Off the Beaten Path: Canfield-Meadow Woods
Spanning more than 300 acres in Essex and Deep River, the Canfield-Meadow Woods Nature Preserve offers seventeen trails that wind through mixed forests, ridges, and the stone walls that meander through the property. What used to be farmland, the preserve now offers patrons a quiet respite from the stresses of daily life – once you pass the railroad tracks, you are enveloped in a serene forest environment.
Total length: 3.9 miles, with shorter or longer options possible
Difficulty: Moderate; there are some steeper inclines, and the terrain is rocky
Elevation change: ~500 feet
Trails: This route traverses 7 of the 17 trails at the Preserve
Dog Policy: According to the Essex Land Trust: “Dogs are welcome. However, dogs must be on leash or under owner’s control at all times. Be respectful of other walkers and please clean up after your pet.”
With so many trails to choose from, having a reference can come in handy as you make your way through the Preserve. Use the map to create your own route, or follow along for the route that my dog Marshmallow & I took on a sunny winter Monday. There are several entrances to the Preserve; our hike begins at the Route 154/South Main Street entrance in Deep River, circled on the trail map.
From Middletown, take Route 9 South to exit 5 onto Route 80 in Deep River. In .3 miles, turn left onto West Elm Street, and in .6 take a right onto Union Street. Continue for .3 miles onto South Main Street, and in .6 miles you will reach the destination on your left – a small sign, pictured, is at the entrance to the lot. If you come from the opposite direction, the lot will be on your right just past the Deep River Market. There are enough spots for about 4-5 cars at the trailhead parking lot; if this spot is full, you can access the Preserve from one of the other entrances shown on the map. The Book Hill Road entrance is another direct access to this hike: GPS directions to the Book Hill Road trailhead
The hike begins at the Route 154 trailhead. This trailhead features a large version of the map and provides smaller ones to use for reference on your hike if needed.
Starting at the trailhead, you’ll hop straight onto the yellow trail, also referred to as the Main Trail on the map. This short first section of the trail takes you behind a neighborhood, but this doesn’t last for long.
After a short walk, you’ll hit this set of train tracks, which are part of the CT Valley Railroad. This railroad used to take passengers and freight from Hartford to Old Saybrook, a 44-mile journey. The “6” marker is at the entrance to the forest, where our hike will continue. At this point, we are still on the yellow blazes/Main Trail.
Continue on the yellow/Main Trail until you hit a crossroads of three different trails – once there, you’ll take a right turn onto the blue blazed Overlook Trail.
On the blue/Overlook trail, you’ll start to see some of the rock outcroppings that the forest is known for. Some of these are marked on the trail map for reference. While our route didn’t take us there, you will find remnants of a stone quarry in the Deep River section. We had fun climbing the rocks on our hike!
When you reach the next intersection, take a right onto the black blazes/Primitive Trail.
On the black/Primitive trail, you’ll begin to see the remnants of the property’s stone walls. Over 100 years ago this area was farmland and the former pastures were delineated by these walls. According to one of the many historical markers dotted throughout the property, Connecticut – at only 5,009 square miles – has over 20,000 miles of stone walls, enough to surround the Earth at the equator.
Once livestock grazing the pastures ceased, the forest began to grow – this is the “young forest.” This part of the forest is populated with red maples, cedar, dogwood, and black cherry trees. The older forest contains oak, hickory, hemlock, birch, beech, tulip, and ash trees.
Continue on the black/Primitive trail. When you come to the orange blazes/Loop Trail, take a right and go over the footbridge. You’ll notice that you’re close to civilization again – this part of the hike brings us on the opposite edge of the Preserve from where we started.
Once you’re past the bridge, you’ll see another trailhead – this is the Book Hill Roads entrance. This is an alternative starting point to this hike if the Route 154 lot is full.
For our hike, instead of taking the left towards the trailhead, take a right onto the blue blazes/Canfield Trail (yes, there is a second blue blazed trail!). This trail will bring you to the farthest point from your car on the hike.
As you continue on the blue/Canfield trail, you’ll see more of the diverse forest habitat. Marshy is pictured here with the “Massive Tulip Tree” labeled on the map – she thought it was pretty cool and worth the photo op!
As you continue on the blue/Canfield trail, you’ll pass the red blazes/Hill Trail – if you want a shorter route to the lookout point, you can take a right here. Our hike continues down the blue/Canfield trail, and you’ll take your right turn onto the green blazes/Long Trail, where you’ll immediately hit a footbridge that crosses a small stream.
These low, wet areas have higher levels of deposited soil; when it’s not the middle of winter like it was during my hike, plants like ferns thrive here.
Continue on the green/Long trail towards Book Hill. This is where you’ll gain the most elevation on the hike: Book Hill sits 354 feet above sea level. But don’t worry, this section is the highlight of the trip!
Once you reach the summit of Book Hill, you’ll see this viewing platform on your left, and a beautiful view to your right – go up the platform to get a better view over the trees. Once you’ve made it up the stairs (there are only a few!), you’ll notice a plaque: this viewing platform is dedicated to the memory of Ann Colton Nussbaum, who was an active member of the Essex community and a member of the Essex Land Trust.
During the warmer months, the view is shrouded by leaves. Taking this hike in the winter gives you a more expansive and clear view of the surrounding landscape. On a clear day, you can see the Essex Shoal Channel section of the Connecticut River. This is another great spot for a photo op!
Once you’ve soaked in the view, you’ll continue your hike on the green/Long trail until you reach the silver blazes/Link Trail. Here, you’ll take a left and continue on the silver/Link trail until you hit the black blazes/Primitive Trail – this completes the loop section of the hike, and you’ll now repeat the beginning portion of the hike to get back to your car.
Take a left onto the black/Primitive trail and continue until you take a left on to the blue/Overlook trail. From here, continue until you find yourself back at the yellow/Main trail, where you will take a left and walk back to your car at the trailhead.
- After the loop, if you want a slightly different route back to the trailhead instead of repeating the same path, take a right from the silver/Link trail to the blue/Overlook trail rather than a left. At the intersection of the blue/red/yellow trails, take a left and follow the yellow/Main trail back to your car. With this route, you will see “The Gap” and “Split Rock” as labeled on the map.
- As mentioned, there are 17 different trails in this trail system, and any of them can be combined for a fulfilling hike – long or short. The forest is there for you to explore!
- Check out the Essex Land Trust and the Deep River Land Trust for other hikes in the area.
Interested in discovering your own off the beaten path hikes? The Connecticut Walk Book and interactive trail maps at ctwoodlands.org are excellent resources. Continue to follow The Rockfall Foundation’s blog for more guided suggestions.
Coronavirus & Tick Safety:
- When social distancing is in effect, give other hikers six feet of space. Do not touch other’s dogs and keep your own dogs under control. When stepping off trail to make room, be mindful of any flora underfoot and step on rocks where possible.
- To prevent overcrowding and facilitate social distancing, hike during less popular times such as early mornings and weekdays. Even hiking in a rain jacket during light rain can be a rewarding experience.
- Follow the Leave No Trace principles which have been updated for COVID-19. The document at the link offers important considerations, such as being prepared to use the bathroom outdoors and carrying out your own trash.
- Ticks are active March to November. Wear long clothing, tuck pants into socks, wear a repellant on your skin and pretreat your hiking clothes with permethrin. Shower afterwards and launder clothing. Click here for information on identification of different ticks.
Contributed by Liz Britney