Saturday, August 15, 2015

Kent Falls State Park (Blog Hike #533)

Trails: White, Yellow, and Red Trails
Hike Location: Kent Falls State Park
Geographic Location: northeast of Kent, CT
Length: 1.3 miles
Difficulty: 5/10 (Moderate)
Last Hiked: August 2015
Overview: A loop hike beside long, cascading Kent Falls.

Directions to the trailhead: Kent Falls State Park is located on the east side of US 7 5.1 miles north of Kent, CT or 4 miles south of Cornwall Bridge, CT.  Enter the state park, pay the confiscatory entrance fee ($4 higher than any other state park I have ever visited), and park in the large blacktop parking lot.

The hike: Located in extreme western Connecticut less than 5 miles from the New York state line, Kent Falls State Park protects 495 acres around its namesake waterfall.  The main land parcel was donated to the state in 1919 by the White Memorial Foundation.  The depression-era Civil Works Administration developed the park, and the Youth Conservation Corps of Connecticut reconstructed many of the park’s trails in the 1970’s.
            Kent Falls State Park offers only a few picnic tables and 1.5 miles of trails in terms of facilities.  Thus, the waterfall remains the park’s centerpiece.  Nevertheless, the park’s website warns that the park closes when the parking lot fills, an indication as to how popular this park can be.  Most park visitors only hike to the falls, so any crowds you may encounter will thin out after you get past the highly developed trail along the cascade.  Somewhat to my surprise, when I came here on a warm Saturday morning, there were only two other vehicles in the large parking lot.
Covered bridge at trailhead
            Start by crossing the red and white covered bridge at the left (north) side of the parking lot.  The covered bridge is a reproduction built in 1974 by Edmund Palmer, a state park employee.  Once across the covered bridge, angle left on the wheelchair-accessible paved path to arrive at the base of Kent Falls.  For a 250-foot waterfall, the shallow plunge pool is quite small, making a dip look uninviting.  Moreover, entry into the water is prohibited by park rules.
Base of Kent Falls
            The trail ascends the right side of the waterfall using several sets of well-constructed steps.  Several viewpoints provide views of cascades, each cascade higher up the hillside than the previous one.  As such, the waterfall seems to go on and on without end.  A few pools allow the water to collect, but for the most part the string of cascades is continuous.  Although the water volume on my early August visit was only moderate, each cascade was still quite scenic.
More cascades

Top of Kent Falls
            Just past 0.3 miles, you reach the upper-most viewpoint.  This point gives a nice view of two consecutive 8-10 foot drops, which turn out to be the very top of the waterfall.  The nice steps end here, and most people turn around at this viewpoint.  However, the trail continues up the hillside by using a switchback to get around a vertical cliff.
            At 0.4 miles, you reach the west shoulder of gravel Dugan Road, where the trail you have been following ends.  To continue the loop, turn left and use the narrow concrete road bridge to cross Kent Falls Brook.  Now on the north side of the creek, look for the red blazes that enter the woods on the left to begin the return route.
            In contrast with the very developed trail you climbed on the south side of the creek, the dirt Red Trail is rather primitive with a large number of roots to impede your progress. 0.5 miles into the hike, the Yellow Trail exits right.  This intersection is marked by a sign with yellow letters that spell out “trail” and an arrow.  The shortest route back to the parking area would be to continue straight on the Red Trail, but for a change of scenery and to see a little of the area’s history, turn right to begin the Yellow Trail.
Descending on the old road
            The Yellow Trail quickly joins an old dirt road and begins a gradual descent.  Some stone walls mark old property boundaries that predate the park and remind you that this land was once farmland.  At 0.8 miles, the trail curves left to briefly leave the old road only to rejoin it at a slightly lower elevation after making a broad switchback.  Traffic on US 7 can be heard downhill to the right.
Old stone walls
            1.2 miles into the hike, the Yellow Trail ends at its lower junction with the Red Trail.  Turn right on the Red Trail to begin the final segment back to the trailhead.  While the descent on the Yellow Trail was quite gradual, the descent on the Red Trail is quite steep with many roots to cause footing issues.  A final left curve deposits you at the north side of the parking area near the covered bridge, thus marking the end of the hike.

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