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Hiking Guide: From shady forests to lakeshore on the East branch of the Nipmuck Trail

Numerous massive oaks and white pines can be found in the forests along the trail. (Judy Benson/The Day)
Numerous massive oaks and white pines can be found in the forests along the trail. (Judy Benson/The Day)

Nipmuck Trail - East Branch

Towns: Windham and Mansfield

Directions: 395 North to Exit 13B to Route 32 North. Turn right onto Route 203 North, continue straight across Route 6 and turn right onto Station Road, then left onto North Windham Road.

Where to park: Large parking lot for Mansfield Hollow Wildlife Area is at the end of the road.

Description: Look for sign with blue blaze at the rear of the parking lot, follow trail across a field and into the wooded portion of the trail, then along the shores of Mansfield Hollow Lake and into Mansfield Hollow State Park. Terrain is easy to moderate.

Regulations: Dogs should be leashed. No motorized vehicles.

Amenities: Picnic tables and pit toilets on the lake about 4.5 miles from southern trailhead, past Bassett Bridge Road and the boat launch.

Natural features: Many huge white pines and oaks along trail; portion of trail follows shores of Mansfield Hollow Lake.

Fees: None

Things to note: Trail is mostly well marked with blue blazes painted on the trees, except for a couple of intersections. If no blaze is seen after a short distance one way, turn back and head the other way and there'll be a blaze.

Owned by: State Department of Energy and Environmental owns Mansfield Hollow Lake wildlife area and Mansfield Hollow State Park; Connecticut Forest & Park Association volunteers maintain the Nipmuck Trail. 

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Looking to mark Connecticut Trails Day a couple of Saturdays ago with a hike I could do with my dog and my husband — who isn’t fond of group hikes like the many scheduled around the state that day — we headed north to find the East Branch of the Nipmuck Trail in Windham.

One of the network of Blue-Blazed Trails maintained by volunteers with The Connecticut Forest & Park Association, the southern end of the East Branch of the Nipmuck starts at a parking lot of the Mansfield Hollow Wildlife Area and heads north to Mansfield Hollow State Park. The trailhead is at the rear of the parking lot, crossing a field before entering the forested section. There, huge white pines and towering oaks provide a shady canopy for flat to moderately sloped terrain. In a state with many relatively young forests, the large collection of immense trees all along this trail was truly impressive.

About a half-mile from the entrance, the trail approaches the southern end of Mansfield Hollow Lake, a popular spot for kayakers, power boaters and fishermen, and follows the shores of the lake and several side ponds and swamps for another half-mile or so. That day, a very noisy remote-controlled boat race on the lake interrupted the peaceful atmosphere of the lakefront and surrounding woods, sounding like a swarm of enormous prehistoric mosquitoes were flying over the water. For the sake of the kayakers and small boat users, other hikers and wildlife who use the area, I hope that’s a rare occurrence. The 500-acre lake was created by the damming of the Natchaug River by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and is used as a public water supply, so swimming is not allowed there.

We continued as far as Bassett Bridge Road, where there is a dam and boat ramp. A little further is a picnic area and parking lot for the state park. The blue blazes painted on the trees are mostly placed at regular intervals along the trail, although figuring out which way to turn at a couple of intersections wasn’t obvious at first. But after hiking one way and seeing no blazes for a stretch, we turned back and found the right way easily.

The entire east branch of the trail extends 6.6 miles to the intersection with the west branch of the trail. From there, a single trail continues all the way to Bigelow Hollow State Park and then to Nipmuck State Forest in Union, on the Massachusetts border, a total distance of more than 20 miles.


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