You'll definitely notice West Rock Ridge. It is one of the most striking natural features of the New Haven, Connecticut area. This steeply-sloped, 7-mile long, basalt traprock ridge rises almost 627 feet above sea level; the result of volcanic activity that took place over 200 million years ago. Collectively, the ridges are scientifically known as the Metacomet Ridge and affectionately called "The Rock" by West Rock Ridge mountain bikers.
The 1,700 acre West Rock Ridge State Park, situated at the apex of West Rock Ridge is truly a four season urban, nature and adventure destination with a variety of mountain biking experiences for cycling enthusiasts of all types to enjoy. Other outdoor sports at the park include hiking, cross-country skiing, horseback riding, kayaking, fishing, rock climbing and paragliding. Visitors who make the journey to the top of the ridge are offered expansive fields of vision encompassing New Haven, Sleeping Giant State Park, East Rock Park and far out to the Long Island Sound. This is where you go for the best fall foliage eye candy in the area.
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 ensure a future for the park's most amazing wildlife and the habitats critical to their survival.
West Rock Ridge State Park Trail Connections
There are several connecting Blue-Blazed Trails that directly connect to the Regicides Trail:
Westfield Feeder Trail
The 0.7-mile Blue-Yellow blazed Westville Feeder Trail primarily is primarily used for hiking and nature walks. this wide rocky path ascends the ridge and connects to the Regicides Trail near the Judges Cave.
Sanford Feeder Trail
The 0.6 mile blazed Blue-Red Sanford Feeder Trail follows an abandoned town road, running from Brooks Road in Bethany, CT to it's junction with the Regicides Trail near Baldwin Drive.
The Quinnipiac Trail is Connecticut's original Blue Blazed Trail. It connects to the Regicides Trail in Hamden just north of Sanford Notch (Lower Bethany Gap). The Quinnipiac Trail passes through Sleeping Giant State Park and Naugatuck State Forest and the dramatic chasms of Roaring Brook Falls. The Roaring Brook Falls are located 0.2 miles east of the Quinnipiac Trail, on the multi-use orange-blazed Cheshire Town Trail (section of the multi-use Farmington Canal Heritage Trail).
West Rock Ridge State Park Trails
There are approximately 21 miles of blazed trails in the park. 15 miles of multi-use trails provide a variety of challenges for bicyclists of all skill levels; from paved roads great for hybrid and road bike cruising to rolling woods trails and rugged, challenging, technical singletrack trails.
The Green, Red, Red-White, Yellow and White Trails are designated as non-motorized multi-use recreational trails. All other trails at the Park are designated for foot travel only. The major multi-use and longer trails are the 5.7 mile Red Trail and the 2.35 mile White Trail. These run north-south through the park. While these are relatively flat compared to the east-west connector trails, difficulty will depend on which section of the trails you choose to ride. Climbing or descending the ridge on the shorter trails will be more difficult featuring short steep climbs and descents.
There are three paved roads within the park: the 5.6 mile Baldwin Drive, the 1.25 mile Regicide Drive and Mountain Road. Baldwin Road is an old historic road that has long been closed to vehicular traffic except when it's used for park maintenance purposes. Regicide Road is usually only open to vehicles between Memorial Day weekend and the end of October. These offer great bicycling routes.
Gear up and down for long-distance mountain bike challenges. Various loops rides over a mix of park terrain, blazed multi-use trails and a few public lightly trafficked roads are possible. All it takes is a gander at the official park map, some adventurous spirit and creativity.
Fishing, canoing and kayaking are allowed at Lake Wintergreen. There are no restroom facilities and it's a carry-in carry out park. Because the park is as close to wilderness as you can get in the busy urban corridor between New York City and Boston, it's best to ride with a few friends and stay on the marked blazed trails.
Mileage / Blaze: 5.7 miles. Easy / Intermediate
Extends north-south along the western border of the park from the junction of the Blue Trail at the southern apex of the park to the Farm Brook Reservoir. The trail offers a varied mix of terrain and technical challenges but the grade is minimal most of its length.
The easiest and most scenic section of the trail runs south of Mountain Road to and along and a few miles south of Lake Wintergreen (watch out for a series of steps). From the northern end of Mountain Road to Farm Brook Reservoir, the ride is mostly a non-technical Gravel Grinder that requires very little effort for the scenic reward of panoramic views of New Haven and the Long island Sound at the "The Overlook" (hang gliders' overlook) of the Farm Brook Reservoir. The toughest section travels between Mountain Road over technical singletrack that climbs a rocky ridge over giant, embedded cobblestone boulders through Red Cedar forest.
Mileage / Blaze: 2.35 miles. Easy / Intermediate
Rolling to flat , moderately technical woods road that scallops along the Red Trail. It joins the Red Trail at both the northern and southern end of Lake Wintergreen. Expect roots, rocks, wet and rough eroded trail sections.
Generally hard-packed singletrack that loops off the Red Trail at various intersections along the Red Trail.
Mileage / Blaze: 0.35 mile. Moderate to Advanced.
East-west rolling woods trail with moderate climbs, and descents that extends off Mountain Road to connect to Baldwin Drive and the Regicides Trail. Riding The short section that extends west of Baldwin Drive is not recommended.
