Hiking Peoples State Forest Loop in Barkhamsted, CT
People’s State Forest, located at the very top of the state in Barkhamsted, is a large State Forest offering a variety of activities including hiking, kayaking, camping, and fishing. The hiking trails are numerous, offering a diverse array of landscapes, viewpoints, length, and challenge. Any hiker can find a trail at their level here.
Most people travel to People’s in order to scope out the stunning views looking out over the Farmington River and rolling hills/mountains of MA. These views are some of the best in the state of Connecticut and completely worth the visit – and the climb up to view them.
To explore People’s State Forest, I did a 7.0 mile loop around, visiting some of the best sites at the park. There are shorter options available – and you can absolutely do an out-and-back to just see the views and make the trip much shorter. Keep reading to learn about all the beautiful and interesting features of the People’s State Forest Loop at American Legion in Barkhamsted, CT!
Location: Barkhamsted, CT
Distance: 7.1 miles for loop – out and backs can be shorter
Time: 3-5 hours
Cell-Phone Service: Okay. Had great service in some places, and spotty service in others
Features: Lookout (1100ft in elevation)
Cost: Free for CT Residents (w/car tag) $10-$15 for non-residents (weekday/weekend price)
Parking: Plenty – extremely large lot
Bathrooms: Yes, in a building!
Dog Friendly: On-leash only
Location, Parking, and Bathrooms for Peoples State Forest
The Peoples State Forest parking lot is extremely large. When you approach it, you’ll drive next to the lot for a bit before seeing the turn in. You can’t miss it – not only does it have a massive sign, it also has a entryway that is guarded for payment purposes.
Anyone with a CT license plate will be able to get in for free. However, if you don’t have a CT plate you will owe a $10 fee on weekdays and a $15 fee on weekends. This can be paid prior to entering into the lot.
As soon as you enter you’ll be able to turn left or right. If you’re looking to head to the bathrooms first, then you’ll want to head left (follow the restrooms sign to the restroom building). If you’re looking to be closer to the trail entrance for this loop you’ll want to turn right.
Around the lot there are several activities, including a large field for grilling, sports, or even just touching. There’s also a beautiful area for a pollinator garden – which is great for seeing some wildflowers, but not super great if you’re worried about bees/wasps as there are plenty around there.
Although the lot is very large, on busy weekends or around holidays it still can get full. When the lot is full it closes – so if you do plan to head up around a holiday you’ll want to be sure to get there early.
Peoples State Forest Loop Hiking Trail Entrance
As the parking area is so large it can be hard to find the start of the trail. If you’re using something like AllTrails for this then just follow the path to the trail entrance.
If you’re not really a map-type person, then the trail entrance will be right past the pollinator garden (located on the right side when you turn into the parking area). You’ll cross the road and see a dirt path leading up a hill.
This isn’t really the start of the official trail – it’s more of a slow entry to the real trail entrance. Right before you enter the main trail, you’ll come across the Peoples State Forest Nature Museum. I did not have a chance to go inside, but it’s fairly large and I’m sure it has some great and fun finds inside!
To start the official trail, you’l want to head to the left of the museum and locate the wooden trail markers for the Robert Ross trail.
The Three Ways to Hike The Peoples State Forest Loop Trail
1. Clockwise: If you choose the clockwise direction, you’ll hit the views in the first half of the hike. To head this way, you’ll turn left as soon as you hit the Robert Ross Trail sign.
The path you’ll take will be Robert Ross –> Jessie Gerard –> Charles Pack –> Agnes Bowen. It seems like a lot but the trails are exceptionally well marked, so you’ll be able to navigate easily.
Also – if the views are in the first half, so is the climb to the views. This will get the tough part of the climb finished earlier in the hike.
2. Counterclockwise: Heading counterclockwise will have the views on the last half of the trail. This also means that your uphill hiking won’t start until much later. The uphill here is of a slower climb that occurs over a longer distance, but it should start around 3.5-4miles into the hike.
To head this way, you’ll turn right at the Agnes Bowen trail and follow the Agnes Bowen –> Charles Pack –> Jessie Gerard –> Robert Ross loop. The trails are well marked so should be easy to follow, even without AllTrails.
3. Don’t do the loop – do an out and back: If the 7.1mile distance is a bit intimidating and you really just want to go for the views you can do a much shorter hike by going out and back on the Robert Ross trail, which will take you to the incredible lookout! Note though, that there is a small, beginner-type rock scramble to the top, and that this climb can be fairly steep for beginner hikers. It’s entirely doable, just be sure to bring water and wear appropriate shoes and you’ll be all set.
