Lantern Hill in North Stonington is a challenging, rewarding hike

Great quotes come from the birth of our country, from Israel Putnam’s “Don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes” to Nathan Hale’s “My only regret is that I have only one life to lose for my country” to Paul Reveres “The Brits are coming!” Some were kind of accurate, others the stuff of legend, along with some misquotes and misattributions.

So who’s to say that during the War of 1812 someone didn’t say something like, “Go up Tar Barrel Hill and light the fires so the British will know we’re ready”? That might be a little far-fetched, but it’s easy to take in the scene, with views across the forests of southeastern Connecticut to the port of Stonington and the gleaming seas of Long Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean from the top of 250-foot Lantern Hill – the highest view – to be presented in this part of the state.

The trails leading to the top of Lantern Hill are difficult to find footing.

The trails leading to the top of Lantern Hill are difficult to find footing.

Peter Marteka

Lantern Hill, which straddles the border between North Stonington and Ledyard, has been known by a number of names over the years. Some believe it was called Lantern Hill because the white cliffs gleamed in the sun from the sea. The name Tar Barrel Hill is said to derive from local residents who burned tar barrels to warn of the approach of British warships to Stonington Harbor in the summer of 1814 during the War of 1812 terrorhad just wrecked 20 ships in Essex harbor and was sailing to Stonington.

Regardless of its history or name, two trails offer hikers arguably the most breathtaking views in southeastern Connecticut. There are few places in the state where you can see in all directions from three vantage points.

how good is the view From the top of the granite and white quartz chasm, hikers can view the Atlantic Ocean, Long Island Sound, Fishers Island, Long Island, the hills of Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and two nations – the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribal areas.

The rock formations along the Lantern Hill Trail are fascinating.

The rock formations along the Lantern Hill Trail are fascinating.

Peter Marteka

The summit of Lantern Hill can be reached either via the Connecticut Forest & Park Association’s Narragansett Trail, a 21-mile blue-marked trail that runs from North Stonington to Hopkinton, RI, or via the Lantern Hill Trail loop.

The Narragansett Trail is the shortest route to the summit, but can be challenging at times with steep climbs the entire way. The trail meanders along the west side of the hill, sometimes very near the rim, with views north and west, including the 185-foot-tall stone and glass tower and geodesic dome of the Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center, one of three man-made features on the horizon.

Colorful signs mark the Lantern Hill Trail.

Colorful signs mark the Lantern Hill Trail.

Peter Marteka

The other two? Just the 4.7 million square foot Foxwoods Resort Casino and the distant peak of Mohegan Sun. It must be an odd scenic landscape for those who hiked up before the age of Connecticut’s casinos.

A view from the top of Lantern Hill.  The spire of the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center can be seen.

A view from the top of Lantern Hill. The spire of the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center can be seen.

Peter Marteka

Established by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, the Lantern Hill Trail loop is marked by red tree signs with a spear and feather emblem. The trail takes hikers on a more leisurely – or perhaps less difficult – excursion past impressive rock formations, imposing cliffs and huge boulders of granite and quartz. Hikers should take a few minutes to really explore the rugged hills. The rock formations are mesmerizing with milky-white hues and mottled and pockmarked features.

From the base of the cliff, the path becomes more difficult as you climb to the first viewpoint. The trail climbs through rocky terrain and a narrow cliff face to reach the first lookout lined with pitch pines, a rarity in the state.

The ascent to the summit is via ridges.

The ascent to the summit is via ridges.

Peter Marteka

The trail leads to a second higher vantage point with stunning views over Lantern Hill Pond and the surrounding forest. Historical records show that the hill has been used as a lookout or signaling site since 1653, when it was first mentioned on maps. Arrowheads dating back 10,000 years have been found on Lantern Hill.

The third vantage point offers views east and south, and on a clear day the Sound and the Atlantic can be seen in the distance. On the steepest side of the hill is a natural rock seat that offers a great view of the area.

lantern hill, North Stoneton and Ledyard

The bottom line: The highest point in southeast Connecticut lives up to its bill with some of the best views in the state. A pair of trails lead hikers to the top of the 250-foot hill with stunning views along the way.

Length: 1½-2 miles round trip. Hikers can continue the Narragansett Trail for a longer hike.

Difficulty level: Moderate to challenging. Although the Lantern Hill Trail is less challenging than the Narragansett Trail, both trails have strenuous climbs to the top. Good footwear is highly recommended on the rocky paths.

pet friendly? Pets kept on a leash are allowed.

directions: Take I-95 to Exit 92. Follow Route 2 west. Just before Foxwoods, turn left onto Wintechog Hill Road. The car park and the entrance to the trail are on the right-hand side.

activities nearby

Beer’d Brewing Co.: The independent craft brewery has two locations including Stonington and Groton. The microbrewery produces a wide range of beers each year, “from our tried-and-true favorites to our experimental small-batch brews,” with an emphasis on innovation and creativity. Popular beers include 8 Days a Week, an American pale ale, and Dogs & Boats, an Imperial IPA. 22 Bayview Avenue, Unit 15, Stonington, bierbrauerei.com

breakwater: Located on the water, the restaurant offers seafood and landlubbers as well as breathtaking sunsets and views of Stonington Harbor and Fishers Island Sound. Menu items include a lobster cobb salad, a raw food bar with Ninigret Nectar oysters, Stonington scallops, burgers, tacos, flatbreads, and a selection of fried appetizers. 66 Water St, Stonington, 860-415-8123, www.breakwaterstonington.com

Submarine Force Museum: The museum maintains the “world’s finest collection of submarine artifacts” and is the premier repository of documents, photographs and other objects related to U.S. submarine history, with more than 33,000 artifacts, 20,000 documents and 30,000 photographs. The museum is home to the nautilusthe world’s first nuclear submarine, and has rotating exhibits on the history of revolutionary-era submarines tortoise to today’s submarines. 1 Crystal Lake Road, Groton, 800-343-0079, ussnautilus.org


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