Exploring Nipmuck State Forest and Bigelow Hollow State Park

By Kim Foley MacKinnon

Just over the Massachusetts border, Nipmuck State Forest and the adjoining Bigelow Hollow State Park in Connecticut offer plenty of outdoor activities, ranging from hiking and camping to fishing and geocaching. It’s also a great place to look for wildlife, like beavers and eagles.

On a recent guided hike led by Chief Ranger Bill Reid, or “Ranger Bill,” as he said to call him, my group learned about the 9,000-acre area, which is part of the Last Green Valley, a National Heritage Corridor composed of 35 towns in eastern Connecticut and south-central Massachusetts. We chose to hike to Breakneck Pond, accessed just off the parking lot by Bigelow Pond. The 2-mile roundtrip is an easy walk along a wide path which intersects with Nipmuck Trail and can be taken all around the pond (a 6-mile hike). Ranger Bill has been following the progress of some nesting eagles, but we didn’t catch a glimpse on our hike. It’s definitely worth bringing binoculars in case you get lucky.

Nipmuck State Forest and Bigelow Hollow State Park are located in the town of Union and sit within one of the largest unbroken forest areas in Eastern Connecticut.  According to local lore, the name "Bigelow" is derived from "Big Low" in reference to the deep hollow in which the 18-acre pond of that name is located. The word "Mashapaug" is the Nipmuck Indian word for "Great Pond," another pond in the park area.

Younger kids love the shorter Bigelow Pond Loop, a lovely one-mile hike that offers plenty of rocks to climb and places to stop and explore. It’s also easily accessed from the parking lot.

Ranger Bill also told us about the Last Green Valley’s “Walktober,” which is now in its 25th year. Walks, strolls, bike rides, paddles, and all sorts of other events are held throughout the month and are an excellent way to get outside and enjoy the foliage.

You can download a schedule on the Walktober website or call 860-774-3300 to have one mailed to you. Although there are just 31 days in October, there are more than 200 activities planned! 

Get advice on raising the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts in the Great Kids, Great Outdoors blog and find more tips and trip ideas in the Appalachian Mountain Club’s community for families, kids.outdoors.org.