North Rock

North Rock

Peter’s Rock in North Haven, a peak in the same traprock formation as East Rock and West Rock, is certainly less popular than its more famous siblings. When solitude is your goal, that’s a good thing.

It was an inauspicious day for a hike. It had rained the night before and more rain was in the forecast. The late winter season meant trails might be covered in snow and ice or muck and mire. But my determination to get some fresh air won out, so I pulled on some sturdy boots and a warm raincoat and headed out the door.

Instead of bringing me to the main park entrance, which lies beyond a set of First Fuel gas pumps on Middletown Avenue, Google Maps had me driving down Hermitage Lane—a narrow, forested road dotted with houses at the northern tip of the park—and wondering if I was headed to the wrong place. But the end of the road offered four parking spots and a trail map. I chose the Red/White Trail.

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Brown leaves from last fall peaked through a patchy blanket of snow on either side of the trail. In the center the packed snow was icy, but in places it was melting and mud was the greater hazard. Remnants of a green fern foretold the explosion of spring growth to come.

Trudging along in the mushy snow on the margins, I saw evidence of others who had traversed the route before me. Human footprints were plentiful and so were the prints of their canine companions. Deer had crossed the trail in numerous locations. I searched for rabbit tracks too but didn’t find any. The US Geological Survey calls the peak Rabbit Rock, an apparent reference to the area’s plentiful rabbit population in the 1800s.

A sign by the trail map at the entrance had warned of downed trees, which were indeed plentiful. The Peter’s Rock Park Association maintains the park and had clearly done significant work to remove them from the trail. I only needed to traverse large trunks or branches in two spots. Before long I came to a trail junction and encountered the only other person I was to see that day, a hiker pulled along by a large furry dog. He called out a friendly hello from a distance, then took the trail heading downward while I turned up toward the peak.

At this point the relatively flat, wide trail, now just the Red, began to narrow and steepen. Thankfully, it was mostly clear of snow, and without too much trouble, I navigated the short climb to the 373-foot summit. At about the same elevation as East Rock, it offered clear views of Sleeping Giant to the northwest and the Hanging Hills to the north, making it easy to ignore the faint hum of cars on I-91 and the sight of nearby shopping centers below. To the southwest, I spied downtown New Haven through leafless branches. Parents of small children take note: There’s no fence or rail along the edge at the peak, but there are some trees and bushes to ward off acrophobia. The flat rocks at the top would be perfect for a picnic, but it was chilly and starting to drizzle, so I filed that idea away for another day.

As I looked for the trail leading away from the summit, I was startled by two large black birds with leathery heads and long, hooked bills sitting in a nearby tree. I slowly approached, wishing I had a telephoto lens. When I moved they peered back at me but otherwise ignored my failed attempts to get a good picture and identify them. A knowledgeable acquaintance later set me straight. He quickly determined they were black vultures, reporting that these birds have been increasing their range northward, likely due to the warming climate. They are now nearly as common as turkey vultures in the area and are frequently sighted on East Rock and Sleeping Giant. And Peter’s Rock too, apparently.

The rain grew heavier, pulling me away from my birdwatching and my exploration of the park. The White Trail was the most direct path back to my car. On the drive home, I sought out and this time found the main park entrance, which has more plentiful parking and a picnic pavilion. From this entrance, you start on the Red Trail, which you can follow up to the peak or to the Blue, Yellow, Green or Orange Trails. I saw enough to deem Peter’s Rock Park worthy of more visits, and I’ll plan to start here when I come back to explore the trails I missed—next time on a warm, sunny day.

Peter’s Rock Park
133 Middletown Avenue, North Haven (map)
Association Website | Trail Map

Written and photographed by Stephanie Wratten.

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