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There are many ways to enjoy Cockaponset State Forest, a swath of land that spans 11 Connecticut towns. Hikers will find numerous Blue-Blazed hiking trails, picnicking spots, and babbling brooks; horseback-riders are welcome; birders will never be bored; and swimmers have the idyllic, fresh Pattaconk Reservoir to enjoy, hidden in the woods of Chester near the Haddam line.
Fed by Pattaconk Brook and other small waterways, the reservoir is the crown jewel of the Pattaconk Recreation Area, just one part of the disjointed Cockponset forest system (stay tuned for more Day Hiking Guide installments on other sections of the forest). Tucked down the scenic Cedar Lake Road, adventurers set on hiking might be sidetracked by the inviting lake they'll see upon entering the park. With ample waterfront lawn space available, a day on the trails might feel far less glamourous than the wide open invitation to catch a few rays instead.
Still, if you take the red-blue to blue-yellow-blazed trail, which circles the lake, you'll find the best of both worlds over small sidepaths that lead down to more secluded spots on the waterfront. Hike awhile - the trails aren't too challenging and portions of it are covered in carpets of moss - then maybe have a seat on the sandy shores (and occasional rocky seats) of the lake, then get back on the trail or try a new one. Other trails take hikers deeper into the shady woods; check the map near the main parking area before heading out.
But sitting or hiking, visitors to Pattaconk Recreation Area will likely experience a sense of dropping out of the busy world, and that's its own reward, no matter how many miles you cover.
Directions from I-95: Take I-95 to Route 9 north, Exit 6. Turn left off the exit ramp and go west on Route 148 for approximately 2 miles. Take a right onto Cedar Lake Road and drive approximately 2 miles. Take a left at the Pattaconk Lake sign.
Where to Park: Follow signs to parking areas, which are located near the lake
Description: Cockaponset State Forest is Connecticut's second largest forest at more than 16,000 acres designated in the towns of Haddam, Chester, Deep River, Killingworth, Durham, Guilford, Madison, Clinton, Westbrook, Middletown and Middlefield. (Pachaug State Forest is the state's largest.) DEEP manages approximately 20 miles of hiking trails in the Cockaponset forest system, although dozens more miles of trails are present throughout the system.
Regulations: Open from sunrise to sunset. Pets on a leash are permitted. Boats limited to 8 mph, no water-skiing
Amenities: Swimming, picnic areas, hiking trails, fishing, boat launch, pit toilets
Natural Features: It's all about the clean, clear lake. Trails are well-trodden and rocky in places
Things to note: According to DEEP, Cockaponset State Forest is named after an Algonquin chief who was buried in the Ponset section of Haddam. Several Native American tribes — including the Mattabessets, Quinnipiacs and Manunkatucks — originally occupied the Cockaponset area.
“Pattaconk” was a native word for a round hill in Chester.
Fees: $9 for residents and $15 for non-residents on weekends and holidays; no charge on weekdays
Owner: State of Connecticut
Links/More Information/Map: www.ct.gov/deep