No Puttering About Here
River Highlands State Park, Cromwell
I would guess that when most people here think about “River Highlands” in Cromwell, they think about golf. And by “most people” I mean 99.9% of them.
After all, the annual PGA tournatment at TPC River Highlands is a highlight on the Connecticut “sports” calendar. (Sorry golf fans, I can’t call you game a sport without the scare quotes.)
The golf course is separated from the state park by a sliver of woods at the park’s northern tip. And the two River Highlandses couldn’t be much more different. There are actual birdies here, not just … oh never mind with the dumb golf puns.
I visited the park with the boys on a warm October day. A day when the trees should have been brilliantly painted in oranges, golds, and reds… but were still green. At least the end of the world will be warm I guess.
River Highlands is one of Connecticut’s newest state parks. Its 177 riverfront acres were dedicated in 2001 and includes forest, bluffs, and riverside walking. The state weirdly says this:
The bluffs overlooking the Connecticut River give this park a perspective that is unique among all others in the state park system. From the vantage point 150 feet above the water the view up and down stream is outstanding making every trip to this northern Cromwell location time well spent.
Hm. Hurd State Park (East Hampton) and Gillette Castle State Park (East Haddam) both spring to mind. Though I guess both – with bluffs overlooking the Connecticut River – are on the east side of the river. You’ve got me there, state of Connecticut. You’ve got me there.
The parking lot at River Highlands is rather tiny, but we found a space and began walking through the pleasant woods. There are many trails to explore here, but we had a mission: To get to the bluff overlook and to get to the “beach” camping area.
The main trails are marked well enough and we found that most of the structures are fairly well maintained. Of course, who needs well maintained bridges when you’re six?
We heard a hawk’s cry along with the caws of the crows. Other songbirds serenaded us as we made our way down towards the river. Calvin, a friend to all nature, tried his hand at an eagle’s screech for some reason.
No eagles alit upon his shoulder, however. (In fact, I think every bird within a mile flew to the other side of the river.)
We made it to the overlook pretty quickly and enjoyed the solitude of the place. Oddly, despite there being probably fifty other people in the park during our visit, none seemed to be interested in the bluffs.
This was one of those rare times when I felt like Damian actually appreciated the scenery. (He’s not one to emote or to even verbalize in a very meaningful way, but as his father, I can sometimes sense what he’s feeling.) I always enjoy these moments.
After a short rest and snack on the bench at the bluff, we were confronted with quite a chute down to the river.
I guess I know why no others were up here… getting here – and getting out of here – require some physical skills. Calvin, of course, was beside himself with glee at the prospect of “sliding” down the massively eroded chute.
It was very steep and leaf-covered. No way in a billion years was Damian going to go down that and there was no way for me to remain stable enough to assist him. Hm.
What a dilemma. I wanted Calvin to have his slightly dangerous fun, but I needed to get Damian safely down via another route.
Gravity didn’t wait for us and as Calvin was testing the footing, it swept him away and down on his butt. Great.
“Wait for us at the bottom, don’t get hurt, and seriously, WAIT FOR US AT THE BOTTOM!” He was quickly out of sight.
There was another, less imposing, chute a short walk away. “Okay, D, we have to get down this.”
“Yes. Hold my hand. I won’t let you get hurt.” Hearing no cries for help across the hill, I slowly navigated my way down with a trembling Damian in tow. We made it down, unscathed…
And I ran towards the river to find Calvin. He was in one piece, staring up at the incline he had just slid down. “Papa, can I go back up and do that again?!”
Oh to be six again. There was no way he could have made it back up, so I told him he could go throw rocks in the river. That always works.
Like a charm.
The “beach” here is surprisingly nice for what it is. The coolest part of this place is that it serves as a campsite for anyone canoeing or kayaking down the river. I had no idea Connecticut provided such niceties. There’s even a pit toilet here. I imagine this is a pretty sweet spot for Connecticut River paddlers.
Well done, Connecticut.
While the boys threw stuff, I ventured a bit south to seek out something I was very excited about: The Blowhole. Also called The Devil’s Blowhole. Did you know Connecticut had a blowhole? Connecticut has a blowhole.
The are many trails in the park to lead the hiker across wooden bridges, over streams, along the 150 foot high bluff, or down to the water’s edge past a unique geologic feature known as the blowhole. Here one can hear the wind as it whistles past the bluffs. The Native Americans came to listen to the “wind being caught by the spirit of the earth.” When the colonists arrived they called it Devil’s Blowhole, believing it was an act of Satan. Sailors knew it as an area of quick winds as the park is just upstream of one of the tightest bends on the lower river.
It’s not much of a blowhole, and we were not treated to any Satanic music. If you’d like to learn more about it, I felt it deserves its own CTMQ page, here.
After the beach and the blowhole, we made our way up the valley towards the car. This trail requires a lot of trail work, as there are lots of bridges and decking along the steep banks.
Damian still hesitates with this sort of thing, but he was resolute on our (painfully slow, thanks to his hesitation) hike. He yelled at me over and over, “I got it! I got it!”
Except for the times when he needed help, of course. This afforded Calvin plenty time to hone his “Ninja Hiker” persona; leaping and crouching and spinning the whole way up the valley.
At least he never really gets too frustrated with his brother’s physical disabilities. And that’s pretty darn cool.
I very much enjoyed my visit to River Highlands State Park, despite not hearing from Satan and definitely because it was this River Highlands and not that golfy one.