Narragansett Trail and Lantern Hill
Total distance: 20.6 miles (33.1 kilometers) - many shorter hikes are possible
Total hiking time: approximately 8 to 12 hours
This route follows the Narragansett Trail in its entirety. It starts at Lantern Hill in Mashantucket (North Stonington), Connecticut, and ends at Ashville Pond in the village of Canonchet in Hopkinton, Rhode Island. In Connecticut the trail is maintained by the Connecticut Forest and Park Association (CFPA); in Rhode Island it is maintained by the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC). The trail was conceived by AMC member J. Earle Bacon, who also supervised much of its early clearing (Spicer; Utter, p. 122). The route appears to have been largely completed in 1936, stretching from Lantern Hill to Worden's Pond in South Kingstown (Utter); it reached its greatest extent in 1938 when it was lengthened to the then Kingston Inn (now owned by the University of Rhode Island) on Route 138 in South Kingstown (Corp). The Great New England Hurricane of 1938 devastated the trail, as described by George B. Utter:
If you could see what I have just seen, your heart would bleed with mine. More than 40 miles of Narragansett Trail have gone with the hurricane. Thousands of great trees lay mangled where they were tossed. I did not believe any such thing could happen over an entire area.
Blazes tumbled in the wreckage, trails blocked more successfully than man and his wars might do. There was no order to the onslaught. It was a jumbled mess through which no trail clearers could pass. (qtd. in Leonard, "Narragansett Trail")
Utter, a member of both the AMC and CFPA, coordinated the reclearing of the trail, which was finished by the end of 1939 (Leonard, "Narragansett Trail" p. 563). In the subsequent decades the trail was shortened to Ashville Pond and parts of it were relocated. In Connecticut the trail is marked with painted pastel-blue blazes; yellow in Rhode Island. Originally the AMC trail marker was described as "a reddish-orange painted symbol of an arrow topping a hollow circle" (Dench).
Caution: Hikers should be very careful, by wearing at least 400 square inches (2,580 square centimeters) of blaze orange material, such as a vest, when hiking this route during hunting season. The Connecticut hunting season starts on September 1 and runs through the end of February. The Rhode Island hunting season starts on the second Saturday in September and runs through the end of February. Orange is also required in Rhode Island from the third Saturday in April through May 31. The portion of the Narragansett Trail between Route 49 (Pendleton Hill Road) and Tom Wheeler Road in North Stonington is on land owned by the Groton Sportsmen's Club; hiking is prohibited on that stretch of trail from October through March. Hunting is prohibited in Camp Yawgoog.
Driving Directions from Interstate 95:
- From I-95 South, take Exit 92 in Connecticut and go straight at the traffic light. At the next light, turn right onto Route 2 West.
- From I-95 North, take Exit 92 in Connecticut and turn left onto Route 2 West.
Following the signs for the Foxwoods Resort, proceed on Route 2 West (Norwich-Westerly Road), circling a rotary along the way. From the rotary, continue following the Foxwoods signs on Route 2 West for 5.6 miles (9 kilometers) and turn right (north) onto Milltown Road. Follow Milltown Road to the end, at the stop sign below the elevated Route 2. Carefully continue straight ahead (south), crossing Foxwoods Boulevard, onto Wintechog Hill Road. Proceed 0.2 mile (0.3 kilometer) to the roadside parking area at the trailhead on the right (south). If the Milltown Road turn is missed, continue on to the elevated Route 2 in the right lane. Take the first exit (right) and get into the left lane. Turn left (southeast) onto Foxwoods Boulevard, then turn right (south) onto Wintechog Hill Road. Please note that traffic on Route 2 may be heavy in the afternoon, especially during weekends.
Note: About 3.9 miles (6.2 kilometers) from the rotary, an oval "Narragansett Trail" sign may be seen to the left (west), near the junctures with Route 201 and Ryder Road; the sign marks the point where the trail crosses Route 2 near Gallup/Hewitt Pond -- the sign does not mark the beginning of the trail. Keep driving to Wintechog Hill Road.
