Another outstanding trail is the 1.5-mile Nature Trail. Starting out along the same stretch that forms the Tower Path, the Nature Trail continues east where the tower trail turns back on itself at it's first switchback. The interpretive trail has 40 stations over the 1.5-mile loop and is a perfect trail to take younger hikers.
The Nature Trail is very informative, even for those who are experienced in the outdoors. Possibly the best trail guide in the country is available both at the trailhead and for download on the internet. You can learn to tell the age of a pine tree at the first station by counting its branches. At station twenty-five you can learn about trap rock, how it is formed and why it is present throughout most of Connecticut. At station thirty-five you can learn how a talus slope is formed.
Along the way you can see a number of native plant species including flowering dogwood, hemlock, shagbark and mockernut hickory, chestnut oak, beech, black birch, sugar maple, white, red and black oak, American chestnut, and mountain laurel. The trail also passes a number of trap rock and sandstone boulders deposited 15,000 years ago during the retreat of the Wisconsin Glacier.
The Tower Path and the Nature Trail can even be combined into one outstanding hike. The Nature Trail can be taken eastward all the way to Station 34. From Station 34 you can head north up the Tower Path to the top of Mount Carmel. Coming back down, you would head southwest on the Nature Trail (also marked by a red blaze) coming to Station 35, the next station on the trail when you veered off. The Nature Trail then ends at Station 40, at the same parking lot where it started.
Activity doesn't stop at Sleeping Giant State Park when the snow flies during the winter (which is becoming a rarer occurrence as of late). Several of the trails within the park are groomed and are open for cross-country skiing. Snow shoeing to the top of Mount Carmel is also very popular and rewards you with crystal clear views in the crisp New England winter air of snow-capped hills.
Of course Sleeping Giant State Park isn't just about hiking. In the fall the park comes alive in a burst of yellows, reds and oranges as the world famous colors come out. A number of picnic areas are available and even a group campsite for youth oriented activity. In the spring there is decent trout fishing (permits required) available in a number of small creeks that crisscross the park.
So the next time you are driving along Interstate 95 up from New York, consider taking a slight detour to Hamden Connecticut to visit this amazing gem on the edge of the eastern metropolis. Even if you only have a couple of hours to spare, a walk on the cool Nature Trail will help soothe the soul and make the trip up the rough interstate worth your trouble.
Just The Plain Facts
Name: Sleeping Giant State Park
Location: South central Connecticut, New Haven
Nearest Major Air Service: Hartford, Connecticut
Fees & Permits: Admission fee charged from April 15 to November 1 on weekends and holidays only, free on weekdays.
Why Visit:Some of the best hiking in Connecticut and some of the best urban hiking in the United States. Great views, fall colors, and excellent snow shoeing and cross country skiing when the white stuff flies.
When To Visit: late May to late October
Essential Gear: Sunscreen, lip balm, insect repellant, camera, binoculars, and water (other equipment strongly recommended)
You Should Know: No camping is available in the park. A number of outdoor opportunities can be found east of New Haven along the Connecticut River. There is no water available at the Tower on top of Mount Carmel.
More Information: Sleeping Giant State Park, 200 Mount Carmel Avenue, Hamden, Connecticut 06514, (203) 789-7498