The Exhaust-Free, Self-Propelled Foliage Tour

Connecticut: Exploring the River-hugging AT

Come foliage season, Connecticut's northwest corner typically gets only a quick look-see from the motorcades of New Yorkers zooming north to the Berkshires. But unbeknownst to most, the blurry landscape in their rearview mirrors is the Berkshires, the southernmost edge of the range and home of one of the best, if briefest, portions of the Appalachian Trail, a 56-mile section hovering above the clear blue Housatonic River.

Start at Housatonic Meadows State Park, off U.S. 7 just south of West Cornwall. A 19.2-mile section of the AT passes through, but the river takes center stage. The five-mile stretch between Cornwall Bridge and West Cornwall, a fly-fishing-only trout-management area, is one of the East's premier spots for hooking browns; for licenses and supplies, stop by the Wilderness Shop, on U.S. 202 in Litchfield (203-567-5905). Farther north, there's good paddling on the 11-mile stretch between Falls Village and Cornwall Bridge, with Class II whitewater as late as October, thanks to dam releases. Kayaks and canoes can be rented at Clarke Outdoors in West Cornwall ($35 and $45 per day, respectively, including shuttle service; 203-672-6365).
Off-river, the AT offers plenty of opportunities to view foliage and wildlife. On the eastern flyway for spring and fall migratory birds, the area has seen kettles with as many as 5,000 broadwing hawks steaming overhead. A particularly good birding spot is off River Road in Kent, on the west side of the Housatonic near St. Johns Ledges, a stunning band of cliffs that rises 600 feet above the river.

Though classic white-clapboard inns and B&Bs are abundant, the place to stay is the campground at Housatonic Meadows ($10 per night). Twenty-two of its 94 sites are right on the river and hence are reserved months in advance in summer, but they're available on a first-come, first-served basis after Labor Day. For maps and more information, call Housatonic Meadows State Park at 203-672-6772.

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