Entering the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation, the well-worn trail immediately climbs Lantern Hill. On the way up, after the path leaves a level stretch, hikers should watch for the blue markers of the Narragansett Trail carefully, as it intertwines with the Reservation's red-blazed Lantern Hill Trail. Travellers should also beware of unmarked trails on the hill. Views of Lantern Hill Pond can be seen along the steep, rocky climb.
Lantern Hill Pond in autumn
At an elevation of 490 feet (149 meters), the top of Lantern Hill offers panoramic views, including the Atlantic Ocean on clear days; the foliage in mid-October is also very pleasant. Vultures can often be seen soaring at eye level. Notice the white rock under foot; the hill is almost entirely composed of milky quartz! Katharine B. Crandall describes a place on the hill from which Pequot leaders ("sachems") are said to have observed the area, "A little below the summit, on its steepest side, there is a natural seat of rock, which is known as the Sachem's seat" (p. 108). "Pequot" means "destroyers" -- a reference to the tribe's fierce warriors (Hughes and Allen pp. 750, 764).
Western panoramic view from Lantern Hill
When taking in the western view, look for the tower of the Mashantucket Museum and Research Center.
Mashantucket Museum and Research Center, enlarged autumn view
Video of a vulture soaring over Lantern Hill
Eastern panoramic view from Lantern Hill
Eastern panoramic view from Lantern Hill in autumn
Southern view from Lantern Hill, showing quarry site and Long Pond
Lantern Hill gets its name because its white cliffs are said to shine in the sun when seen from the sea (Caulkins p. 97; Crandall pp. 107-108; Detwiller). Some believe that Lantern Hill was also known as "Tar Barrel Hill" (Philips pp. 121-122). In August 1814, during the War of 1812, barrels of tar were set ablaze atop a hill to warn residents of the British approach along the coast. In fact, the hill was known as "Lantern Hill" before the War of 1812. A 1766 map (Park) depicts "Lanthorn Hill;" the word "lanthorn" is an old synonym of "lantern." A 1796 map (Tanner) clearly labels it as "Lantern Hill." It may be unlikely that Lantern Hill is Tar Barrel Hill, being so far (on the border with Ledyard) from the more populated coast. A more likely candidate for Tar Barrel Hill is Jeremy Hill, about 3.4 miles (5.5 kilometers) to the southeast, on the Stonington/North Stonington border (Haynes and Boylan, p. 51; Heermance, pp. 246-247). The barrels were put in place on May 15 and set on fire on August 9, 1814 (Haynes and Boylan, p. 51). The smoke from the burning tar, not the light from the fire, may have been the warning signal (Grotz p. 32; Haynes and Boylan, p. 51).
The hill's quartz was first mined by David D. Mallory in 1870 ("A Growing Industry"; Haynes and Boylan p. 74). With a purity as high as 96.84% silicon dioxide, the mineral had many uses, including glassmaking, filter sand and construction aggregate. Lantern Hill quartz was used as an aggregate in the concrete faces of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, Massachusetts (Altamura, Tectonics, Wall-Rock Alteration pp. E31, E15). Paul Slade and his Gang reused narrow-gauge rails from the quarry to build a short marine railway where Yawgoog's sailing center is today. The railroad was used to move 28-foot (8.5-meter), surplus navy cutters into and out of Yawgoog Pond from the 1930s onward (Williams and Anthony vol. 2 p. 28). Lantern Hill is spiritually significant to the Pequots (Detwiller; "Bozrah's Healing Waters"); the tribe protected the quarry site by acquiring it from the U.S. Silica Company in 1994. To the south, it can be seen that much of one of the hill's lower summits was removed before mining ended.
Part of the former Silex/U.S. Silica quarry, enlarged view
The hill has seen two noteworthy characters, George Haskell and Saul Brown, as noted in The New Haven Evening Register in 1888 and 1896, respectively:
Dynamite Exploded in His Pocket
Mystic, Conn., Dec. 17. -- As George Haskell was carrying a dynamite cartridge in his pocket into the Lantern Hill silex mine, Saturday afternoon, it exploded, tearing away part of the left leg. Haskell walked down the hill, leaving a trail of blood, tied clothes around the leg, took a carriage and rode in the cold wind seven miles to the office of Dr. Bucklyn. Doctors Coates and Bucklyn dressed the wound, cutting out at least one pound of shattered flesh. The wound was twelve inches [30.5 centimeters] long and seven inches [18 centimeters] wide. The doctors report that they never saw such a display of courage.
