You'll definitely notice West Rock Ridge. It is one of the most striking natural features of the New Haven, Connecticut area. It rises almost 627 feet above sea level and is about 7 miles long. From various points along the ridge you can see over 200 miles, with stunning views of New Haven Harbor and the Long Island Sound. The ridge of basalt rock was forced upward by volcanic activity 200 million years ago.
The 1500 acre West Rock Ridge State Park is located at the ridge’s apex, providing visitors with great hiking, cross-country skiing, horseback riding or mountain biking opportunities. This is truly a four season destination that is popular with New Haven and local area residents. There are magnificent views of the surrounding foliage from the ridge top during the Fall. Winter offers xc skiing or animal tracking in a pristine environment. In spring, the mountain laurel and rhododendrons bloom and summer offers lush greenery for all outdoor activities.
There is limited access for cars inside the park. The south overlook drive to the summit is open for vehicles from Memorial Day to the last weekend in October and only from Thursday-Sunday. This helps to make wildlife sightings more likely. Among the wildlife species here are deer, turkey, rabbit, and the occasional bobcat. Eagles and hawks have been spotted soaring along the ridge. Fishing, canoeing and kayaking are allowed at Lake Wintergreen. There are no restroom facilities at the park. Because the park is as close to wildernesss as you can get in the busy urban corridor between New York City and Boston, it's best to ride with a few friends.
Located at the northern base of West Rock Ridge, across the street from the main park entrance, is the West Rock Nature Center. It has the distinction of being one of the first Urban Nature Center's in the country. It is listed on the State Register of Historic Places. The Center consists of 43 acres of upland woods and fields, Wintergreen Brook, a waterfall and gorge.
West Rock Ridge State Park Trails
The red and white blazed trails are designated as multi-use recreational trails. The red trail is around 5.7 miles long and the white trail is 2.35 miles. Mountain biking on these trails is encouraged. The longer trails running north-south, through the park are relatively flat. Climbing or descending the ridge on the shorter trails will be more difficult with short steep climbs and descents. The only major climb would be to the lookout tower at the southern end of the park.
You can do a nice loop ride around Lake Wintergreen using a combination of the red and white trails for a relatively easy, smooth and scenic ride. There is a Map Kiosk at the Lake Wintergreen Parking area. The park road, usually closed to cars, follows within 10-15 feet of the blue trail and is also a great biking route.
The blue and violet trails are for hiking only. The Blue Trail, part of the statewide system of blue trails has quite a history. It not only follows the original transportation route of Native Americans but is also known as the Regicides Trail (see historical note below). It also connects to the Quinnipiac Trail in the Northeast corner of the park.
Judge’s Cave, at the southeastern crest of West Rock Ridge (plaque seen from road), is named for several judges who escaped England to avoid execution in the 1600s. Edward Whalley, John Dixwell and William Goffe were signers of the death warrant against King Charles 1. After the monarchy was restored, the three fled, ending up in New Haven, CT. They were never captured. The boulders in which they hid, located around the southeastern crest of West Rock, are now known as Judge’s Cave. The stroy goes that they were supplied with food by New Haven settler Richard Sperry, ancestor to Sperry of Sperry Topsiders.
From the Merritt Parkway (Rt.15) take exit 60. Turn right onto Dixwell Ave. (Rt.10) South. Turn right at the next light onto Benham St. and follow to the end. Turn left onto Main St. At a sharp left, turn right into the parking lot for the Wintergreen area.
For the main entrance, continue on Main St. to the end. Turn right onto Wintergreen Ave. Go under the parkway. The main entrance is on the right. If gate is closed, park at West Rock Nature Center across the street.
West Rock Ridge State Park
Phone: (203) 287-5658