Mountain Time

Mountain Time

Calling York Mountain a mountain is a bit of a stretch, but it’s still a great place for a quick climb through the woods.

My daughter and I parked at the north end of Paradise Avenue off Laura Road in Hamden, where you can leave your car in a lot at the dead end. Don’t walk the extension of Paradise Avenue to the north; instead, walk back up the road a few yards to where the trail cuts into the trees. A Quinnipiac Trail sign—the Quinnipiac is the oldest of Connecticut’s blue-blazed hiking trails, conceived 90 years ago by the first members of the Connecticut Forest & Park Association—marks the spot.

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A creek bed we crossed early on was dry, but moss-capped rocks, lush ferns illuminated by the afternoon sun and shy mushrooms hiding in the duff on the forest floor told of earlier rain. Cicadas fiddled their insistent late summer tune as we climbed into the quiet beyond Hamden’s distant, busy roads. Two birds dove past us in pursuit of summer insects or, perhaps, each other. The ascent here is steep but short. It takes only about 10 minutes to reach the ridgeline. From there, the trail follows the collar of the mountain over sometimes rocky terrain.

York Mountain is a mere 680 feet above sea level, a high point on a ridge that intersects north-south West Rock Ridge like the top of a capital T. Finding the summit itself, up there somewhere on the rise to your right, is a bit of a feat and not really the point. Climb up and poke around if you want to search for a cairn marking the top, but long pants and a tick check when you get home are recommended. Or simply stick to the trail, which is designed for better views with its close proximity to the mountain’s edge. Dense summer foliage made us work for a view of the Laurel View Country Club golf course, West Rock Ridge and the wilds of Bethany. When the leaves come down, the view will be even better.

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About three-quarters of a mile in, we met the north end of the Regicides trail—also marked with blue blazes and heading for West Rock Ridge. Just a few steps down that trail, a rocky outcrop affords a satisfying view of the surrounding tree-decked ridges. But I knew there were barer, more spectacular vistas farther up the Quinnipiac, so we backtracked and pushed on. The trail heads into the forest here, then dips in and out of two quiet glens, like the setting for a fairy tale. On the far slope of the second, deeper one, boulders scatter the hillside as if they’ve just tumbled down and come to rest.

Atop this slope, the shadow of a large bird crossed the leafy canopy above, and we caught just a glimpse of its awesome wingspan before it disappeared. York Mountain is a good location for spotting migrating hawks, according to the guide Short Nature Walks: Connecticut (2002) by Eugene Keyarts. “Although nature is not always predictable, chances are good that you will see at least a few hawks from early autumn through October,” Keyarts writes. My own notes from a September hike here years ago mention at least one hawk screeching above the ridge.

We hiked a little farther down the Quinnipiac Trail and finally came to one of several rock outcrops that serve up another sweeping view. In the far distance, New Haven was a tiny skyline sketched among the branches like a secret message. I snapped a few more photos as a cloud flattened the sun’s light for a moment before brightness and shadow reappeared.

Round-trip, we covered about two and a half miles, with stops for photos and contemplation. This ridge so close to the city feels far from everything, a place of solitude that’s easy to reach yet lightly traveled. You may as well be on top of a mountain.

York Mountain and the Quinnipiac Trail
Along Paradise Ave near Laura Rd in Hamden (map)…

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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