3 Amazing Hikes in Peoples State Forest, Connecticut

sunset view over peoples state forest in summer
Dreamy sunset scene in summer overlooking Farmington River

Get transported to a magical forest setting! A state park with almost 3,000 acres, the Farmington River, and over 11 miles of trails, let’s explore American Legion and Peoples State Forest in Connecticut!

For some of the most beautiful views in CT, drive no further (and you can’t get much further cause then you’ll be in MA 🥴) than American Legion and Peoples State Forest.

In this article, you’ll find details about 3 of the best hikes to do in American Legion and Peoples State along with information on camping, facilities, and where to go after for coffee and a snack!

In addition to hiking and the amazing fishing here, other reasons to visit include the 200-year-old white pine picnic groves in the Matthies Grove and Whittemore Recreation Areas, the Barkhamsted Lighthouse, and other cultural and historic sites.

🗺American Legion and Peoples State Forest Location

Location: off Rte. 20 or Rte. 318 BarkhamstedCT, 06063 Contact: (860) 379-2469

Located in northern Hartford County in Barkhamsted, CT, (northwest part of the state) this area is just 23 miles from Hartford. It sits right alongside (the eastern side) of the Farmington River which makes this whole area a popular spot for fishing in addition to hiking.

What’s the difference between American Legion State Forest & Peoples State Forest?

Though American Legion State Forest and Peoples State Forest are two different state parks in CT, they are lumped together on the CT.gov website given how close they are only separated by the Farmington River.

Peoples is on the eastern side of the Farmington River and American Legion is directly across on the western side. The West Branch of the Farmington River, designated as a Wild and Scenic River by the National Park Service, divides the two forests and is a hotspot for fishing, kayaking, and canoeing. 🎣🛶

3 of the Best Hikes in Peoples State & American Legion Forest:

1. Jessie Gerard Trail (short loop) in Peoples State Forest

  • Miles: 2.9-mile loop
  • Time: 2 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Elevation: 700 ft elevation gain
  • Parking: lot with about 10-15 spaces along East River Rd
  • Date visited: photo below 5/20/21
  • Special features: Falls Cutoff Cascades 💦, 2 lookouts, Lighthouse Cemetery
sunset view in summer with green leaves in connecticut

This is the shortest trail to get to the two main views and lookouts in Peoples State Forest. If you want to see the views then go clockwise (after you enter take a left at the fork!) and you will hike up along the Falls Cutoff Cascades for about half a mile until you get to the first sweeping view! There is a bit of a steep scramble up and it could be slippery along the wet rocks depending on the time of year so take your time! You’ll want to stop and catch your breath anyway. 😉

First lookout on Jessie Gerard Trail ⬇️

The first view you get faces west toward American Legion State Forest (which has an incredible hike which we’ll get to further in the post!) After taking in the views continue for a 1/3 of a mile to the next lookout spot and you tell me which is better because I really don’t know. 😍

The second lookout ⬇️ on Jessie Gerard Trail overlooking Riverton Village below

woman sitting on edge of mountain at sunset
summer sunset
woman smiling and two dogs on snowy mountaintop
same spot but in winter during the day

At the second lookout you see the Farmington River and valley below along with the little village of Riverton! 💒

Continuing on the trail, about 0.4 miles after the second view you will come to a road or path (Greenwoods Rd) that runs through Peoples State Forest. The gate to this road isn’t always open, most of the time when I’m there (even in summer) I see maybe two cars driving through. This is mainly for people who want to use the campgrounds but it’s never a busy road. Still, keep kids and dogs close for this mile-long pretty road walk. ⚠️🐶

Lighthouse Cemetery on Jessie Gerard as you close the loop

lighthouse cemetery connecticut peoples state forest
Barkhamsted Lighthouse Village
lighthouse cemetery connecticut

At 2.2 miles in you will take a hard right to begin closing the loop back to the parking lot. This is an interesting part of the trail as you zig-zag down along an elevated ridge. Before you are done, a tenth of a mile before the end of the trail, you will see the Lighthouse Cemetery which contains as many as 50 to 200 unmarked graves from a founding family here. Take in the history here and continue on to the end of the trail!

