Only Two Falls Brook Trail
Hartland, 1.7 miles
January 19, 2009
[4/29/2009 Update: Yes, I did return… So go ahead and read this post with the knowledge that you will be rewarded with actual falls pictures at the end. I promise.]
[2016 Update: A few things. I’ve now included this page in my Waterfalls listings instead of writing up another page for the falls. I’m lazy. Also, I talk a lot about my YakTrax. Don’t buy them, as they are useless. I’m all about the Katoolah microspikes now. Also, that cell phone! I miss that thing.]
I really should hop in the car and go do this trail again. It’s short and not too too far away. Why? Because I seem to have missed the point of the trail – the falls which lend their name to the trail. The whole reason to hike this trail. The reason this little loop trail in as close to the “Middle-of-nowheres Ville” Connecticut as one can get was blazed in the first place. Oh well.
I thought I’d find plenty of pictures online to borrow to insert and show the world the falls in question, but apparently not too many folks make it up here for the hike. Sigh. But I’ll soldier on, for as they say… “Hike your own hike” and that I did, even if I missed the falls. Though I did suffer two falls… Into the snow. Pathetic.
You know what? I think I just decided to get back up there and see the dang falls this spring. But for now, here’s everything but the waterfall. (I do have an excuse, by the way. Read on.)
Route 20 across northern Connecticut traverses some of the most remote and beautiful areas in the state. I will always point to a trip around Barkhamsted Reservoir to anyone looking to see some foliage in the fall. Heading west, after crossing the Tunxis Trail and winding around the northern end of the huge reservoir, this short trail is announced by one of the little oval blue signs I’ve become so familiar with.
Unfortunately, during the winter, parking is a bit dicey because there is no shoulder and certainly no pull-off. (This is much different without the snow.) I decided to chance it – after all, I’d only be gone for 40 minutes or so and how much traffic could there be out here?
“Excuse me, I’m totally lost, do you know the area?” Huh? Some girl had stopped as I got my stuff together to hike and asked for help. Being a map geek, I told her I was not familiar but what was she looking for? It turned out she was about 8 miles west of her destination and was actually shaking with fear. I had a general idea of how to point her but really wanted to ask her at what point did she think she might have gone too far? After driving 10 minutes around a reservoir in the middle of nowhere when she was looking for a road near the town center?
It was a beautiful sunny day, maybe around 25 degrees with about 20 inches of snow on the ground. I decided not to bring the snowshoes because a) it hadn’t snowed for a week or so and I’d thought the trail would be packed and b) much of the trail contoured along a steep hillside and there were four or five bridgeless stream crossings that would be tough in snowshoes. Plus, I planned to do it quickly as well.
Point (a) was a bust, as there was only apparently one other person interested in this trail in the week prior to my hike and he or she didn’t make it very far. But even in hindsight, with all the delicate rock-hopping, I think I was better served by my YakTrax and trail shoes. (Recovering frostbite notwithstanding.)
I hopped the snowbank at the roadside and despite the deep snow, made my way pretty quickly down the first third of a mile – mainly using the “leap, bound, and slide” technique. It was actually pretty fun.
In short order, the loop begins and I opted to head south, continuing down the hill towards the reservoir. There were a few points where a slip could have resulted in me sliding down 30 feet to the brook – which didn’t excite me too much. I did have my hiking poles with me – a rarity, but I brought them specifically because of this issue – which gave me the added stability I needed. And believe me, I needed it… A lot.
Once at the southeastern end of the loop, I was confronted with a comforting sign:
Hm. A little further on, there was another sign; this one a bit more explanatory:
And here’s where I got slightly confused. I didn’t bring the Walk Book’s description with me, only the map. I remember reading in the introduction part the following: “A short side trail leades to a nice outlook at the end of the easternmost end of the trail. Access is via a steep descent over tricky terrain; etc.” Notice no mention of the waterfall being down there.
Also, I didn’t hear any falls down the hill as it was most likely partly frozen. The sign above merely says “Viewpoint” not “The main reason you’re here.” ALSO, the white blazes had been covered up, telling me the trail wasn’t even really blazed anymore.
That said, I gave it a go. No blazes, fresh deep snow, very steep hillside with a long, steep and rocky ravine to my right. I went about 30 feet and… slipped. I fell and slid down the ravine about 10 feet, which was enough for me. Ahead of me, the angle only got steeper and since I thought I was merely headed to an overlook of the surrounding hills, I gingerly picked myself up and returned to the main trail.
“Oh well,” I thought, “no biggie. I mean, the coolest part – the falls – are still to come.” As you now know, that’s not the case. The falls were down that ravine, darnit, only 150 yards or so more! There was no way I’d have made it without falling several more times so I’m not too upset. Especially since my cell phone said this:
See… I told you I was in way-out-land. By the way, No cell service in Connecticut is exceedingly rare. Anyway, here’s Justin Coleman’s shot of the falls. A bit out of season, but you get the gist. Sorry snowy falls fans.
