Drop the Mica
Middlesex & Madison Land Trusts, Durham & Madison
“Hey Steve! Gimme a fairly short, moderately challenging, diverse and interesting hike in central Connecticut with nice views and ample parking!”
Ok. Here you are. Go here. Mica Ledges. You’re welcome.
More accurately, go here and combine the Mica Ledges Trail with the Mattabesett Trail that traverses the ridgeline above it. You’ll get some steep climbs, several views, cool geology, a historic town tri-point, and if you’re adventurous, you can search for the remains of an 18th-century “pest house” or more easily continue hiking into Madison’s Rockland Preserve.
For this page, I’ll be sticking to the Mica Ledges Preserve for the most part, but there is a lot going on here.
I parked in the ample space of the cul-de-sac on Cream Pot Road in Durham and began walking south down the continuation of the road. Someone got antsy and moved this access trail off the road a few feet – a wholly unnecessary thing to do. But at least they got some exercise.
After a few minutes, the Mattabesett Trail crosses the road – which is a yellow-blazed trail called The Selectman’s Path past the gate.
If you were to take the blue-blazed Mattabesett Trail left (east), you’d ascend Mt. Pisgah. I’m only mentioning this because from that point, several miles of new Mattabesett loops southward instead of the road walk of so many years past.
We’re taking that same trail to the west off the dirt road on this page though. A few minutes through the woods and boom, there’s Pyramid Rock. It’s a fantastic rock, cleaved from the cliffs above so many thousands of years ago. From this point, you have three options. One is to continue straight up the Mattabesett to the ridgeline – if you’re hiking this part of the state for the first time, do that. Then follow it until you’re into Madison and peel off on the Maria Schmidt Trail described later (or cotinue down into Rockland Preserve and do whatever you want.)
A second option is to foolishly head north into the muck and laurel to find the remains of the Durham Pest House. I did that, but I’m not recommending you do… just read about me doing it here.
And the third is the head south on the red-blazed Mica Ledges Trail. That will bring you into the Mica Ledges Preserve, a property owned and maintained in a partnership between the Middlesex Land Trust and the Madison Land Conservation Trust. That’s what we’re going to do.
And we’re going to have fun doing it. From Pyramid rock, the trail immediately traverses some fun rock jumbles that surely came tumbling down from up the hill. This entire trail just squirms and worms its way through boulders, cliffs, and laurel. Tons of mountain laurel, pitch pine, huckleberry, and blueberry bushes. It feels remote and northern. Blackened vernal pools dot the way and – here, let’s let the Madison Land Conservation Trust describe one scene:
… turn sharply upslope to where a beautiful vernal pool with its backdrop of rocky outcrop and pitch pine presents and oriental and mystical appearance.
Remind me to ask my “Oriental” wife what the heck that means. (I’m guessing like a Japanese garden?)
Anyway, the trail continues its twists and turns though the laurel.
At some point there are seasonal views east of Mount Pisgah, but I saw nothing in mid-September. Regardless, this is a super fun short (0.7 mile) trail that many people likely overlook with the Mattabesett paralleling it a couple hundred feet above it to the west.
Speaking of which, the Mica Ledges Trail ends when it hits the yellow-blazed Selectman’s Path. I took that trail west up towards the Mattabesett. This is more of a utilitarian path, but it still is kind of pretty as it passes through some more typical hardwood forest on its way up to the ridgeline where it ends.
I took my old friend the Mattabesett Trail south, taking in a few views along the way. After a couple minutes and several patches of sparkling mica, I came to the Selectman’s Stones where the corners of Durham, Guilford, and Madison join. The rockpile was created at some point in the 18th or 19th century back when such methods were the only was of marking such points. I found the scratchings from more recent vintage pretty annoying though. (If you’re into such things, there’s another pile at the Durham, Guilford, North Branford corner along the Lone Pine Trail. Weirdo.)
Several of the rocks are inscribed with crudely carved initials and dates, but many of them seem to be gone from what I saw last time I was here in 2008.
Leaving the Stones, I continued south along the Mattabesett and eventually intersected with the The Maria Schmidt Memorial Trail. As I always do, I went searching online for Maria Schmidt and all I found was a standard obituary from 1998 about Ms. Schmidt from Madison. I’m sure she was lovely and must have had something to do with the local land trust.
While her trail is signed nicely, and orange-blazed decently, the trail itself wasn’t in great shape when I hiked it. To be fair, it’s clearly third rate up here, behind the Mattabesett and the Mica Ledges Trails. There’s honestly no real point in hiking the offshooting loop that heads south. It was hard to follow in many spots (September 2023) and there’s really nothing of interest at all. Just more laurel and oak. Except there, the laurel has reclaimed the trail in many spots.
However, the trail (without the offshooting loop) serves as a connection back to the Mica Ledges Trail and Selectman’s Path, and for that reason alone it’s an excellent trail – allowing people to do this little loop I’ve been writing about.
Once back to that intersection, I headed east on the Selectman’s path, down to Whitney Pond and back north along the woods road to my car. In total, this loop as described is only about 2.5 miles. But it packs a punch without wrecking your legs or lungs. And again… history! Geology! Mineralogy!
One of the best short loops in central southern Connecticut? Yes. I rest my case (MICa drop).