Prophecies From Lantern Hill
Inspirations of a Sun Worshipper Who Lies on His Back
Norwich, Conn., Aug. 28 -- Saul Brown, who lives on Lantern Hill, claims to be a prophet and a sun worshipper. He spends several hours daily lying on his back, bare headed, and with only as many clothes as are necessary, gazing into the sun, and claims that while in this position he has visions of the future. Last spring he predicted the hot wave which passed over the country recently. He also predicted at the same time that the rivers and streams of Connecticut would be stocked with fish this summer far in excess of previous years. This prophesy has also come true. Porgies were more plentiful than for ten years, and the fishermen had to stop taking them, as the market was glutted. In New York wholesale dealers could not handle them, as the quantity brought prices so low they had to be sold at a loss. Now Brown says we will have one of the most severe winters on record. [The last prediction does not appear to have come true.]
The hill has also seen controversy. Local members of the Ku Klux Klan burned a cross on it in the mid-1920s (Den Ouden pp. 32-34, 229). Gambling in the reservation has also been controversial; bingo began in 1986 and the first casino opened in 1992.
It is fitting that the Atlantic Ocean can be seen from Lantern Hill, and vice versa, as the origins of the two features are related (Altamura, Tectonics of the Lantern Hill Fault; Altamura, Tectonics, Wall-Rock Alteration p. E4). Analysis of the quartz reveals that it is 238 million years old (Altamura, Tectonics of the Lantern Hill Fault; Altamura, Tectonics, Wall-Rock Alteration p. E2) -- the mid-Triassic Period of the Mesozoic Era in geologic time. Back then, dinosaurs roamed a supercontinent in which today's continents were combined into one landmass referred to as "Pangaea" or "Pangea," a name derived from a Greek expression meaning "all earth." It was in the mid-Triassic Period that Pangaea began to break up into separate continents, due to upwelling of molten rock ("magma") from Earth's interior. As present-day eastern North America and northern Africa began to separate, a rift valley formed between them; the valley would later become the Atlantic Ocean. As the breakup began, the Lantern Hill Fault opened in the surrounding bedrock, composed of schist (pronounced "shist") and gneiss (pronounced "nice"); the now-inactive fault runs south from the hill into the ocean. In the Lantern Hill area, hot mineral-rich waters ("hydrothermal fluids") filled the fault, allowing quartz to crystallize as the fluids cooled. Over time, erosion and glaciation scoured away the older, less-resistant schist and gneiss, while the younger, stronger quartz remained as the hill that exists today. The Green Fall River may be following another inactive Mesozoic fault, as it flows south from Green Fall Pond in Voluntown (Altamura, Tectonics of the Lantern Hill Fault p. 67).
The Narragansett Trail descends the hill by heading south; beware of unmarked paths. The blue blazes turn east to enter the North Stonington public works area, behind the town dog pound. The trail passes between a small retention pond to the left (north) and the dog pound to the right (south); it then turns turn left (north) onto the road between the pond and the large transfer station building; proceed to Wintechog Hill Road and cross it carefully to enter the Reservation forest on the other side. The trail joins a grassy road as it turns into a footpath that climbs Wintechog Hill. The hill's name may originate from Mohegan expressions meaning "berry place" (Hughes and Allen p. 761).
Instead of rising to the top of the hill, the path runs along its flanks, crossing the right-of-way of a buried natural gas pipeline. The trail eventually descends the hill to cross a meadow, known by the landowner, Oldhaven Associates, as "Shelter Cave Field," along its southern edge; the adjacent field behind the fence and gate to the right (south) is known as the "Trolley Pasture." The route crosses the Shunock River/Brook at the dam at Hewitt Pond, also called Hewitt Flyfishing Pond or Gallup Pond (another Hewitt Pond exists to the northwest, on the other side of Route 2). "Shunock" is a Mohegan word for "stone place" or "where streams join" (Hughes and Allen pp. 410, 754-755); the river flows by a parcel of land known as the "Lower Barn Lot" by the landowner. The bridge across the dam was installed on June 7, 2007, made possible through the efforts of the Thames Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited, the Connecticut Forest and Park Association, the State Parks Division of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the Avalonia Land Conservancy, and the landowner ("Hewitt Pond Bridge Installation").
