Cross-Country Skiing in Connecticut: Carpe Diem

Most denizens in our neck of the woods whined about last week's early-in-the-season storms that coated the ground with several inches of crusty snow topped by fluffy powder, but as soon as the flakes stopped flying my wife, Lisa, and I grabbed our cross-country skis and drove to a favorite destination, Voluntown's Pachaug State Forest.

"Who knows? This could be one of our only chances," I said.

Last winter may have been relentless (or epic, as far as schussers are concerned) but usually ski conditions don't last more than a few days before rain washes the snow away, or the snow melts into mud, or hikers, dogs and assorted other non-skiers trample tracked trails.

I've always been a seize-the-day kind of guy, and that dictum especially applies to cross-country skiing in Connecticut. Though the shoreline boasts some magnificent trails – Bluff Point and Haley Farm in Groton, and Rocky Neck in East Lyme – they tend to get beaten down compared to more reliably snowy paths just a few miles farther north, which is why we steered toward Mount Misery.

Encompassing more than 27,000 acres, Pachaug is Connecticut's largest state forest, and it contains miles and miles of trails and dirt roads that meander through groves of dense evergreens and lush rhododendrons, alongside secluded ponds and streams, and over rocky ledges, including the section's 441-foot namesake summit.

Incidentally, Mount Misery is a popular peak name – there's one in New York, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, New Jersey, Maryland, Nova Scotia, Gibraltar, Falkland Islands, Ireland and St. Kitts.

Voluntown's version offers fine views of woodlands and meadows but is not that easy to scale on skis, so Lisa and I slipped past the trailhead on our afternoon outing.

We began off Route 138 just west of the Voluntown Library on a gravel road called DEP Trail. In less than a quarter mile we veered left on a well-traveled path near a metal gate apparently intended to block off-road vehicles – though there were ATV tire tracks in the snow. Oh well, at least we only encountered the tracks.

After mile and a half we passed a path leading to the Mount Misery Summit, continued on a section of the Pachaug Trail and eventually joined the unpaved and unplowed Fire Tower Road.

In a short distance we turned right on Cutoff Road, where packed snow topped by fresh powder made for fast, slippery conditions nearly as good as any groomed trail at commercial cross-country ski areas in Vermont or New Hampshire.

Not only did we avoid having to pay for trail passes at Pachaug, which is free of charge, we didn't have to drive three or four hours each way.

Side trails from Cutoff Road pass through the majestic Rhododendron Sanctuary, but since the sun began to dip we bypassed this worthy detour, continued east past the Mount Misery Campground and an expansive field at the Herman Haupt Chapman Management Area, and turned right at the DEP Trail to ski another mile and a half back to the car.

"Well, at least we can say we got out on our skis this season," I said.

"It's not even winter yet," Lisa reminded me.

The solstice is today, Saturday, and sure enough, rising temperatures since our short outing have melted much of the snow and made conditions too rocky for skiing – which is why I plan instead to celebrate the first day of winter by kayaking in Fishers Island Sound with friends.

After all, carpe diem applies to just about every outdoor adventure.

Reader Comments

MORE BLOGS

All Who Wander Are Not Lost: Searching For The Elusive South Bog Stream In Rangeley, Maine

"Head for that tree stump," I instructed authoritatively one afternoon earlier this week, as if I knew for sure where we should be heading. I have learned to exude confidence when giving directions on any expedition, even...

Scott Jurek's 'Reward' For Breaking Appalachian Trail Speed Record: Three Summonses

When internationally celebrated speedster Scott Jurek scrambled last Sunday to the 5,269-foot summit of Mount Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, he broke the record for the fastest assisted hike of the 2,189-mile...

No Swimming at Seaside: What’s Next? No Hiking at Bluff Point?

Most of the time I’m reasonably scrupulous about abiding by government regulations.

Training For Mystic Sharkfest: The Loneliness Of The Long-Distance Swimmer

Among the many benefits of active recreation is hanging out with friends – which of course you can do at a bar, pizza parlor or coffee shop, but since most of my pals prefer to spend their leisure time on the trail or water, we...

Stung By Wasps AND Suffering From Lyme Disease: I Can't Catch A Break

You know that funny, itchy feeling when something is crawling around or worse, lodged where it doesn’t belong?

Which Is Worse: Getting Devoured By A Grizzly Bear Or A Great White Shark?

During years of roaming hither and yon on land and sea, I’ve been chased by a grizzly bear, nearly trampled by stampeding yaks, charged by a bull, attacked by swarms of hornets and almost struck by a copperhead – but what...

A Whitewater Dream Taking Shape in Willimantic

Asked to name the best whitewater kayaking and canoeing stretches in Connecticut, most paddlers would single out a gnarly, 2.6-mile section of Class IV rapids on the Housatonic River from Bulls Bridge Dam to Gaylordville, or Diana's Pool...

My War With Canada Geese

Years ago I looked forward to autumn, not so much for the kaleidoscopic foliage but because the evening serenade of migrating Canada geese that lulled me to sleep.

Take A Hike Or A Paddle June 6-7 During Connecticut Trails Weekend

In a culture that celebrates virtually every pastime and passion – from National Kazoo Day Jan. 28 to Public Sleeping Day Feb. 28 to Moldy Cheese Day Oct. 9 – we outdoor enthusiasts finally get our day in the sun on June 6,...

A Fourth Straight Victory At The Essex Boat Race in Massachusetts: Paddling In A Small Division Pays Off

As Ian Frenkel and I paddled exuberantly toward the finish line last Saturday at the Essex River Race in Essex, Mass., I thought about what it had taken to pull off our fourth consecutive tandem sea kayaking victory.

Hiking The Continental Divide Trail From Mexico To Canada: 'It Is Fun Even When It's Miserable'

Applying the ancient Chinese proverb, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step," Mystic native Hilary Sueoka and her boyfriend, Dan Stedman, should have taken three steps April 22 when they set out on their...

Turtles And Osprey And Otters, Oh My – So Much To See By Kayak

The turtle has an ill-deserved reputation for lethargy.

The Hills Are Alive With The Sound Of Dirt Bikes

Fingernails across a chalk board, a baby crying, a dog barking incessantly – all are music to my ears compared to the whine of a dirt bike tearing through the forest.