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

Surf’s Up! Hanging Ten In A Kayak

All right, technically my buddy Spyros "Spy" Barres and I weren’t hanging 10 toes off the end off boards while riding waves at Westerly’s Fenway Beach on Thursday, but we were surfing.

I'm Always Chasing Rainbows

All of us who have ventured atop mountains, out to sea, or simply into a nearby park have occasionally faced Mother Nature’s wrath – a sudden thunderstorm, pounding blizzard, gale-force winds, locusts …

Loading Your Backpack: Less Is (Usually) More

Some years ago, preparing to hike the Hundred Mile Wilderness – the final stretch of the fabled Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine, I stuffed my backpack with what I initially considered to be the absolute bare minimum for a week in...

Sun, Sun, Sun Here It Comes (Enough Already!)

When I was a kid, the Fourth of July was one of the year’s high holy days, right up there with Halloween and the last day of school, because that was when my parents took my sister and me to the beach for the annual fireworks...

How To Build An Adirondack Chair Out Of Skis In 14,387 Easy Steps

Many people I know share my passion for outdoor recreation but I also have a little secret: Between rounds of kayaking, hiking, gardening, wood-splitting and other activities I also savor the simple act of lounging quietly on a sunny day in a...

A Comedy – And Nearly A Tragedy – Of Errors On Maine's Saddleback Mountain: In The Age Of Cellphones, A Failure To Communicate

A refreshing breeze cooled me despite a blazing late-afternoon sun as I scrambled up the final rocky slope to the 4,121-foot summit of Maine’s Saddleback Mountain earlier this week, but I paused for only a moment to gaze at the glorious,...

Gardening Is Simple! Just Stick Stuff In The Ground And Voila! A Cornucopia Of Fresh Veggies! (Right)

Anyone who has ever attempted to grow vegetables soon realizes it is a true labor of love, with particular emphasis on the labor.

An Explorer’s Guide To The Great Indoors: Hotels Designed For ‘Adventurers’

During decades of traipsing through the wilderness I’ve slept, or attempted to sleep, in every conceivable indoor and outdoor quarters: in freshly dug snow caves; alongside bug-infested swamps; during thunderstorms with no tent; in the...

Alligators, Gorillas, Bears, Snakes, Even Cows: Danger Lurks Where You Least Expect It

The awful story this week about a 2-year-old boy who witnesses said was pulled by an alligator into a lagoon near a Walt Disney World hotel in Orlando, Florida and later found dead serves as a reminder that danger lurks even in "The...

This Bud’s For You: The Unofficial King Of Beer Litter

While kayaking the other morning I spotted a small, dark object poking above the lake surface 100 yards or so ahead, and I was pretty sure it was the head of a turtle until I drew closer and realized the sad truth: just another beer...

Chaotic Fun At The Essex River Race

Shortly before the start of the late-great Rose Arts Road Race several years ago, a 10.47-mile running competition over the hills of Norwich considered one of New England’s toughest courses, my friend Bob and I decided to jog a couple miles...

Tom And Steve’s Excellent Adventures In The Northwest Part III: Kayaking Off The Oregon Coast And Columbia River Gorge; Hiking On Mount Saint Helens

Propelled by the sound of crashing surf, my son Tom and I scrambled over a low dune and then gazed in awe.