The Goodwin Trail: A 14-mile hike from East Lyme to East Haddam
Even in our heavily wooded part of the state, it's hard for a hiker to completely escape from civilization for the day. Roads crisscross the landscape. Preserved open spaces are surrounded by neighborhoods and housing developments.
Some of the oldest trails in the state — the Connecticut Forest and Park Association's blue-blazed trail system — must contend with the encroachment of modern society. The 15-mile Narragansett Trail passes through the North Stonington transfer station, while a good portion of the eight-mile Pequot Trail in Preston follows a power line clear cut. A newer trail system, dedicated three years ago, offers an escape into the wilderness just a few miles down the road.
The Richard H. Goodwin Trail, which opened in 2016, is the result of a collaboration between the Eightmile River Wild & Scenic Watershed Coordinating Committee, the towns of East Haddam, East Lyme, Lyme and Salem, Yale University and the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. The map of the trail is a patchwork of town preserves, state forest, and private land that allows hikers to trek nearly 14 miles from Darrow Pond, off Route 161 in East Lyme, to Route 82 in East Haddam while crossing only four back roads. On a warm, sunny Sunday, we saw few people and fewer cars.
Part 1: Darrow Pond to Grassy Hill Rd.
Heading west from the parking area off Mostowy Road, the trail crosses a grassy meadow and then follows a gravel road into the forest. Arthur Carlson, who painted the white blazes that mark the East Lyme section of the trail, told The Day in 2016 that he didn't want his work to intrude too much on nature. This is evident, as the trail markings in some sections are a little sparse. Several times, we picked one of two options at a trail junction, hiking somewhat blindly until we found the Goodwin Trail's signature yellow diamond with a green "G." The uncertainty added a little sense of adventure and helped us be more aware of our natural surroundings.
As you follow an old woods road, there are the usual signs of human impact on the land: extensive stone walls that parallel the trail, and a long-abandoned foundation from when this wilderness was somebody's home. There are also modern reminders of the volunteer work necessary for a trail like this to exist. There are two trailside benches hewn from logs that so closely resemble the surrounding tress that they blend into the landscape if you're not looking closely.
Part 2: Grassy Hill Rd. to Gungy Rd.
After about five miles, the trail emerges on Grassy Hill Road. This parking area would be a good starting point for someone looking for a less strenuous hike, as the trail in both directions follows a dirt and gravel road through the Nehantic State Forest. The trail is flat and wide in most places, as it cuts north to another parking area at Holmes Road.
Though it hadn't rained recently, the signs of this year's wet spring were still apparent. The large puddles on the wider sections of the trail in East Lyme were easy enough to navigate, but once the trail turned west in Salem, we ran into a flooded swamp with no clear detour in sight. We circumvented the bog by tiptoeing on rocks and logs at its edge, and found the culprit once we reconnected with the trail. Just a few feet upstream from a rocky brook crossing, a beaver dam had created a wide pond that had flooded a low-lying portion of the trail.
When the Goodwin Trail crosses over the border from Salem to Lyme, it exits the Nehantic State Forest and enters Hartman Park, the first of a series of smaller preserves that the trail passes through. As the terrain becomes more rugged, the trail narrows and winds past large boulders and over an exposed rock face. There are several miles of color-coded side trials to explore if you're looking for a less linear journey.
Part 3: Gungy Rd. to Rt. 82
Nine miles into our hike, we emerged on Gungy Road in Lyme. It's not immediately obvious where the trail re-enters the woods on the other side of the road, so we had to hunt around a bit before finding one of the yellow and green signs a few hundred yards to the north. If you decide to start a shorter trip from here, you may have trouble finding the trailhead, but you'll be rewarded with some of the most interesting terrain.
Within the space of a few miles, one can see evidence of the collaboration necessary to make this trail a reality. It meanders through the Salem Valley Corp. parcel, the Salem Land Trust's Darling Road Preserve, the state's Eightmile Wildlife Management Area and the town of East Haddam's Chapal Farm Preserve before ending at a parking area on Route 82 in East Haddam. The yellow and green trail signs persist, but each property has its own trail system worth exploring.
Our trip took just under five hours to cover the 13.7 miles of the Goodwin Trail, but one could easily occupy an entire day trying to experience every mile of trail that each individual natural area has to offer.
If you go
Parking for the Richard H. Goodwin Trail is located on:
Mostowy Road, East Lyme
Grassy Hill Road, East Lyme
Holmes Road, East Lyme
Gungy Road, Lyme/Salem border
Salem Road, East Haddam
Baker Lane, East Haddam
Route 82, East Haddam
Trail maps are available at http://www.eightmileriver.org
Darrow Pond to Grassy Hill Road
Grassy Hill Rd. to Gungy Road
Other trail maps:
Nehantic State Forest - East Lyme and Salem
Salem Valley Corp. Parcel and Darling Rd. Preserve