photo 1 behind Bull Hill (middle-distance summit in the right of the picture), but the scenes definitely join where the Hudson flows beneath the bluffs just left of center in Photo 2. It is possible to cover most of the distance – about 4 miles in a straight line – between where I took each photo on trails. I’d like to do that one day.

Sugarloaf Mountain, Hudson Highlands State Park, NY

Photo 2 – Looking south from Sugarloaf Mountain

Taking a Hike – Westchester Wilderness Walk

Finally, it looks outside as March should. We have a motionless gray sky. The ground is half-covered in dirty snow, half in wet, crushed leaf litter. Two weeks ago, when Charissa and I walked the Westchester “wilderness”, it was more like April, even down to some whistling frogs. In between times, we have had January. Tomorrow, I am going to hike in gray, drizzly March, before May suddenly arrives. And before April arrives, I’d better post my March Taking a Column – about that Westchester wilderness. Here we go:

Finding Wilderness in Westchester at Hersam Acorn.
Westchester preserve is a charming oasis of wilderness at The Hour.

Late afternoon swamp, Zofnass Family Preserve

Late afternoon swamp, Western Loop, Westchester Wilderness Walk

First Day of Spring TV Chat

On Monday, I chatted with HAN Network Arts & Leisure hosts Sally Sanders and Steve Coulter about hiking plans and ideas for the spring. It was a ramble of a conversation, touching on the Smokies and Maine, as well as hikes closer to home. I think we gave the poor guy in charge of syncing the photos to the talk a few problems. Never mind, here’s the link (chat starts at 4:05).

HAN Network Arts & Leisure, Monday March 20th

Sally, who also publishes my Taking a Hike column in Hersam Acorn Newspapers’ e-editions and website, is retiring at the end of the month. Have a happy and active retirement, Sally!

On Gregory Bald, Great Smoky Mountains NP

We discussed Gregory Bald and Great Smoky Mountains NP

Taking a Hike – The Gunks


Beside the Blueberry Run Trail, Minnewaska SP Preserve

Most months, after my column is published, I post a link to it on a Facebook group for my town. Usually, I get a handful of likes and that’s it. Having started February’s Taking a Hike saying that the Gunks (= Shawangunks = Shawangunk Ridge or Mountains) were not especially well known, I belied my own contention by generating much more “engagement” than usual – lots of likes, a couple of loves, comments, questions, even a photo. One guy said that his son is Chief Ranger at one of the Gunks preserves! Maybe those Gunks are a bigger name than I thought.

Anyway, February’s Taking a Hike:

Spring in the Gunks – in January! at Hersam Acorn.
Shawangunk Mountains worth getting to know at The Hour.