It’s about 2.2 miles to the viewpoint, so would reduce this to about a 4.4 mile hike.
What to Expect Hiking Peoples State Forest
Beyond just hiking Peoples State Forest for the incredible views, this trail is pretty great for other reasons. When there’s been a lot of rain you can visit a waterfall, there are other cool features like “God’s Dice” and in general it’s just a chill, cool, remote trail to get your hike on. It’s definitely a trail you don’t want to miss.
After you pass the Stone Nature Museum, you’ll come to a trail sign on the left that leads you to the start. This will be where you choose whether you’re headed clockwise or couterclockwise, and you’ll head out appropriately.
I took the clockwise approach, so I’ll be describing the sites you see when you head that way.
The clockwise approach starts on the Robert Ross Trail, which has the blue trail markers. As you can see, the trails are fairly well marked, so if you know the general trail path, you should be able to find your way easily.
Be prepared for some bugs in this area at the lower elevations. Connecticut has just had a buggy summer, and it seems like the trails at the bottom of a lookout have been hit the worst. Wear that bug spray!
Peoples State Forest Lookouts
Mostly, people come to this trail to see the beautiful lookout points. And, honestly, it’s so worth it. There is some small elevation (well small, comparatively – doesn’t feel so small when you’re hiking it) to get you to that point, but once you’re at the lookout it’s truly breathtaking. My favorite lookout point in all of Connecticut.
To get to the lookout though, you do have to do a small rock scramble. I debate even calling this a rock scramble, because I think it’s more like hiking on rocks instead of an actual scramble – but others call it a scramble so I’m sticking with that term.
But really, don’t let the word ‘scramble’ intimidate you. If you can hike uphill, then you can definitely make it up this rocky hill ‘scramble’. You will be winded – but overall, it’s not too long of a section and you’ll be to the top before you even realize it.
When you get to the top – there is plenty of space. You can walk out onto the exposed rocks and hang out, or if you’d prefer a shadier area there are plenty of rocks in shade where you still get a fantastic view.
I ended up staying up here for quite some time. Ate a bit of lunch and cooled off before heading on – and I’d recommend you do the same. You don’t see views like this everywhere -so take them in!
After you hit the main lookout area, there are some smaller lookouts as well only a few hundred feet from the main area. I saw a person perched up reading in one of these areas. They are much smaller areas, but great if you’re looking for a less crowded place to perch and get some more intimate incredible views.
‘God’s Dice’ at Peoples State Forest
After you’re ready to head out from the lookout(s) – you’ll quickly come across the next big area – what is called God’s Dice. These aren’t actually dice, but instead two very large boulders perched next to each other.
These things are massive and the trail takes you directly through the middle (A+ to the trail designers here…).
I enjoyed just running my hands over these rocks, and imagining how they fell to this exact spot. It is a bit like God was playing Dungeons and Dragons, am I right??
From here, you’ll head into the woods. There aren’t too many notable features after this part, but the woods themselves are beautiful on their own.
Water Crossings and Waterfall at Peoples State Forest
Right before you head up the rock scramble to the lookout, you’ll come across a sign for a waterfall. I haven’t highlighted it here because this waterfall is only a waterfall when there’s been a lot of rain – and I happened to come in the only dry spell in summer. So, I have no pictures to share of the waterfall.
Just a reason to head back again, I guess!
Despite not getting to see the waterfall, you can tell this park is full of water. Streams, creeks, and brooks dot the entire park and this trail. But, luckily they’re prepared and there are several wooden bridges over the trail to cross over without needing to actually get yourself (and your boots) wet.
You’ll come across several of these during the rest of your hike and they’re always fun to cross. I can imagine though after some heavy rain, they could be a bit slippery – or covered some in water. So, be careful!
Other Tips to Remember
Peoples State Forest is an expansive park and one with so many beautiful trails to explore. The lookouts on the Peoples State Forest loop are one of a kind, and truly not something to be missed.
With that said, this is a pretty remote park. Be prepared for bears, especially if hiking alone. At the summit, there are usually other hikers – so follow proper hiking etiquette. But mostly – enjoy your self! This is a beautiful, unique trail and one you should definitely make the time to go visit.
Looking for something similar to this trail? Try either Bull Hill Full Loop in NY or the Bear Mountain in CT. Both have great views and similar intensities (although bear mountain is probably is at a slightly higher intensity level).
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