Hewitt/Gallup Pond in autumn
Bridge at Hewitt/Gallup Pond
Adjacent to the pond is Route 2 (Norwich-Westerly Road), which hikers should cross very carefully. Turn left (north), toward the traffic lights (pedestrian buttons are available there), proceed a few yards, and turn right (southeast) onto Ryder Road. Please walk single-file on the left side of the road, facing oncoming traffic; the field to the left (northeast) is called the "Bee Hive Lot" by Oldhaven Associates. About 700 feet (200 meters) from Route 2, the trail enters the forest by turning left (northeast) into The Nature Conservancy's Gladys Foster Preserve; watch for the blue markers on trees. The Narragansett Trail then climbs Cossaduck Hill. The rest of the journey is covered by other sections in this guide:
- Follow the Connecticut Countryside route from the preserve to the point where the trail meets Green Fall River on Green Fall Road.
- The trail leaves the road by turning left (north) to follow the river to Green Fall Pond and its dam. At the top of the dam, turn right (northeast) and follow the solid blue blazes. Do not follow the orange-on-blue blazes that cross the dam's causeway. The trail will cross an earthen dike, then the Green Fall River, and arrive at an intersection of trails on the northeastern shore. Hikers may wish to use the ponds's water pump, waterless latrines, and swimming area; if so, leave the solid blue blazes by following the orange-on-blue blazes that hug the shore of the pond and turn left (south) onto the road that leads to the pond's amenities. Hikers may return to the solid blue blazes by retracing their steps. After passing an Adirondack shelter at the old mill site, the trail reaches the three-way intersection with the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) Tippecansett Trail. Care should be taken as the two branches both have yellow and blue markings; avoiding the left path that descends sharply, bear right (south) to Dinosaur Caves. Proceed along the state border to Camp Yawgoog Road. Consult the description for the Green Fall Pond Area, in reverse direction, for more information.
- Turn left (east) onto Camp Yawgoog Road briefly; in Rhode Island the Narragansett Trail is marked in yellow. Turn right (south) onto Yawgoog's Yellow Trail, which overlaps the AMC Narragansett Trail.
- At Cooning Orchard, follow the yellow blazes that overlap Yawgoog's Red Trail through the rhododendron swamp. After the trail rises from the swamp, the yellow blazes leave the Red Trail by veering left (east) to North Road. See the description of the Long and Ell Ponds Area for more detail.
- From the trail intersection between Long and Ell Ponds, follow the yellow blazes down (southwest) the rock formation and continue until the Narragansett Trail and this hike end at the former Ashville Pond swimming area on Stubtown Road. See the discussion of the Seven Pond Path for more information.
- Trail Maps
- Lantern Hill Area (JPG)
- Wyassup Lake Area (JPG)
- Green Fall Pond Area (JPG)
- Long and Ell Ponds Area (JPG)
- Foursquare: Narragansett Trail
- Pinterest: Narragansett Trail
- Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CTDEEP)
- Fall Foliage
- Backpack Camping
- Camping Areas
- State Parks and Forests
- Park and Forest Regulations (PDF)
- Park and Forest Maps
- Pachaug State Forest
- Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM)
- Park and Management Area Regulations (PDF)
- Wildlife Management Area Maps (Arcadia, Rockville, etc.)
- Camping and Hiking in Black Bear Country
Important safety tips from The American Bear Association. Black bears have been seen in Connecticut and Rhode Island.
- Lake of Isles Scout Reservation
A memorial site to a camp that existed north of Route 2 and Lantern Hill. Maintained by Steve Daly.
- Photographs of Lantern Hill
Search for "lantern hill" or "silex" in Connecticut History Online.
- Mashantucket Museum and Research Center
The Pequots are Native Americans of southeastern Connecticut.
- Trout Unlimited - Thames Valley Chapter
Non-profit fishing organization that lead the installation of the new bridge at Hewitt Pond (Gallup Pond).
- Avalonia Land Conservancy
Local conservation organization that assisted in the installation of the Hewitt Pond bridge.
- Town of North Stonington
- Bookmarked Geocaches