A natural world escape to a pair of Canton overlooks
By Peter Marteka
Glastonbury Life Editor
Despite being one of the most populated states per square mile, there are still places you can go in Connecticut’s natural world to escape the sights and sounds of humanity.
The tri-state area of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island are three of the top four most densely populated states in the country (New Jersey at the top spot). But places like Smith Tree Farm, tucked into the northwest corner of Canton along the border with Barkhamsted, provides an escape where the only sounds emanate from a babbling brook, a screeching hawk or wind blowing through the boughs of a tall pine tree.
The Charlotte Craig trail and Ted Wright trail take visitors through the former tree farm, deep forests and up to a pair of beautiful overlooks. The Charlotte Craig trail became the Canton Land Trust’s first official trail after it was blazed in 1982. The trust has preserved more than 2,000 acres in town since its inception in 1972.
Shortly after pulling into the parking area for the trailhead, visitors have a choice: continue along the abandoned stretch of Doyle Road to a high spot just to the north of Ratlum Mountain or a shorter trek to the top of an unnamed hill along Charlotte Craig trail.
I opted for the more difficult Ted Wright trail as it crosses and follows the banks of the picturesque Ratlum Brook. Visitors are going to want to spend some time exploring the energetic brook with its clear-flowing waters tumbling over boulders and small cascades.
The ascent to the top of the hill - known as “Smith’s Lookout” - is difficult with a narrow path zig-zagging up the hillside. But the view peeking from under huge hemlocks is worth the journey. Only a few houses can be seen along the distant hills that make up the eastern backdrop to nearby Lake McDonough. Huge pines stick out of the winter-bare deciduous forest canopy.
The out-and-back trail, marked with yellow blazes, passes through mountain laurel groves and under huge white pines. The trail travels just to the east of Ski Sundown in New Hartford. The trail winds its way to its western end and the Capen Cabin which is owned by the land trust. An old hunting lodge, the cabin is available for youth groups and community members. The one-room cabin has a fireplace, wood stove and an outhouse and water pump on the grounds. Like the old saying goes: you can only live in one room at a time so this is as good a place as any.
The Charlotte Craig trail was named after the late longtime Canton resident who started the town’s food bank and donated the first property to the trust. She was also a member of the “Adirondack 46ers,” a group of outdoor enthusiasts who have climbed all of the Adirondack Mountains over 4,000 feet high.
The trail starts behind an old farmhouse and rustic barn and winds through a Christmas tree farm. The farm is a neat setting especially in winter as the trees line up against a stand of white birch and huge evergreens behind it.
A difficult and rugged trail takes visitors quickly up to an opening in the forest and actually into Barkhamsted briefly with views into the purple haze of distant hills and mountains to the south and west. The mile-long loop trail is a bit difficult and rugged in places if you traverse it clockwise. For those looking for an easier journey, travel counter-clockwise so the rise to the overlook is more gradual.
So looking for a little peace and quiet to forget about the real world for a little bit? There are a pair of trails with a pair of overlooks tucked into a quiet corner of Canton that will help you forget all your troubles silently with only the natural world - and a little cabin - as your neighbors.
Directions: To get there, take Route 179 to Wright Road. Follow two miles and take a left on Doyle Road. Drive slowly because much of Doyle Road is unimproved. Follow to the end and park on the right of the driveway or a small parking area on the other side of the road. The house is leased as a private residence so respect the homeowner’s privacy.
Mileage and Difficulty: The Ted Wright trail is about three miles total out and back. The Charlotte Craig trail is about a mile loop. Visit https://cantonlandtrust.org/trails for a map of the preserves. Call Nate Cantwell at 860-693-6224 to inquire about the cabin.
Pets: Leashed pets are allowed, but must be cleaned up after.
Signs of Civilization: A house and barn at the Charlotte Craig trailhead and the cabin at the end of the Ted Wright trail with nothing but forest in between them. A few houses and a telecommunication tower speckle the distant hillsides from the overlooks. VL