Ah, Meriden's West Peak: The runner-up. The second-place finisher. The "Oh-this-isn't-Castle-Craig-it-must-be-the-other-way" turnaround spot.
The Hanging Hills of Meriden – probably the best view in the state to which visitors can either hike or drive – suffers from a bit of an identity crisis. There is East Peak, where the tourist-y – and perhaps revolutionary — miniature castle turret stands. Hundreds of people descend on Hubbard Park each year, especially in the fall, to ascend the 976-foot East Peak to get to Castle Craig, with its views across central Connecticut.
But hikers and drivers alike should head to West Peak, where the views are even more spectacular.
The parking lot for West Peak has a number of radio and television towers reaching into the sky. A portion of the Metacomet Trail – part of the 215-mile-long New England Scenic Trail that runs from Guilford to the New Hampshire border – travels north and south along the 1,024-foot peak and its traprock ridges.
Visitors traveling along the trail to the south will reach the southern overlook of West Peak shortly after leaving the parking lot. I've always heard the mountain formation known as Sleeping Giant looks like, well, a sleeping giant. But I never really saw a view where it actually looked like that until I ascended West Peak.
Beyond the giant's sleeping head is Long Island Sound and on clear days Long Island can be seen. Turn to the north and there's skyline of Hartford. The Metacomet will take adventurous visitors snaking along overlooks, beside gorges and huge rock walls down to the other, more famous overlook.
Those looking for a more leisurely trip can follow the Metacomet north as it passes behind the radio towers and into the woods along a fairly level path. The area was formed by volcanoes 200 million years ago and hikers are surrounded by prime specimens of basalt, trap rock and red sandstone along the trail, with overlooks of Southington, Bristol, Farmington and beyond, to the Berkshires and Mount Tom. The Hanging Hills are known as the highest mountains within 25 miles of the coastline from Maine to Florida – and the views prove that.
The trail turns right along the edge of the traprock ridges. The main overlook, about a half-mile from the parking lot, is spectacular, especially during peak foliage. White church steeples stand out among the autumn colors. Sure, there is no castle on top, and tourists and leaf-peepers are hard to find. But West Peak is really the place to be.
To get there, take I-691 to exit 4. Take Route 322/West Main Street to Hubbard Park. For hikers: A white-blazed trail just to the north of Mirror Lake will take visitors to the Metacomet. For drivers: Follow the park roads to Hubbard Park Drive and the entrance to Castle Craig. The gate is open from 10 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. through Oct. 31st. Visit http://www.meridenlandtrust.com/Hubbard_quad.pdf for color maps of the area.
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