2. Falls Cutoff, Jessie Gerard, Charles Pack, Agnes Bowen Loop (long loop) in Peoples State Forest

  • Miles: 5 mile loop
  • Time: ~3-4 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Elevation: ~1000 ft elevation gain
  • Parking: lot with about 10-15 spaces along East River Rd
  • Date visited: photo below 8/1/20
  • Special features: all the features of Jessie Gerard above plus Beaver Brook and Beaver Brook Swamp
woman in pink tank top in summer standing on mountaintop with green mountains on sunny day
Summer views atop Peoples State

This hike has everything the first hike covered but it’s a longer loop that includes Beaver Brook Marsh and Beaver Brook Bridge. This route also avoids walking on Greenwoods Road which is nice, too.

There are multiple stream crossings on this hike, including Beaver Brook, so wear boots that allow for stability and that are waterproof in case you get wet! There is no danger in crossing these as the water is not deep, it’s just a feature that makes this trail even more scenic.

man in winter with snow hat walking on boardwalk
Jared going for a walk to find himself… 😉

3. Turkey Vulture Ledge Trail in American Legion Forest (a favorite!)

  • Miles: .9 miles out and back
  • Time: ~1 hour
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Elevation: 200 ft elevation gain
  • Parking: lot on Legion Rd off of West River Rd
  • Date visited: 2/18/23
  • Special features: 2 cliff lookouts that face east for sunrise! 🌅
Sunrise from the ledge! How ’bout that 😍❤️

Wow, I loved this short hike up to a wide-open cliff and ledge in American Legion. It is truly unbelievable the amount of overlooks in Connecticut and this one feels like a little secret!

girl and black dog sitting on mountain edge at sunrise time
Gorgeous spot for sunrise!!

⭐️Note: during winter the gate that allows you into Legion Rd is closed so this adds a mile each way to this hike making it 3 miles total. But for 3 miles and these views?! I’d hike that whole road any day! It is also not a busy road but an old logging or service road so we always park before the gate anyway as it’s such an enjoyable walk!

Let’s check out other attractions and reasons to visit this beautiful area in Barkhamsted!

Farmington River dividing American Legion & Peoples State Forest

Farmington River in spring with reflection and light green trees

This branch of the Farmington River that runs through People’s State Forest is designated as a Wild and Scenic River by the National Park Service and it divides Peoples State and American Legion State Forest which the CT state park site refers to as one whole 3,900 acre area.

Camping at Peoples State Forest 🏕

You can camp in American Legion State Forest which offers 30 sites in a wooded setting. The camping season begins in mid-April and ends on Columbus Day. For more info on reserving campsites click here for Reserve America.

Facilities & Bathrooms

There are bathrooms (seasonal) on the left side of Route 181 as you head here from the south. There is also the Peoples State Forest Nature Museum, built in 1935 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places which has the local history of the park. Picnic shelters and tables are in this main area as well. There is a parking fee for out-of-state residents to park in the big parking lot with all of these facilities. Otherwise, there is no parking fee to park where the trails are.

To do in the area…FOOD!

white general store in connecticut
Amazing sandwiches in here! Great for breakfast or lunch.

No Peoples State Forest hiking guide would be complete without mentioning where to eat and get snacks before or after! And wow, you’re in luck because, in a town that seems to have not much around, there’s a deli and general store that was built and has been in operation since 1889!

Riverton General Store, just minutes from Peoples, claims to be one of the best delis in the state. They make their own roast beef (I haven’t tried it yet) along with egg sandwiches and lots of other offerings for breakfast and lunch; hot soup, chili, baked goods, and daily specials! There are souvenirs, drinks, snacks, and fun history in here about the area as well. Double check hours online but currently it says they are open from 6 am-4 pm every day. The address is 2 Main St, Riverton 06065.

Also, if open when you’re there (open 12-5 most days) check out Orchard Hill Bakery right across from the Riverton General Store for a selection of daily baked breads and sweet treats!

Hope you enjoyed this guide to American Legion and Peoples State Forests in Barkhamsted, CT. Let me know what you think! Comment below. 🙂 And if you’re looking for waterfalls nearby be sure to check out the second waterfall on this list of 16 waterfalls in Connecticut! See you out there!🐾❤️

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    1. Yay! Yes I love all the hikes in here… it’s beautiful in any season!! :)) Enjoy and let me know if you have any questions!!

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