Sunday 28 February 2016

Ridgefield/Danbury (CT) Topstone Park Running Route

Click here for route map
Length 4.3 km (2.7 miles), terrain: hilly, gain 78 meters

New England is one of my favorite places, with historic towns, wooded hills and glacier-smoothed rocks that look just like those in Scandinavia. So when I was working in Ridgefield, Connecticut, I made sure I got out into the countryside to try some good trail runs, even though it was still wintery, with short evenings.

I found a nature preserve between Danbury and Ridgefield, called Topstone Park, with a nice mixture of everything you need for scenery on a nice trail run: ponds, hills, cliffs, woods. In the summer there is even a public beach where you can swim at the end of the run (well, actually it is reserved for town residents only, but maybe you can talk them into it...).
In Topstone Par, along Saddleback Trail
Topstone Park belongs to the town of Redding, just south of Danbury. You can get there by heading east on Topstone Road from route US 7. Cross the railroad tracks and drive past the pond on the right side and you'll see the wooden sign on the right for Topstone Park.

There are a few parking spaces right at the entrance, where you can park and immediately get on the trail. Or should I say the first of several trails: we'll change trails a few times through the park to travel the most interesting route. I ran it on three evenings: once in a snow shower, once in pouring rain with fog, and once without any precipitation from above.

The pictures here are a blend of all three runs. Except for one woman walking a dog, I didn't see another person in the park on those February evenings. My experience was one of splendid isolation and pure nature.

So, with your car cooling in the parking lot right off Topstone Road, look for the trailhead on the left for the Saddleback Trail, and start running uphill. The trails are blazed with lots of white rectangles, so it's hard to veer off the trail. 
Start of run at Saddleback Trail: head straight uphill!
NOTE: The footing is often treacherous, though, with tree-roots and rocks providing great opportunities to twist your ankles almost the whole way: watch out!
You'll go up over a ridge towards the southeast, and come down a bit on the other side. You'll be running next to a swamp along the left as the trail heads southwards.
The swamp
After the swamp comes to an end and you're in woods, at the 1-km-mark, you'll come to a fork in the path, where Boulder Top Trail turns off to the right. Take that turn onto Boulder Top.
The turnoff to Boulder Top Trail to the right: take that turn!
You're now running northwestwards, running through a gap in a stone wall and towards Steichens Pond, the biggest pond in the park. Edward Steichen was the photographer who owned this land before it was turned into a park: what a great idea that was!

When you get to the eastern shore of the lake, after another half-kilometer, you'll hit the Pond Trail. You are now just across a tiny bay from the park beach and the main parking lot.
Steichens Pond in fog and ice
We'll come back here later, but first turn left and head southwards, with this scenic lake to your right, which is surrounded by woods.

When you get to the south end of the lake, you'll first pass a turnoff to the left to another park exit (on Old Redding Trail), then come to a second left-hand turnoff for Topledge Trail, at about the 2-km-mark. Let's turn left there to climb the biggest hill in the park!
On the way along Topledge Trail
Topledge curves towards the southwest and climbs a low ridge, where you'll first pass a right-hand turnoff for the Base Trail, but keep heading southwest to then take the next right-hand turnoff that heads up that big, cliff-faced hill on the right: Topstone, via the South Topstone Trail.
On the way up to Topstone: a toppled tree
When you get to the top of Topstone, there is a little side trail to the left, with a nice view, the Longview Trail. Run down that for the hundred meters until it ends.

Now just turn around and head back north along Longview Trail as it heads steeply downhill to a second pond, with a private house across the water.
View of the smaller pond
Here, you run past the swampy shore and take the first left-hand turn, which takes you over the short hill back to Steichens Pond again.

You'll hit the water at a fenced-in little dog-beach, then you need to run along the top of the little cement dam at the north end of Steichens Pond.
Cross this dam, then hang right!
After the dam, keep right to run next to the water to get to the little public beach. If it isn't February, you might want to try it and cool off (if they let you)! For me, it was iced-over, so I was content to just enjoy the view over the silent winter scene.
View from the beach
Now turn northwards, with your back to the beach, to run the last little bit, through the dirt parking lot and along the dirt road out of the park, towards your waiting car. Enjoy this last part: it's the only section of the run without any rocks or roots!

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