Foot Falls

Foot Falls

If you want to see Connecticut’s highest waterfall, you can drive an hour and a half to Kent Falls State Park. Hopefully, the parking lot won’t be full, and you can picnic at the base of the falls. On weekends, out-of-staters have to pay an entry fee before 6 p.m.

If you want to see the state’s second-highest waterfall, the one with the longest single drop, you’ll need to be a little bit more in the know. You’ll need to lace up your hiking boots and head into the woods near the place where the towns of Hamden, Cheshire, Bethany and Prospect converge.

Roaring Brook Falls can be reached via several different routes, but the most interesting is a hike that follows a portion of the state’s blue-blazed Quinnipiac Trail along a wooded ridge in southern Cheshire. The no-fee parking area for this approach is easy to find on the south side of Route 42 (Bethany Mountain Road) where it crosses the Naugatuck State Forest. It’s clearly marked with a Quinnipiac Trail sign, and there’s plenty of room for several cars.

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From here, the trail parallels the road for a short distance before crossing. Follow the blue blazes along the guardrail down the hill and cross carefully, then plunge into the woods. A short climb leads to a woodland pond, where, on a recent Friday morning, a friend and I found the water’s surface combed by an autumn breeze, the last remnants of a storm the day before. Rippled reflections of orange, yellow and green leaves brightened and dimmed as the sky’s thick cape of clouds shifted—revealing, then hiding the sun.

The breeze called for a Polartec hat and a thin pair of gloves despite the ongoing exertions of the climb. We rambled along the rocky ridge for about a mile, passing a horse pasture but no other signs of civilization. Along the trail wild asters had mostly turned to brown starbursts of seeds, and our way was padded by oak, maple and birch leaves. The storm had brought down some still-green ones, which brightened the multicolored carpet. As we hiked, we tossed aside smaller branches and ducked around larger ones in our path. It seemed we were the first travelers to pass through that morning.

You’ll know you’re nearing Roaring Brook Falls when you begin a descent, switch-backing down the ridge. Here we found a quiet glade and shelter from the breeze, and soon enough, we heard the water sighing just out of sight.

A Quinnipiac Trail sign marks the junction with a red-blazed trail on Cheshire town land, but before turning onto this spur, we followed the blue trail a few more yards to the upper falls. They were running hard from the recent rain, converging and splitting again like a 10-foot hourglass. A gnarly tree, its bark mossy and peeling in curls, leaned over the brook as if trying to see its own reflection. It’s a peaceful spot worthy of a few minutes’ meditation. But there’s more to the falls.

We retraced our steps and headed down the red trail. It’s a downhill walk of just a few minutes to the lower falls, where the water drops in foamy white strands to a landing latticed with fallen branches, makes a gentle turn and keeps step-falling down the steep chasm. According to not-so-scientific classification, it’s known as a horsetail waterfall—one that mostly stays in contact with its bedrock rather than free-falling. That doesn’t mean you can’t freefall here. The edge of the trail is steep and probably not a great spot for little kids.

According to the Cheshire Land Trust, which was instrumental in obtaining and preserving the waterfall and the surrounding 14-plus acres for public use, Roaring Brook Falls is 80 feet high, coming in second in the state only to Kent, which falls 250 feet in stages over a quarter of a mile. However you classify it, Roaring Brook is something of a local secret. We saw just two other hikers all morning.

The red-blazed trail continues from here, cutting back into the woods and eventually dropping down to a small parking area at the end of residential Roaring Brook Court in Cheshire, another point from which to access the falls via a shorter route. But we opted to retrace our steps to the blue trail and save further exploring for another day.

By the time we’d reached the pond again, the October sky was painted blue with a few wisps of cloud steering across its canvas, and the leaves shone like colorful scrims filtering the sunlight. We couldn’t have wished for a more perfect autumn morning. But while this is a great season for hiking, the trail to Roaring Brook Falls will have its winter assets, too, including a better view of the distant cliffs of Meriden’s Hanging Hills. And, like us, you may find you have it all to yourself.

Roaring Brook Falls
Trailhead on Rt. 42 east of Candee Road, Cheshire…

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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