Steep Rock Preserve

Posted By on October 3, 2016

Steep Rock Preserve

2.32 miles; Washington Depot, CT

While we (my hiking partner and I) were out in the far western reaches of Connecticut checking off two more Sky’s the Limit Challenge Hikes (and yes, we stayed overnight—I’m still a Rhode Islander at heart, okay?) we decided to visit this preserve especially to see the train tunnel. Yup, this preserve features a train tunnel! And not only did we hike through that, we also forded the Shepaug River just so we could cross it again on an amazing suspension bridge built especially for foot traffic. Spectacular hike.

This preserve has a very interesting history, too. From the website of the Steep Rock Association:

The 974-acre Steep Rock preserve offers hiking trails which follow the river banks and provide access into the hillsides above. Near its north end, there are vestiges of carriage roads, one of which leads from Tunnel Road to the site of the Holiday House (no longer standing), a hotel built in 1893 by philanthropist Edward I. Van Ingen as a retreat for young working women from New York City. The project took advantage of the Shepaug Railroad which, from 1872 to 1948, wound through the preservation alongside the river. One can still see the abutments of the small suspension bridge which enabled disembarking passengers to meet the Holiday House carriages waiting on the opposite bank. Farther downstream, trails traverse the slopes above the river and follow the double oxbows (where the river loops south, north, and then south again). Nearby is the railroad tunnel, a rough arch cut through the rock ledge which allowed just enough room for the locomotive and cars to pass through.

Follow the Butts

Follow the Horse Butts

Even though the above website provides a trail map, it wasn’t particularly clear or easy to follow. My friend and I started off along what we thought was the way to the tunnel, when we came across two nice ladies on horseback. Stacy decided to ask for directions to the tunnel, and sure enough, we were headed in the wrong direction. We ended up following the ladies and their horses to the correct trail head.

Tunnel Mouth

Tunnel Mouth

This is the mouth of the train tunnel. It’s so enticing, yet black and sinister-looking. But when you get closer you realize it’s not very long at all, and you can see the proverbial light at the end from there.

View from the Entrance

View from the Entrance

See? Not far at all. It’s actually pretty well-lit. And so much fun!

Shepaug River

Shepaug River

The Shepaug River winds all through this preserve. In fact, it makes a double-oxbow, so it flows north-south-north-south. It’s a big equestrian destination, and the river is shallow, and there are a lot of old carriage roads and fords and one spectacular suspension footbridge. After puzzling some more over the trail map, we figured out that if we forded the river at a certain spot, we could cross the footbridge and with any luck end up back at our car.

Bridge

Bridge

 

View from the Bridge

View from the Bridge

 

View from the Other Side of the Bridge

View from the Other Side of the Bridge

So yeah, we forded the river. We got pretty wet, but it was great fun. You can find out all about the Steep Rock Preserve at the website I highlighted above. There’s a trail map there as well.

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