Moving on. Once back to the trail, I picked my way down the ravine to the first stream crossing. This looked like fun. Ice and snow covered rocks with no hand-holds at all. With ice and ice-cold water awaiting me should I fall…
Bing bang boom, I made it. You can see in this picture I employed the sit-n-spin technique on that big rock in the middle there below. One down, three to go.
The trail now followed the stream on the western side, back up the hill. It was very pretty and I really enjoy hiking in the snow. Oh sure, hiking alongside a stream is much more challenging in the snow, but it’s still fun. Time for another stream crossing:
So far so good
That last one was the toughest as for some reason (at least this is how it looked all covered in snow) the trail crosses Falls Brook right where two branches join, so it’s sort of like crossing two-fer-one. I did have to really think about each foot fall and relied heavily on my poles for balance. I was especially proud of making this traverse dry, so I commemorated the moment:
Now going slightly uphill, I realized again that hiking in snow is about 50% more tiring than regular hiking. As I tried to follow the blazes (there was no other way to know where to go) and keep upright, I stepped through the snow…
…And my YakTrax got caught up on a woody stem of some sort and ripped off
Dangit. I don’t wear gloves and putting this thing back onto snow covered shoes didn’t really sound like fun. So I just shoved it in my pocket and continued… Continued where? I’d lost the trail! This never happens to me!? I’m going to die! Okay, okay, just call LifeStar…
NOOOOOOOoooooooooo! Oh yeah, I have a map and know which way I have to go and really, Route 20 is north, east, and west of me. Phew. It did actually take me a good 5 minutes to find the blazes again (I’m 99% sure this was my fault) and I was happily on my way.
One more brook crossing that was so easy I didn’t bother with a picture (plus, I was about 30 yards north of the trail, still searching for it at that point).
I trudged up the hill back out to my car – which was still safe and sound – cranked up the under-dashboard heater and hit the road home. Good stuff.
As threatened, I did return to this trail in the spring. On an absolutely beautiful 65 degree day, I found myself in West Granby and figured “what’s another 10 miles west across Route 20 to go see those dang falls?” And as I wrote above, Route 20 is one of those awesome drives (or better bike rides, as long as your in shape for 2 mile hills) so why not.
The first thing I noticed was how much easier it is to park when there’s not 2 or 3 feet of snow on the shoulder (above). I bounded down the trail and wow, there are stone steps and a bunch of streams that I never knew were there in January! The trail has also been recently re-blazed, so I doubt I’d get off track again.
Once to the southern tip and the unmarked trail and the same “viewpoint” sign, I was excited to be able to walk the trail without the danger of slipping and sliding 30 feet into the ravine. There are trees blocking the trail but I ignored them and continued. Here’s the thing – even though this trail is noted in the Walk Book, it is not blazed and blocked off for a reason: It’s pointless and has no views whatsoever. After walking it to the end, I returned to the blue trail still confused.
However, my confusion should be limited to “why am I so stupid” because there – RIGHT THERE – to my left was the rather large and impressive waterfall! Either the blue trail has been extended south to the falls and the map is outdated, or that formerly white-blazed trail used to serve some unknown purpose. Whatever.
There is a sketchy “trail” down the rocks to get a great view of the upper falls. It’s totally worth it to pick your way down there, as these falls are awesome. The water rushing over the black rocks and green moss is just, quite simply, really cool.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can rock-hop further down the stream to the next set of falls, which are actually a bit more impressive and a bit higher. However, to get below that set, you’ll really need to work your way down a very steep ravine – and then of course back up out of it!
I guess in the winter these were mostly frozen over, but I still wish I got down to see them. Heck, maybe I’ll have to return again next winter… This is becoming a mission now for me. As you can see in my – I can’t believe I took a couple decent pictures! – pictures, these hidden and rarely seen falls in Hartland are some of the best in the state.
2019 Update: A reader who seemed careful about admitting his dangerous trespassing did it for me. He wrote:
I visited Falls Brook in Hartland after heavy rain the past few days. Plenty of photos of the upper falls out there, but I climbed all the way down that steep ravine to get a view of the lower falls. It must be a good 50-60 feet high, and it’s towering and very loud when viewed from below. Took a photo with my toaster (lol no, actually my 2007 “feature phone” – the imaqe quality is very bad), and I figured you might not have seen this viewpoint before, so here it is.
Yes, it’s MDC property and I may have trespassed on private land to take this photo (and understandably so – no trails, steep slope and an accident waiting to happen). So you didn’t get it from me.
Having seen how steep this ravine is, and assuming it was wet when that dude went down it… better him than me. And if Hartland isn’t far enough afield for you, consider the roadkill I saw on my way home:
Falls Brook Trail (CFPA)