Southford Falls State Park
April 2, 2011
[This page is part of my ongoing series, “Hikes with my Boys.” The full list of those hikes can be found here.]
This is, in a way, the perfect state park for me to deal with here on CTMQ. I’ve always had issues with how in the world to write about some of these places; it’s not like I can do everything on offer in each park – nor do I even want to do that. But at Southford Falls, Damian and I did pretty much do everything; all within 75 minutes or so, AND we had a grand ol’ time doing so.
Southford is an area of Southbury, but almost the entire park is actually in Oxford. Southbury + Oxford = Southford. Get it? This place has some good history behind it, it’s free, and it has a nice waterfall, a lookout tower, a few miles of easy hiking and even a cute little covered bridge. What more could you ask for? Oh, it also has fishing and a picnic pavilion.
Damian and I visited the park during a full day of adventure out here to Southbury and Oxford. See, that’s the thing – not many people would think of spending half a day in those two towns, but I did it with a little kid and had fun. The park is easy to find right along route 188 in Southbury and the lot is fairly big. I imagine in the fall that it fills up and people probably park out along the road.
The main park feature is probably Papermill Pond and the falls down to Eightmile Brook. The park is a designated trout park. The falls are pretty much handicap accessible with a nice little bridge over them and a sort of viewing platform on either side of the brook. The pond is clearly man made and while the falls and the gorge that continues down the hill are more-or-less natural, the dam the initial falls spill over is not (duh) and the gorge appears to have been artificially deepened back in the day – in order to create higher velocity and therefore more efficient mills. (More on CTMQ’s dedicated falls page here.)
One of those was a factory called the Southford Paper Mill, located on the banks of Eight Mile Brook in Southford making paper, furniture, knives and grinding corn for flour. Eventually it was bought by the Diamond match Company and used to manufacture box board paper used for their match boxes. They employed between 85 to 110 workers until it burned in 1920.
I wonder what it was that started the fire? In looking for more info about the history of the Diamond Match Company, I stumbled upon some information about a horrifying disease that afflicted early match makers called Phossy Jaw. Put it this way: You tooth hurts, then your teeth and jawbone glow in the dark, then your face melts off and reeks, then you go crazy before your organs fail and you die. Seriously.
Sorry for that random diversion; I just found that fascinating.
The falls are nice, even if they are in view of the road and the parking lot. To get away from that, simply take the trail down the gorge (on either side) to the covered bridge. It’s a really well-built bridge and it is really pretty, but also a bit corny. I mean, why is there a covered pedestrian bridge here? There is a sign on it explaining the original’s historical significance (original was built in 1804 by Theodore Burr of Torrington; this replica was built in 1972), which made sense back in the factory days. Now it’s merely a pretty photo op spot. So here you are… Photos:
I’d reckon most park visitors return back up the hill to their cars or to picnic over by the pond at this point. That’s unfortunate because they are missing out on the opportunity to climb one of Connecticut’s rare lookout towers! I have a whole dedicated Google Map of them! Check it out!. (Really, check it out. I spent too much time on that thing.)
The hike around the park is easy and despite the climb up to the tower, I think pretty much anyone can do it. Case in point? Damian actually hiked up from the covered bridge all the way to the watchtower (as they call it) spur trail. That’s not far, but for Damian it’s epic. I was so proud of him I jusk kept taking pictures of his little hike. Damian is not big on perseverance or physical challenges (all part of his Smith-Magenis Syndrome, so it was a special moment for me. He just kept plugging along, looking for the next red/orange blaze on a tree. Even the drizzle that started couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.
I did have to carry him up the final stretch to the tower and then climb it on my own with Damian throwing a fit down below, but that’s how we roll. For more on the tower itself, you can go to my dedicated tower page. After the climb, it was all downhill and level back to the car. The trail was typical southern New England fare.
If you want less climbing and more downhill, you can do the loop clockwise. If you go in April like we did, you’ll pass by what has to be one of the loudest spring peeper populations I’ve ever heard in my life as well.