For the short blue loop that begins and ends at the parking lot adjacent to Black Rock State Park (on the other side of Route 6), the hike is a moderate 3 miles. But there are plenty of options and side trails off of the Blue-Blazed Mattatuck Trail that offer a chance to extend the hike up to 3 to 4 miles if heading south through Watertown.
Destination Distance From Downtown
3 of 5 diamonds
There are several stretches of steep incline and a bit of scrambling through the caves. During rainy months, the rock can be slippery.
Time To Complete
At a fast pace, more experienced hikers may complete this hike anywhere between an hour and an hour and a half. For those looking for a slower-paced hike with extended periods of exploration (especially by the caves), it could take up to 2 and a half hours.
Spring, Summer, and Fall
The path is too steep at points for this hike to be enjoyable during winter months, but is best during the fall for the spectacular foliage. During the summer, it is shaded enough to keep the temperature down, but it is recommended as an early morning or sunset hike.
The Mattatuck trail, a part of the Connecticut Blue-Blazed Trail system, is an intermediate hike that crosses through Waterbury and Watertown, Connecticut. With varying easy-to-difficult stretches, great views and even a cave, it’s worth the trip up from New Haven.For a hike so close to I-84 (about 15 minutes on CT Route 8), the Mattatuck Trail can feel like a journey into the backcountry at times.
Though the hike starts out as a mild stroll along Branch Brook Trail past a small RV park, as hikers ascend to the ridge, technical variations in the trail keep things interesting the whole way. Off of the main blue-blaze, there are countless side trails with views of the Naugatuck Valley offering hikes that can last from 30 minutes to an entire day of trekking.
What Makes It Great
The variations in the short, 3-mile loop back to CT-Route 6 provide an excellent way to get a quick workout in for campers or day hikers. But the best part about Mattatuck trail is that it is a great place to start a much longer, full-day journey along the blue-blaze trail system.For the shorter loop, start from the Branch Brook Trail off of Route 6 (across the street from the entrance to Black Rock State Park). The Blue and Yellow trail will take visitors along a small babbling brook through the verdant woods of north central Connecticut. Follow the path for about a mile until the Blue Trail Junction. Head up and to the right to transition to the blue-blazed, Mattatuck trail and begin your journey south and parallel to the Naugatuck River.
Thirty-to-forty minutes in on the blue trail climb, visitors will encounter a slight junction: for those not paying attention, it’s easy to end up on the Orange Trail accidentally. Hang a sharp left to stay on Blue and follow the steady climb up. You’ll know the caves when you see them. After a cardio push like this portion of the hike, the boulders and shady caverns at the top are perfect for a moment of cool exploration and perhaps a water break. The boulders are stunning—for those into bouldering or rock climbing, it’s difficult to resist the perfect hand holds and crevices in the sudden and towering rock wall. But if the first slot canyon-like “cave” wasn’t adventurous enough, the second cave will surely fulfill the awesomeness-factor of this hike.
The temperature is a cool ten degrees below the sun-soaked path just outside of it’s entrance and can offer the perfect refuge for the overheated summer traveler. As soon as you emerge from the cave, the scenic point of the hike awaits. At the top, you’ll take in 360-degree views of Thomaston and Waterbury, Connecticut. To loop back down from the well-deserved moment of sunshine and scenery, follow the blue-blaze northwest along a ridge with views the whole way back. The descent back to Route 6 feels like a reward and a challenge for your quads simultaneously.
Who is Going to Love It
This hike is best for intermediate hikers or those without small children. Bring bug spray if you’re enjoying the hike during summer months—the proximity to the brook and river make it mosquito heaven. In general, this is a great hike for anyone who enjoys fast ascents with rewarding views. You can book it to the top, or take your time exploring the caves or the upper ridge before your descent back into the woods toward where your car is parked.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
To avoid the parking fees at Black Rock State Park, follow route 6 for about a half a mile until you see a free, well-marked parking area on the right. This lot allows access to Black Rock Lake and to the various trailheads along Route 6. Open 8 am to dusk. Hiking trails are maintained in cooperation with the Connecticut Forest and Park Association. Contact the Connecticut Forest and Park Association, 16 Meriden Road, Rockfall, CT 06481 for more information.