Trail Report: Steep Rock Preserve, Washington Depot

View of the "Clamshell Area" from Steep Rock's summit. Photo by James Dietter.
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Hike Style: Loop
Region: Litchfield County, CT
Hike Length: 5 miles
Trail Map: map_steep_rock
Trail Head and Parking Lot: Map
Park Rules: Rules and Regulations
Date of Report: 2/24/2013
Approximate Time: 3-5 hours


Difficulty: Easy to moderate. Ascent to the summit is moderately strenuous, the rest is flat.


The Steep Rock Preserve, located in Washington Depot, Connecticut, is one of the state’s oldest land trusts. The 975 acre reservation was founded in 1925 when the Steep Rock Association was established. There are many trails, and some are unmarked. The Steep Rock Loop is roughly 4.2 miles. This trail report also adds on a trip to a railway tunnel and the foundations of the Holiday House, a historic building dating back to the turn of the 20th century.


The parking lot, located off Tunnel Road on the Shepaug River, is large and well-maintained. There is a kiosk with a map at the parking lot. You can either follow the dirt road along the Shepaug River, which is part of the yellow blazed Steep Rock Loop, or cross back over the Shepaug on the Tunnel Road Bridge, where another kiosk with a trail map resides. I took the latter, which is closer to the Steep Rock Summit.


The trails are well-marked, with clear spraypaint blazes on trees or wood signs carved with painted arrows. After about one mile of walking on the yellow trail, you’ll come to a T-intersection, with both directions labeled with yellow blazes. Going right will lead to the summit; going left will continue to a footbridge over the Shepaug River and will continue the loop back to the parking lot.


We headed right, and within .25 miles reached the 776 foot summit. There is a lookout point commemorated with a plaque from 1930, and another memorial plaque from 1963, memorializing a child who lost his life from falling off the ledge. Since that accident, a fence has been erected on the look out point, allowing hikers to get a great view while staying safe.

Hauser Bridge. Photo by James Dietter.


The summit overlooks the “Clamshell Area,” created by a 180 degree arc of the Shepaug River, outlining a landmass that looks like a clamshell. (There is a house relatively close by, and we heard a loud equine noise, like a donkey, which startled the hebe jebes out of us. Be forewarned).


After soaking in the view, backtrack on the yellow trail and you’ll reach the T-intersection again. This time keep going straight; taking a left will cause you to backtrack more. After going another .5 miles on clearly marked, wide trails, you’ll reach a wooden foot bridge spanning about 100 yards over the Shepaug River, labeled Hauser Bridge, 1991. It’s in good shape for a 20-year-old bridge. Walk across the bridge, which will wobble once you get to the middle (it’s a safety wooble) and there will be a choice to go left or right. Both directions are blazed with yellow markers.


To head to the train tunnel, head right and follow the trail for .1 miles until you reach a T-intersection. Right is the blue trail; left is the blue and yellow trail. Go left.


Keep your eyes peeled for the blue trail, which veers off to the right. Take the blue trail and follow it along the wide, pine-blanketed trail, which was once a railway bed. After .25 miles, you’ll see the entrance to a 233 foot tunnel carved out of bedrock to allow a locomotive and its cargo to pass through. The tunnel was carved in 1871 to accommodate the Shepaug Valley Railroad. In the winter time, large ice stalactites form on the ceiling, some reaching all the way to the floor creating thick ice columns. The floor was covered in ice and was very slick on our trip.


Backtrack to the where the blue trail intersects with the yellow trail, head right and follow this two mile, wide carriage road as it follows alongside the Shepaug River. Campsites and picnic tables are visible along the bank of the river.


Wide carriage road, part of the Steep Rock Loop Trail. Photo by James Dietter.

After about 1.5 miles, the carriage road will turn into a dirt road. A parking lot will be on your right. Also on the right is a trail with white blazes. Take this to get to the Holiday House.


After following the white blazes for .25 miles, the trail will intersect with a blue blazed trail where you can go left or right. Go right, and within .1 mile the stone foundation of the Holiday House will be visible. This building was a country retreat from 1893 to 1916 for women who worked in New York City. After checking out the large stone foundation, back track to the yellow trail and follow it the last .25 mile or so to the parking lot.


The trail was covered in deer tracks, dog prints, and unfortunately, dog poop. This trail seems to be a popular spot for dogs. On our hike, we saw no less than 20 dogs, including a pack of six border collies.


The trails can get icy and spikes are recommended in the winter. The trails are wide, well-maintained, and clearly marked. We moved at a very brisk pace, not stopping for food save for a quick snack. We made the trip in three hours. A more leisurely pace would take no more than five hours. Steep Rock offers many other trails if you’ve got the time and energy to see more of the park.



This article was originally published on East Coast Hiker, a blog by James Dietter devoted to hiking, camping, backpacking, gear reviews, and trail reports.  Read more at

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