The Bluff Head Preserve is perhaps the Guilford Land Conservation Trust’s crown jewel. Not only is it one of the most beautiful places in Guilford – so voted in a recent townwide survey of natural resources – but it is also geologically one of the most significant places in south central Connecticut.
The land trust began buying land at Bluff Head in the 1960s. Today, it owns more than 500 acres there, including most of the area around the sheer, 500-foot traprock cliff as well as the adjoining areas of Totoket Mountain. Bluff Head and its adjacent areas, rising to more than 720 feet above sea level, are the highest points in Guilford, The Bluff Head overlook offers unparalleled views to the east, north (to Hartford) and south (to Long Island). The view includes the Broomstick Ledges and other properties on the east side of Route 77 protected by the land trust.
Immediately under the cliffs is Meyerhuber Pond, most of which GLCT bought in 2002. The pond and Hemlock Brook are the only bodies of water in Guilford that drain to the north, into the Coginchaug River and, eventually, the Connecticut River. The pond was reportedly dug by a farmer named Conrad Meyerhuber, using a team of oxen. (Look for Meyerhuber’s grave in the old cemetery just south of the parking lot on Route 77.)
Bluff Head itself is a remnant of molten rock – basalt – arising from under the earth through faults in the earth’s surface some 200 million years ago. The fault line that led to the formation of Bluff Head runs under Route 77 from the north end of Lake Quonnipaug to the parking lot at Bluff Head, where it continues almost due north from the parking lot (just west of Route 77) to a stream running into the north end of Meyerhuber Pond. Before the construction of Route 77, the fault was clearly visible in the gap alongside the parking lot. The geology of the areas to the west and the east sides of the fault line is entirely different. To the west of the fault it is unusual to find anything other than the dark brown “traprock” basalt familiar to those who have walked Bluff Head. To the east of Route 77 along the Broomstick Ledges is gray schist, which was originally sea bottom. To the north of Bluff Head and Totoket Mountain is mostly sedimentary rock, such as red sandstone.
The Bluff Head Preserve also includes the large hay field at the intersection of Great Hill Road and Route 77, which GLCT bought from the Rusconi family in 2001. The land had been in the Rusconi family for decades, and they continue to hay the field under an agreement with GLCT.
How to get there
For directions click on the marker.
Hiking Bluff Head
There are three marked trails at Bluff Head. Two are accessed from the parking lot on Route 77, 4.4 miles north of its intersection with Route 80, and a short distance beyond the intersection with Great Hill Road. Look for the small blue oval sign identifying the Mattabesett Trail on the west side of Route 77.
(The Connecticut Walk Book has trail maps of the area. There is also a link below to the Northwoods map showing both hiking trails and trails where horse riding is permitted in the Bluff Head preserve.)
The most direct route up Bluff Head is a foot trail immediately to the west of the parking lot, marked with light blue blazes, which reaches the bluff in less than half a mile. This trail, however, is very steep for the first 300 yards and is likely to be slick in wet weather. Upon reaching the first faint overlook to the east, look down the mountain for the remnants of a popular motorcycle climb from the 1930s and 1940s. This trail continues north along the bluff until it turns northwest, crossing over Totoket Mountain and joining Route 17 along the Durham-Northford border. The trail is entirely within the basalt flow – the trees here are very small and there is little underbrush because of the lack of topsoil. Observant hikers in the springtime will see several large vernal pools in depressed areas, which often contain fairy shrimp and amphibian eggs. A fire tower was formerly located on the top of the mountain.
The second trail from the parking lot has a much more gradual rise, reaching the bluff after about one mile of walking, where it ends and joins the blue-blazed Mattabesett Trail. This trail leaves the parking lot on the dirt road on the south side of the lot, and is marked by light blue blazes with an orange dot in the center. It continues along the dirt road – an old town road called Fire Tower Road – until it turns right (north) off the road onto a foot trail. This route is much less strenuous than the blue-blazed trail.
The third trail up Bluff Head is also less strenuous than the direct route, but is quite a bit longer. The trail begins near Meyerhuber Pond. To access the trail, travel north from the parking lot along Route 77 to the first dirt road on the left (this unmarked road is just after 4840 Durham Road). This is Pent Road, an old route to Northford and Wallingford. Park your car at one of the pullouts along the dirt road, taking care not to block the road. Walk along the road to the north, past Meyerhuber Pond and a horse farm on the left, taking care to stay within the right of way of Pent Road (GLCT holds a right of way along that road.) Pent Road briefly passes behind a subdivision on Bluff View Drive.
The trail turns off Pent Road to the right, just after passing a house within the subdivision. The trail is clearly marked with white blazes and a sign at its entrance. The trail proceeds along Hemlock Brook (there are two modest stream crossings, although in the summer the brook virtually dries up) until it leaves the brook and proceeds south up the shoulder of Totoket Mountain. The trail is mostly on sedimentary rocks until about halfway up the mountain, when the geology changes almost immediately to traprock basalt. While within the sedimentary rock zone there are numerous large trees, including oaks and tulip poplars. Upon reaching the basalt zone, the trees suddenly are much smaller, and the trail is full of small gravelly rocks. This is the point where the molten rock flow ended.
The white-blazed Hemlock Brook trail intersects with the blue-blazed Mattabesett Trail at the top. Turn left along the blue-blazed trail to go to Bluff Head. Turn right to go toward Route 17 in Northford.
A group of hikers with two cars can leave one vehicle at Pent Road and one at the parking lot on Route 77, allowing them to walk over Bluff Head from one end to the other, a trip of about two hours. Hikers with one vehicle can make the same trip if they are willing to walk half a mile along busy Route 77 to return to their starting point.
What to see