Mileage / Blaze: 0.8 mile. Moderate to Advanced
This is a classic "Fall Line Trail" that begins about 0.1 mile south of the main park entrance, and ascends steadily to Judges Cave where it intersects the Regicides Trail. Water run-off causes trail erosion. Lots of loose rock and scree with occasional slick rock sections.
Mountain Road is an paved town road that brackets west off the Red Trail.
Trail Highlights and Nearby Points of Interest
Old Roads To Trails: Gravel Grinder
Mileage / Blaze: 5.6 miles. Easy / Intermediate
Historic old roads crisscross the New England back-country but finding them is not always easy. Many like Baldwin Drive, have transformed to become car-free bike paths and trails across America. Baldwin Drive, constructed in the 1930's during the Great Depression was named in honor of Simeon Baldwin, Governor of Connecticut from 1911 - 1915 and a New Haven native. The drive was closed off to cars when the state acquired it in 1982 because it was considered to be unsafe due to lack of guard rails.
The 5.6 mile road runs north-south through the length of West Rock Ridge State Park. The abandoned road, it's surface now potholed, sprouting greenery and crumbling into gravel is well on it's way to becoming a scenic, doubletrack gravel grinder trail that serves as a connector to other park trails.
It provides a 5.6 mile, exhaust free mountain bike ride except for when you churn up a bit of dirt dust while navigating the switchbacks and descent approaching the main park entrance. Slow down and be aware of the entrance kiosk and a gate blocking vehicle access (except state park maintenance vehicles) to Baldwin Drive. This gate may be kept open when the main gate to the park is locked.
Wildlife Watch & Photography Trails
West Rock’s unique location – it is botanically and geologically diverse and contains the second highest concentration of rare and endangered plants and bird species in Connecticut. It's also an important aquifer. Ridge top and slopes, rocky outcrops and cliff faces, vernal pools, and associated red maple swamps and lake environments provide habitat for . . .
Your visit to the park is highlighted by eastern prickly pear cactus, rhododendron, striped maple trees, aromatic red cedar and red pine trees and wildflower extravaganzas; extraordinary amphibians, reptiles and animals like the redback salamanders, box turtles, and black racer snakes, foxes, coyotes, fishers, river otters, flying squirrels, red bats and brown bats, white-tailed deer and about 230 species of birds. To name just a few: the Peregrine Falcon, Broad-winged and Red Tailed Hawk, Barred Owl, Catbird, Scarlet Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Eastern Towhee and Baltimore Oriole.
From various locations on the ridge there are fabulous views. Notable peaks on the ridge include the high point, alternately called High Rock or York Mountain at the north terminus of the ridge.
The southern terminus usually referred to as West Rock (South Overlook) features a summit parking lot, picnic tables, and observation area. Views take in Sleeping Giant State Park profile, East Rock Park's striking red cliffs, New Haven Harbor and Long Island Sound.
West Rock Nature Center
Located at the northern base of West Rock Ridge, across the street from the main park entrance, is the 43-acre West Rock Nature Center, which is managed by the City of New Haven. It has the distinction of being one of the first Urban Nature Center's in the country and it's listed on the State Register of Historic Places. There is a Visitor's Center, nature house, picnic areas and a picnic shelters, walking trails through upland woods and fields and along Wintergreen Brook. It's also ADA compliant. Highlights are a waterfall and gorge.
While the Center is currently closed due to budget cuts, the trails, waterfall and other features of this park remain open to the public.
Location: 1080 Wintergreen Ave, New Haven, CT 06514
Historical Note: The Judges Cave - Caught Between A Rock And A Hard Place
“Hide the outcasts, bewray not him that wander-eth,” he preached. – Reverend John Davenport
Fifty-nine judges sentenced Charles I, King of England to death in London in 1649 and dissolved the monarchy to place Oliver Cromwell (parliamentary leader / general in the English Civil Wars) into power. Three of those judges (Edward Whalley, William Goffe, and John Dixwell) fled to North America to escape the revenge sought by his son Charles II when the monarchy was restored fifteen years later.
Dixwell landed in New Haven, CT, where he lived peacefully under the assumed name of John Davids. Whalley and Goffe fled to Boston on July 27, 1660 and then to New Haven, CT where they lived uneasily, afraid of being betrayed by royal informants.
With the help of several New Haven residents, to escape an arrest order, they hid out in the woods of what is now West Rock Ridge State Park within "The Judges Cave", an unusual rock formation, located at the southeastern crest of West Rock Ridge (the plaque on the rock face can be seen from the road). The story goes that they were supplied with food by New Haven settler Richard Sperry, ancestor to Sperry of Sperry Topsiders.
It is also said that a cougar nosing about convinced them to leave their hiding place in a hurry; and under the cover of darkness they fled and hid out in Hadley, MA for the remainder of their lives.
The cave can be accessed by hiking the aptly named "Regicides Trail" or via the Regicide Road. Motorized vehicle access when the road is open (seasonally).
A central access location for most park users is the gravel parking lot near Lake Wintergreen, located at 40 Main St., Hamden.
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.
Other trailheads and parking areas are located on Hill Street, Mountain Road, Connecticut Route 69 and within the park at Judges Cave and South Overlook.
West Rock Ridge State Park
Phone: (203) 287-5658