Hiking events

The hiking trail above Compounce Lake is a prize to pursue

Hiker Brian Thomas summed up the experience of his trip along Compounce Ridge nicely after a recent hike. “This lead is earned, not given,” he says. “You earn every tenth of a mile on this trail.”

The 4.6-mile Compounce Ridge Trail — an offshoot of the Connecticut Forest & Park Association’s Tunxis Trail — hugs the eastern edge of the 954-foot Compounce Mountain in Southington. Although hikers never ascend the mountain, the journey is quite rugged and challenging with the trail’s 1,300-foot elevation gain above Lake Compounce, the oldest operating amusement park in North America.


The hike starts at the cul-de-sac end of Panthorn Trail along what the CFPA walkbook notes as the steep uphill trail. (Most of the hikes in the book will be featured on the upcoming June 4 National Trails Day weekend. and 5. The weekend includes more than 240 hikes, bike rides, kayaking and canoeing, mailboxes, trail work groups and horseback rides. See trailsday.org for more information.)

The steep uphill trail is aptly named with the rocky path passing between boulders and huge ledges on its way to the Compounce Ridge Trail. Hikers should have sturdy boots to navigate the path, which is marked with blue and yellow dots. During wet times of the year, water cascades over the rocks, which ultimately helps to soothe your journey to the top.

At the top, follow the path to the right. (Although some hiking purists who want to start from the trailhead can take a left and walk half a mile to a formation known as “Libby’s Lump”, then return to the steep uphill trail and continue the travel.)

Sweat and hard work pay off when you reach several lookout points – Compounce, Norton and Julian’s Rock – with spectacular views to the south of the Hanging Hills of Meriden and to the north of Rattlesnake Mountain and Mount Tom. Bottom: ESPN’s campus and all of its satellite dishes along with the 38-story Otis Elevator test facility, the Hartford skyline in the distance, and the Compounce Lake rides.

Many stories about the area and its native inhabitants have been told over the centuries, but what is known is that Compounce Lake’s name is derived from John Compound, a Mattatuck/Tunxis Native American chief who sold land to European settlers.

The first amusement was created in 1846 by Samuel Botsford, an influential scientist from Bristol who conducted experiments with electricity on the shores of the lake. The place has become a “picnic park” with swimming, rowboats and gazebo for orchestra concerts. A spinning swing—and what was billed as Connecticut’s first ten-pin bowling alley—was added in 1848. The park is celebrating its 176th season.

The remains of the SkyRide chairlift control tower are visible at the top of the ridge. Resembling a chairlift, the ride once took visitors to the top of the ridge and back down to the edge of the lake. Built in 1997, it was closed in 2017 due to rugged mountain terrain and limited access to the remote area.

The trails pass through deep hardwood forest filled with white birch trees before descending to the Compounce Cascade Trail, a rugged trail along the energetic and scenic Cussgutter Creek. Hikers will have to navigate through rocky ledges known as “suicide sloop” and “purgatory canyon”. The stream creates a dozen small waterfalls and plunges along the moss-covered rocks. A formation known as “the chute” is located near the summit. The trail returns to the Compounce Ridge Trail where visitors can return to the trailhead.

Compounce Ridge Trail, Southington

The bottom line: The 4.6-mile Compounce Ridge Trail — an offshoot of Connecticut Forest & Park Association’s Tunxis Trail — hugs the eastern edge of 954-foot Compounce Mountain in Southington and includes several spectacular viewpoints and the stunning Cussgutter Brook waterfalls.

Difficulty level: Moderate to difficult. The ascent from the trailhead along the Steep Climb Trail includes strenuous steps, the Compounce Ridge Trail has steep climbs and rock scrambles, and the Cascades Trail also requires moderate effort.

Total mileage: The round trip along the Compounce Ridge Trail from the trailhead in Panthorn to Lake Avenue is a total of 4 miles. Hikers can extend the hike by looping along the Compounce Cascade Trail for a total of 8 km.

Directions: Take I-84 to Exit 31. Follow Route 229 toward Lake Compounce, turn left on Welch Road, left on Mount Vernon Road and a quick right on Panthorn Trail. Continue to the end of the road and park along the cul-de-sac.

Accepted animals ? Dogs on a leash are allowed and must be cleaned up afterwards.

Nearby activities

Sam the Clam’s Pub & Grub: Also known as “the restaurant with the statues of Blues Brother John Belushi and Marilyn Monroe in front”, this laid-back spot has been a Southington establishment since 1991. In addition to seafood dishes, there are also has filet mignon, bison burgers and chicken parmesan. Diners can eat in the nautical-themed dining room or on the terrace with a tiki bar. 1303 Meriden-Waterbury Tpke., Southington, 860-621-0522

Firefly Hollow Brewing Co.: Dana Bourque and Rich Loomis started Firefly Hollow in 2013, noting that “it’s not just a brewery, it’s a culture of creating great beer.” Firefly Hollow offers 13 unique drafts, including seasonal favorites, specialties, and trusted staple brands including Lizard’s Breath IPA, Cone Flakes IPA, and Toadstool Nitro Stout. 139 Center Street, Bristol, 860-845-8977

The American Clock and Clock Museum: If you have some spare time after the hike, this one-of-a-kind museum is a great place to learn about horology. This museum in Bristol is full of grandfather clocks, shelf clocks, pocket watches, alarm clocks, novelty clocks and many other timepieces. The museum notes that it is the only place in the United States “devoted solely to horology and the history, science and art of timekeeping and timekeepers.” 100 Maple Street, Bristol, 860-583-6070