Friday, December 02, 2011

Standing on the Shoulders (and Chin) of Giants

It's a sunny Friday morning in December.  The temperature is going to be in the 50s.  You've got vacation days to use up.  What better to do than go for a hike!  So we packed our stuff, jumped in the car and headed south. Wait, what??  South??  NO - THAT'S THE WRONG DIRECTION!  Actually, it was very much the right direction.  For several years we'd been planning to get down to Sleeping Giant in Hamden CT and this was the perfect day.  Sleeping Giant State Park is located about 5 miles north of New Haven which isn't exactly a place you'd expect to find good hiking but this is definitely a diamond in the rough.

Sleeping Giant has over 30 miles of well blazed trails of all levels of difficulty crisscrossing the park.    For our first time out we decided to take the two that are rated the most challenging - the blue and white loop.  As we would find out during the day, Sleeping Giant is very similar to Blue Hills Reservation in MA in the number of trails and their character.  This is a good thing - Blue Hills is another unexpected gem on Rt 128 south of Boston.  The blue/white loop on the Giant is much like the Skyline loop in Blue Hills.

We started the day off on the blue trail from the parking area across from Quinnipac College.  This is part of the 24 mile Quinnipac Trail that is in turn part of the 825 mile blue blazed trail system managed by the Connecticut Forrest and Park Association around the state.  Starting on this trail provides no warm up opportunity.  Immediately on leaving the parking lot the trail drops down into a ravine and then makes a really steep climb up to the giant's chin.

Starting into the ravine from the trailhead

Peaceful flow

Nat scrambles down a steep chimney 

Giant's chin ahead

The Giant's chin is a steep knob that rises about 500' above the ravine.  The climb up the chin is amazingly steep and rivals anything we've done in the White Mountains.  It's a great way to get the heart pumping at the beginning of the hike.

Cliffs on the chin

Not much left for this poor guy to hang on to

Nat starting up the chin

Steep climb!

And it gets even steeper!

The views from the chin and from the many cliffs all along the route are great.  To the south they stretch to Long Island Sound beyond New Haven and the many other hills and crags in this part of Connecticut are visible in all other directions.

First views down from the top of the chin

Quinnipac College over the cliffs on the chin

Long way down!

Mt Carmel ahead

This hike is pretty much a continuous series of ups and downs - there are very few flat stretches (although those can be found on many of the other trail systems in the park).  This was exactly what we were hoping for from this hike since we needed to get our trail legs back in shape for a trip north on Saturday.  From the chin we dropped back down, crossed the tower path and headed up the side of Mt Carmel to the tower at the top.

Path traverses the cliffs

Fun scrambling!

Tower on Mt Carmel

Views to Long Island Sound from the tower

From Mt Carmel we continued the blue trail across the park, winding up and down the many ridges and knobs along the way.  Our turn-around point was Hezekiah's Knob where the blue and white trails intersect near the east side of the park.

Typical stretch of  trail

Lots of ledges

Uh, which way???

Cliffs on Hezekiah's Knob

Nat doing some cliff gazing

Heading back on the white trail we were treated to more of the same up and down scrambling that we had on the blue trail.  The white trail skirts the southern summit ridge of Mt Carmel all the way across and then drops back down to the valley at the very end.

Descending from Hezekiah's Knob

Heading back up Mt Carmel

Rock ledge sidewalk

Mt Carmel summit Cairn

It was just an amazing December day!  We even found wildflowers that we're clearly confused about the season.  There were also many others out enjoying the day and we met several happy passers-by on the trail.

Confused flower.  Isn't it time to go to sleep for the winter?

He wasn't alone.  There were lots of them

Happy trail dogs stops to say hello

We're definitely glad that we finally took a walk on the Giant!  It's great to have options like this for the days that a drive to New Hampshire is just too much.  And it's a great warm up when that drive to the Whites is just a day away...

Here are a few views of the route.  There are also more pictures here:

Map of the park with route highlighted

Topo of the route

Elevation profile - not much flat walking here

Aerial view of route


  1. Very nice! I've only been on the Sleeping Giant once, a few years ago, but I'd forgotten about that wonderfully steep climb next to the old quarry. If I had to live in New Haven, I'd be on that mountain every day :)

  2. Sleeping Giant is, I'm pretty sure, the most popular hiking area in Connecticut, with good reason. It's where our Blue Blazed hiking trail system got its start a century ago.

    Other excellent hikes in Central Connecticut include the combination of Talcott Mountain and Penwood State Parks along the Bloomfield/Simsbury/Avon town lines northwest of Hartford (be sure to take the side trail off the main Heublien Tower Trail which scrambles down below the beautiful basaltic cliffs and King Phillip's cave), and the West Peak/East Peaks of Meriden Mountain in Meriden (Metacomet portion of the New England Trail), halfway between Hartford and New Haven on I-91 and, just east of Meriden in Middletown, Mt. Higby, on the Mattabesset portion of the New England Trail.

    One small tidbit about the Giant for the record - the climb by the quarry is up the top of his "Head," to the west, and the high basaltic cliffs eastward, looming down over the Tower Path and the White Trail's lower reaches, are called the "Chin."

    These Central Connecticut destinations are all part of the same trap-rock formations as Mt. Tom and the Holyoke Range in Western Mass. And if, perchance, you've not partaken of Mt. Tom's traverse between Holyoke and Easthampton, MA, I very highly recommend it to you - it has some of the most beautiful cliff-walking I've ever seen and affords fine views, on clear days, out to Greylock, to Monadnock and northward into Vermont.

    Thanks for this fine journal and many happy trails to you in 2012 and beyond!

    -Chris Stratton, West Hartford, CT

    PS: If you get a chance and haven't yet done it, I love the Taconics of SW Mass/NW Conn and would strongly recommend, at a minimum, a hike up from Rt. 41 in Sheffield on the Racebook Falls Trails (hug along the brook as much as possible to see as many as 5 or 6 of the varied and beautiful falls) to the Appalachian Trail, then northward to the summit of Mt. Everett and just past for superb views of Greylock, then southward over Mt. Race (extraordinary, famous cliff-walk) through Sages Ravine (old growth forest of astounding beauty) and Bear Mountain (CT's highest peak and a nice, steep scramble which will call the Whites to mind), then down the Undermountain Trail back to Rt. 41. There are lots of nice trails in the Taconics and it would be easy to make it a two- or three-day trip, or you could combine it with a Greylock or SW Vermont visit.