and Coastal Reserve Bluff
Point State Park
Geographic Location: south side of
Length: 3.7 miles
Difficulty: 3/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: August 2015
Overview: A lollipop loop on wide gravel trail passing an historic house foundation and Long Island Sound views.
Park Information: http://www.ct.gov/deep/cwp/view.asp?a=2716&q=325178&deepNav_GID=1650
Google Map: http://www.mappedometer.com/?maproute=453305
Directions to the trailhead: In southeastern
take I-95 to SR 117 (exit 88). Exit and
go south on SR 117. Take SR 117 south
1.1 miles to its end at US 1 and turn right on US 1. Drive US 1 0.2 miles to Depot
Street; there is a traffic light at this
intersection. Turn left on Depot
Where Depot Street
forks, take the right fork under the Amtrak railway, after which the road turns
to gravel. Park in the large gravel
parking area at the end of the gravel road.
The hike: Consisting of only 800 acres,
and Coastal Reserve occupies a very important parcel of land: Bluff
Point State Park Connecticut’s
last significant piece of undeveloped shoreline. Although proposed as parkland as early as
1914, land acquisition did not begin until 1963 when the state purchased the
western portion of the park from Henry A. Gardiner III. The park was established as a coastal reserve
by a special act of the Connecticut
legislature in 1975.
Foot traffic accesses the park via a single two-track dirt/gravel trail that forms a lollipop loop with a short stick. That trail is the one described here. Be warned that although the park has two large gravel parking lots, both lots can fill on warm-weather weekends. Despite the park’s lack of amenities (other than fishing, sunbathing, and trails), you should try to plan a weekday or winter visit to minimize the crowds.
|Information board at trailhead|
Start at the rear of the parking lot where a large information sign contains a rough trail map and some park information. The wide gravel trail that goes left past the port-o-lets leads to another park, so you should choose the wide gravel trail that goes straight behind the sign. Ignore some single-track dirt trails that exit left; they lead to the park’s confusing and poorly marked mountain bike trail system.
At 0.2 miles, the wide gravel trail forks to form its loop. A majority of people using this park choose the right fork because it offers the shortest route to the beach. To reduce the crowds temporarily, this hike will turn left and use the right trail as the return route, thus hiking the loop clockwise.
The trail climbs moderately at first and then gradually to leave the riverside area downhill to the right. Some birch trees make an appearance in the young upland forest, and a couple of benches offer opportunities to rest if desired. Soon the trail becomes lined with old stone walls, remnants of this land’s pre-park agricultural days.
|Stone walls beside trail|
Just shy of 1 mile, you reach a stone foundation, all that remains of Governor John Winthrop Jr.’s homestead. John Winthrop Jr. served as governor of the Connecticut Colony from 1657-1676. His father John Winthrop Sr. had founded the adjacent Massachusetts Bay Colony, and Winthrop Jr. played a key role in unifying the settlements in the
Connecticut River valley
into a single colony. His son, Fitz-John
Winthrop, would also serve as governor of the Connecticut Colony from
1698-1707. Winthrop Jr.’s homestead was
built in 1648. The structure stood 2.5
stories tall and had 33 windows, a very impressive building for 1600’s colonial
America. Interpretive signs tell more about the Winthrops
and their house.
|Winthrop house foundation|
The trail angles right to pass around the old house site and continue its southbound course. Just after passing the house site, a side trail that exits right for the western portion of this loop provides the opportunity to short-cut this hike if desired. Continuing south, thus far the trail has been mostly shaded, but more sunny and shrubby areas start to appear as you descend toward the sea. At 1.6 miles, you reach the short signed spur trail to Sunset Rock, which exits right. In times past Sunset Rock offered a nice west-facing vista, but these days trees completely obscure any view.
The trail curves left and then right as you approach the southern-most point of land. Some views of Long Island Sound begin to emerge over the shrubs, and some side trails exit left to give better views of the sound. On a clear day
York’s Fishers Island can be
seen in the distance to the south.
|Hiking along Long Island Sound|
|Long Island Sound|
2.2 miles into the hike, the spur trail to the beach exits left. The east-west beach is more than 0.5 miles long, and it lies right at the mouth of the
. The sand and gravel on the beach are what
remain of glacier deposits left here many thousands of years ago. If you wish to take a detour, you can walk
down the beach for more excellent Long Island Sound views. The beach is the highlight of this popular
park, so you will likely not be alone here.
Also, another port-o-let sits just across from the beach spur trail should
the need arise. Poquonnock River
|State park beach|
Now heading north, the wet areas stay in near-constant view to the left. At first shallow and marshy
provides the aquatic scenery, but later the Bluff
Point Lake does the honor. I saw a couple of herons in the water on my
hike, but the most common birds I saw were airplanes from the Groton New London
Airport located directly across the river. Poquonnock
At 2.8 miles, the short-cut trail from the historic house site enters from the right. The hillside to your right gets rockier as the
comes right up to the trail on your left.
3.5 miles into the hike, you close the loop. A soft left turn and 0.2 miles of level
walking return you to the parking lot to complete the hike. Poquonnock River