The Pachaug Forest, Voluntown, Connecticut
The Natural Beauty of the Rhododendron Sanctuary in the Pachaug Forest
Eastern Connecticut is known for its tourism. We have two large resort casinos -- Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun. The Mystic area offers quaint shops as well as Mystic Seaport and Mystic Aquariium. There is a lot to see and do.
Here, I am going to delve into a less commercial and less publicized attraction. This is something I love to do on a lazy day, and hopefully you will too.
I will offer suggestions and give the insiders view -- the things the guidebooks and State websites don't tell you about.
If you would like a more challenging walk, climbing Mt. Misery in this same forest is an option. See We Climbed Mount Misery.
An Easy Beautiful Walk - Handicapped and Wheelchair Accessible
The Pachaug Forest is approximately 24,000 acres and spans six towns.
For the Rhododendron Sanctuary, I suggest you enter via Route 49 (Ekonk Hill Road) in Voluntown, Connecticut. Headed toward Rhode Island on Route 165 (Beach Pond Road), take a left on to Route 49 North. There will be a sign by the entrance and a Smokey the Bear sign is after it. There is no admission or parking fees as it is a State Forest rather than a State Park.
To begin, I suggest you take the first left turn into a parking lot. Here you will overlook a narrow marshlike part of the Pachaug River. The parks department has informational signs here describing the native: amphibians, waterfowl, birds and small wildlife. There is information on several kinds of herons and beavers.
Okay, now back in our car (or by the way, you can do this by bicycle) and turn left out of the parking lot and continue down a road lined with conifers. Where there are directional signs, you want to follow the signs to "Mt Misery"
You will come to an area where there is a big wide open mowed field. Park your car here and to the right of it is the Rhododenron Sanctuary.
To the left of the field you will also see several outdoor restrooms -- if needed.
We Are on the Path for an Easy Walk
No Special Hiking Equipment Needed
The trail is approximately 1/2 a mile long; 1 mile round trip.
The path is hard packed gravel for part of the way. Over the more swampy areas there is a boardwalk. All of this is flat. You can do this walk easily in any pair of flat shoes. However, sandals tend to pick up bits of gravel.
The path is clear and wide enough that ticks are not prevalent.
It is almost entirely shaded and seems almost tropical with giant ferns and exotic mosses.
In the summer months I would recommend long sleeves or insect repellent. I have never seen the mosquitoes oppressive, but they are present.
Viewing the Rhododendron - July 2011 - Beautiful With or Without Rhododendron in Bloom
The rhododendron on this path don't bloom in the early spring, the way cultivated rhododendron do. Depending on the heat and rain in the summer, they usually bloom in July.
We took this walk on August 8, 2011 and the plants had already bloomed. As you can see from the photo of the rhododendron they are still impressive.
There is other interesting vegetation along the path. The path is absolutely beautiful. There are moss covered trees -- incredible mosses on the ground; berry bushes and other wild flowering plants. After a rainy period the paths will be lined with incredible mushrooms and toadstools.
Rhododendron in Bloom, Mid-July 2012
The rhododendron were in bloom in mid July, 2012. These are American Rhododendron which are native plants. Unlike cultivated rhododendron which bloom in the spring, these bloom much later in the year.
It is typical for them to grow near a swamp or stream
At The End of the Path - After Your Leisurely Walk
At the end of the path, the boardwalk expands to a wider deck. You will be overlooking a narrow part of the Pachaug River.
On the opposite shore, you will be treated to an ever changing display of wildflowers through the late spring, summer and early fall.
What to Do the Rest of the Day?
I finished my short walk, now what do I do?
Below is a list of suggestions to make a day of this. See my link list for websites for the places mentioned. If they have one, they are listed.
I would suggest you head north on Route 49 toward Sterling and Oneco.
Much of Route 49 has been designated a Scenic Hwy. There are beautiful farms in rolling hills.
The first interesting landmark you will pass is the Wiley School. A one room school house with separate entrances for the boys and girls. There are also separate boy and girl outhouses in back. The building now belongs to the Voluntown Historical Society.
As you leave Voluntown and enter Sterling you will see a small church on the left. Built in 1858, this is the "Line Church". Built right on the town lines, when there is a wedding, the groom stands in Voluntown and the bride stands in Sterling.
After the church you will see Betsy's Farm Stand. Here you will find all locally grown seasonal produce. She often carries local honey and natural beef from her own farm. (Betsy's is also handicapped accessible)
Go a little further down Route 49 and you will come to the Ekonk Hill Turkey Farm where they raise free range turkeys. During the late spring, summer and fall they have ice cream made from cream from their own cows. They also carry local produce as well as frozen natural meats, refrigerated local natural cheeses and yogurts.
The bake shop has donuts, breads, muffins and home made pies. (Blueberry is my favorite.) The pies come already baked or frozen for you to take home and cook.
In the fall they have a corn maze on the property.
The Ekonk Hill Turkey Farm has a step up and a few steps down. It is not handicapped accessible, but there are picnic tables outside which would be handicapped accessible.
Some of the Sites MentionedClick thumbnail to view full-size
Check Out the Rhododendron Walk in AutumnClick thumbnail to view full-size
© 2011 Ellen Gregory