Discover West Hartford’s Winter Charm by Ski, Sled, or Snowshoe

Rockledge Golf Course trails are open to the public for skiing, snowshoeing, or walking. Photo credit: Jeff Shaw

West Hartford resident Jeff Shaw trading his bike and running shoes for a sled, skis and showshoes, and after the recent snowfall created a winter version of an ‘outdoor challenge.’ [Updated]

Gazebos of Beach Park on Steele Road. Photo credit: Jeff Shaw

By Jeff Shaw

Despite the calendar turning from months crisp and colorful to cold and gray, the outdoors remains an essential part of living well – especially this year.

Nearing the 10th month of the pandemic, perhaps the only certainty is the ability to get outside, whether for passive recreation, a heart-pounding workout, a socially-distanced visit, or just a change of scenery after a long workday or excessive screen time.

The outdoors continues to beckon regardless of what the thermometer reads.

With the shift from falling leaves to falling snow, familiar surroundings can suddenly transform into a winter wonderland worth exploring. The nearby woods are a good place to start.

There is something enchanting about a recent winter snowfall, especially in the woods. The snow-covered trees, white blanketed ground, stillness of cold air, crunch of footsteps, and faint scent of smoke from a nearby chimney. Such picturesque natural surroundings may excite the senses; at the very least, make for great pictures.

Building on my summer tour of West Hartford by foot or bike, below are some ideas to make the best of wintry West Hartford.

Buena Vista Golf Course

As documented by Town Historian Tracey Wilson, Buena Vista was actually a ski area from the 1940s-1970s. Hard as it may be to believe, the Ski Committee of the West Hartford Outing Club organized activities and sponsored ski racing for elementary and high school students. The town even provided lights for night skiing! Today, the area is known for sledding, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. The hill between the greens of the seventh and eighth holes is probably the steepest and longest launch point.

Buena Vista, between the 7th and 8th green. Photo credit: Jeff Shaw

Bugbee School Woods 

The long, paved path through the woods to Bugbee School was recently re-surfaced and brush trimmed back. The widened trail, part of the Orange Bike Route, remains popular for walking, running and biking throughout winter because it is plowed by the Town. There is also a narrow dirt trail off the paved path that follows Trout Brook and “horseshoes” back onto the paved path. Much of the dirt trail surface is covered by slippery roots below the snow, so bring a ski pole or find a walking stick for added balance.

Path behind Bugbee School. Photo credit: Jeff Shaw

Holy Family Passionist Retreat Center 

While private property, Holy Family Passionate Retreat Center allows public use of the grounds before sundown. The short dirt trails loop around the peaceful property, with rustic signs providing direction to areas of reflection. Perhaps the most well-known is the Labyrinth, a circular sculpture, ancient symbol of wholeness and metaphor for life’s journey. When not covered by snow, the labyrinth is open daily to the public and is wheelchair accessible.

The Labyrinth at the Holy Family Passionist Retreat Center is open to the public during the daylight hours. Photo credit: Jeff Shaw

Mooney’s Woods

Braeburn School is surrounded by woods, with Mooney’s Woods taking up the majority. A narrow, dirt path accessed off the parking lot, snakes around the school and into the watershed. The path is marked by wood stakes with red paint. Just remember, Trout Brook runs through the area, so stepping into a wet spot or two is likely if snow masks the soggy ground.

Mooney’s Woods. Photo credit: Jeff Shaw

Rockledge Golf Course 

Once the fairways are frozen or covered with snow, like Bueva Vista Golf Course, Rockledge Golf Club is also open for winter recreation. The town website confirms, “You can walk, jog, cross country ski or snow shoe on the winter trails at West Hartford’s beautiful Rockledge Golf Club.”

All trails begin and end at the pro shop located below the tavern. There are three loops; Blue Trail (2.4 miles); Red Trail (1.5 miles) and Yellow Trail (0.6 miles). All markers are 1/10 mile apart.

Spice Bush Swamp 

Long known as an outdoor classroom, Spice Bush Swamp was the first park in town set aside for enjoyment in its natural state. Despite the constant flow of traffic on nearby Mountain Road, the 33-acres of open space is a calming place due to the trickling stream, old wooden bridges, dirt trail loop, and benches overlooking McGovern Pond.

Spice Bush Swamp. Photo credit: Jeff Shaw

West Branch Watershed

A small watershed, the West Branch, is sandwiched between Westmoor Park, Mountain Road, and Trout Brook. While the main grassy path through the watershed is short, it connects with the longer Westmoor Park trail network on the south end of the farm property. There is also a narrow, dirt trail that cuts through the woods leading to neighborhoods adjacent to Mountain Road. However, that trail ends in a residential backyard, so prepare for a soggy out-and-back.

West Branch Watershed Photo credit: Jeff Shaw

Wolcott Park

This green space near busy Corbin’s Corner is probably most known for the splash pad in the summer and the recently renovated basketball and tennis courts. However, the side of the park facing New Britain Avenue has a short and steep hill for sledding. The woods in the back of the park has short dirt trails connected by wooden bridges. Some trails lead to Wolcott School and its wide-open fields, while others loop back to the park.

Wolcott Park. Photo credit: Jeff Shaw

Other Points of Interest

If you are just cruising around town, whether by car, pedal or feet, keep an eye out for other wonderfully wintry sights:

  • Brookside Boulevard’s football field-sized median
  • Hillsboro Drive’s elegant personalized lanterns
  • Mountain Terrace’s giant inflatable Rudolph the red nosed reindeer
  • North Main Street’s snow wall (also known as Professor Matt Warshauer’s Halloween display home)
  • Steele Road’s Beach Park gazebos
  • Walden Street’s inflatable holiday characters (also known for Halloween inflatables)

There are also plenty of winter festivals nearby if a jolt of holiday spirit is needed. Both Holiday Light Fantasia in Goodwin Park (Hartford) and Festival of Silver Lights in Hubbard Park (Meriden) runs through January 3, 2021.

I hope you embrace winter, celebrate the season and look forward to better days ahead – filled with health, happiness and humor.

Happy Winter, West Hartford!

‘Snow wall’ in front of Matt Warshauer’s house on North Main Street. Photo credit: Jeff Shaw

Lanterns on Hillsboro Drive. Photo credit: Jeff Shaw

Giant inflatable Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer on Mountain Terrace. Photo credit: Jeff Shaw

Inflatable holiday characters on Walden Street. Photo credit: Jeff Shaw

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