When people think of the central Connecticut coast, scenic beauty isn't the first thing that comes to mind. Although cities like Bridgeport and New Haven are rich in history, a visit to the Barnum and Bailey Circus Museum or listening to a concert at Toad's Place in the shadow of Yale University is what most visitors to these cities have in mind. However just north of New Haven some of the best hiking in the entire state of Connecticut can be found at Sleeping Giant State Park.
Sleeping Giant State Park gets its name because the two-mile rocky ridge in Hamden, Connecticut looks like a giant man lying on his back. One of the best views of the, "giant," can be found at Quinnipiac University. Located on Mount Carmel Avenue in Hamden, Connecticut and directly across from the park, a walk onto the baseball field will allow you to clearly see the face, chin, chest and legs of the giant when you turn northward to face the park. The strong chin of the giant is actually a rock cliff of trap rock (hard, greenish basalt) over 100 feet high.
Like so many other parks in the Northeast, the Wisconsin Glacier formed the features of Sleeping Giant State Park approximately 15,000 years ago. The earth was bulldozed away, deposited on what is now Long Island leaving the rocky ridge of sandstone and exposed trap rock over New Haven.
Sleeping Giant State Park is 1,439 acres and offers over 30 miles of hiking trails. The park was originally quarried in its western corner but activity stopped in the 1920'ies and the area was protected. Despite its close proximity to New Haven, the park doesn't have a lot of visitors and the parking lots are typically only half full, even on a Saturday summer afternoon.
The most popular hiking trail is the moderate 1.6-mile Tower Path to the top of Mount Carmel. Starting at the picnic area across from Quinnipiac University the wide well marked trail meanders up the side of Mount Carmel through mature forest. The highlight of this trail is on the summit of 739 feet high Mount Carmel that forms the hip of the giant. A massive four-story stone observation tower dominates the summit and resembles a medieval fortress.
Climbing to the top of observation tower, one can look south and see the city of New Haven and Long Island Sound. If you turn and look to the north the rolling hills of Connecticut are laid out before you. Turkey vultures and red tail hawks can be easily spotted in the warmer months turning lazy circles in the sky looking to catch a thermal. They are busy looking for a lunch consisting of red squirrel, chipmunk, field mouse, mole, or if fresh fare can't be spotted, perhaps some carrion.
If you want more adventure you can take the 5.1-mile Quinnipiac Trail that runs the entire length of the park. Part of a 23 mile trail that runs from North Haven to Cheshire, the Quinnipiac Trail or, Blue Trail, starts at the same parking lot as the Tower Path.
Walking the trail it briefly heads north past the old quarry before turning east and climbing 500 feet in just 3/10 of a mile up the elbow of the giant. The brief by grueling climb offers an immediate reward putting you at the base of the cliff that makes the giant's chin, and offering very good views of New Haven and Long Island Sound to the south. As the trail continues to meander eastward it suddenly turns south and crosses the Tower Trail before turning east again crossing the chest of the giant. In about 1-3/4 miles you will reach the Tower on top of Mount Carmel.
The Quinnipiac Trail then continues northeastward along the giant with little elevation change. A number of scenic overlooks offer south views of New Haven between the black birch, red and white oak, and hemlocks. The trail passes a swampy area in a depression along the ridge that makes the left leg of the giant. The trail then turns sharply south and descends 300 feet in just 1/10 of a mile down the right foot of the giant through a series of switchbacks. It then continues eastward through dense forest ending at the Wilbur Cross Parkway and the eastern most edge of Sleeping Giant State Park.
Find out more about Sleeping Giant State Park...