Maybe there aren’t tales of hangings or murders at Steep Rock Preserve, but the old railroad tunnel still seems eerie. Memorize a few ghost stories to tell your kids to make passing through 235 feet of hollow rock even more intriguing.
However, there’s more to Steep Rock Preserve than this vacant tunnel. Let’s learn more about this area of Connecticut and why you should plan a weekend visit!
Where Is Steep Rock Preserve?
Steep Rock Preserve is in Washington Depot, Connecticut. It is almost 1,000 acres, including hiking trails, carriage roads, a railroad tunnel, and the foundations of the Holiday House.
The Shepaug River forms the preserve’s western border until it flows into the Housatonic River farther south at the Upper Paugussett State Forest. Kirby Brook forms the eastern boundary.
Washington Depot is along Highway 47, less than five minutes south of Highway 202. Although not far from the New York border, there are no straight shots from Washington Depot to the border via a highway.
Traveler’s Tip: Be warned, these 5 Creepy Abandoned Place in Connecticut will send shivers down your spine.
Things to Do at Steep Rock Preserve
When visiting Steep Rock Preserve, there aren’t many things to do. It’s not like a state park with miles of hiking trails, campsites, bodies of water for kayaking or canoeing, or nature centers. But when you visit, plan a few hours to experience all aspects of the preserve.
Visit the Spooky Railroad Tunnel
Pennsylvania coal miners built the tunnel from 1871 to 1872 as part of the Shepaug Valley Railroad. They used hand picks and dynamite to form the 235-foot tunnel through Steep Rock Ridge. Although the railroad stopped running in 1948, the tunnel offers a respite for hikers during the summer heat.
Explore the Holiday House Ruins
New Yorker Edward Van Ingen built a grand summer house in Washington, Conn. He asked Ehrick Rossiter to design a hotel on a hillside overlooking the Shepaug River in 1892. He wanted it to memorialize his oldest daughter, who died of scarlet fever.
Construction on the Holiday House ended in 1893 and became a vacation retreat for working-class women affiliated with Saint Bartholomew’s Church in New York City. Today you can take the blue circle trail from the main parking lot to view the ruins of the Holiday House.
Hike to the Steep Rock Summit
With an elevation of 776 feet, Steep Rock Summit provides hikers with a stunning view overlooking the Clamshell section of the Shepaug River Valley. The 100 acres surrounding the summit have been preserved since 1925. The view at the top is the same as it was one hundred years ago.
If you want to hike to the summit, park at the lot at the end of River Road and not the main parking lot. Follow the green circle trail to the white diamond trail. Then switch to the yellow circle trail that takes you to the Steep Rock Summit.
The Steep Rock Loop Trail, or the yellow circle trail, is about four miles long. If you want to hike the entire four miles, park at the main parking lot to Steep Rock Preserve.
How to Get to the Railroad Tunnel
Park in the main parking lot of Steep Rock Preserve. Take the yellow circle trail along Tunnel Road to the blue square trail and the Railroad Tunnel. Don’t take the yellow circle trail to the Steep Rock Summit. You want to start clockwise to see the old railroad tunnel.
Do Trains Still Travel the Railroad at Steep Rock Preserve?
The Shepaug Valley Railroad was chartered in 1868 and operated in western Connecticut from 1872 to 1891. In 1891, the Housatonic Railroad took over. A few years later, the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad took over. It operated until 1948.
Now, the railroad tunnel sits empty, only visited by hikers who need a break from the sun or photographers who hope to capture the perfect picture of the light penetrating the darkness.
Is Steep Rock Preserve Dog-Friendly?
You are welcome to bring your furry friends to Steep Rock Preserve. They must remain on a leash at all times. The trails are rated easy to moderate, so dogs shouldn’t have much trouble exploring the preserve. They allow horseback riding in certain parts of the preserve, so be aware if you have dogs who don’t like other animals.
Traveler’s Tip: For more time in nature check out these 10 Waterfalls in Connecticut That You Need to See.
Other Things to Do During Your Visit to Steep Rock Preserve
Because your visit to Steep Rock Preserve probably won’t take all day, here are a few other things to do when you visit the Washington, Conn. area. Start your day with a hike to the summit. Then visit the railroad tunnel and Holiday House ruins. Eat a picnic lunch and then visit the Hollister House Garden.
Visit the Hollister House Garden
A short 13-14 minutes drive from Steep Rock Preserve is an American interpretation of a classic English garden. Eight-to-ten-foot walls and hedges define the various “rooms” of the garden. One Google reviewer says, “A hidden gem. One of the most beautiful places I have ever been to. Meticulously maintained property.”
The Hollister House Garden compliments the eighteenth-century house on 25 acres. Stroll through rows of tulips and daffodils in April, roses and peonies in June, and daylilies and dahlias in September. Relax by the vast pond at the bottom of the garden.
Grab Dinner at the Washington Pizza House
Drive about ten minutes to Washington Pizza House on River Road. They’ve served the community since 1980. Enjoy a hot oven grinder, savory calzone, or build your own pizza. It’s a local favorite.
One Google review writes, “Love love love the pizza here! One of the best and we’ve had our share of pizzas from inside the states and around the world. It’s our go to place after a nice hike nearby.”
Enjoy Drinks at G.W. Tavern
Less than half a mile up the road is G.W. Tavern, a charming 1850s home-turned-tavern overlooking the Shepaug River. With George Washington as a namesake, the G.W. Tavern features a floor-to-ceiling fieldstone fireplace for cozy winter evenings. In the summer, the flagstone patio is an excellent spot to relax after a day of hiking and exploring.
One Google reviewer shares, “Historic feel with a nice brook running through the back of the property. Very relaxing visit, while sitting on the deck for lunch and a cocktail…The inside is very colonial and looked inviting; the back deck was our choice on a beautiful day.”
A Perfect Weekend Adventure in Connecticut Awaits
Washington Depot, Connecticut, is home to Steep Rock Preserve, but it also offers other enjoyable attractions worth checking out. You’ll have a great time exploring nature and savoring local cuisine while visiting western Connecticut. Blend in with the locals and spend a weekend around Steep Rock Preserve.
Have you ever explored this part of Connecticut before? Tell us in the comments!
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