The Mattatuck Trail and Legend of The Leatherman

By Morrowlong (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
By Morrowlong (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The Mattatuck is a Blue Blazed Trail featuring 36 miles of trail through state forests and parks in North-Western Connecticut. It passes through nine towns. The Black Rock Park Section traverses The Mattatuck State Forest and Black Rock State Park. It is a loop trail and is moderately strenuous.

Pine forests that cover this section of trail make it ideal for any season. Two lookouts provide good vistas. The trail also passes through a cave that the legendary and mysterious Leatherman slept in once every 34 days. The lore of the Leatherman has reached far enough to become known to Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, who wrote a song entitled: Leatherman.

One misty moisty morning
When cloudy was the weather
I chanced to meet an old man
All dressed in leather
I began to curtsy
He began to grin
And howdy do and howdy do
And howdy do again.

The Mattatuck Blue Blazed Trail

The Mattatuck mainline trail is a 36 Mile Blue Blazed Trail.It's Southern point begins at the Waterbury reservoirs in Wolcott and passes through: Plymouth Thomaston, Watertown, Morris, and Litchfield. It is Fragmented in Litchfield, but picks up again in Cornwall, drops into Goshen for a few miles and finishes at a junction with The Mohawk trail in Cornwall. Along the trail you will pass through the Mattutuck State Forest, Black Rock State Park, and The White Memorial Foundation and Conservation Center

The word Mattatuck is American Indian and means loosely: the place without trees. The place refereed to is now Waterbury. But, in a historic irony land which now makes up the Mattatuck State Forest and Black Rock State Park was deforested; the wood being used as fuel for foundries and brass milling in the nearby Naugatuck Valley. While we lament the loss of heavy industry in Connecticut, it is fair to consider the cost of industry on our environment. During the depression, the Civilian Conservation Corp embarked on a massive reforestation project - planting tens of thousands of trees and instituting erosion control. The forests you are able to hike through on The Mattatuck Blue Blazed Trail is a product of extreme economic exploitation and extreme economic devastation.

Along The Mattatuck Trail - Watertown CT
Along The Mattatuck Trail - Watertown CT

4.5 Mile Loop Trail - Mattatuck and Branch Brook Trail

Leatherman's Cave - Watertown CT
Leatherman's Cave - Watertown CT
The 4.5 mile loop I hiked began at the Bidwell Road parking spot (of which there is room for 2 cars). The free parking spot is just outside of Black Rock State Park which charges a fee for parking and is gated until 8am. The Bidwell parking is in the Mattatuck State Forest. A portion of the trail crosses through Black Rock State Park. The loop is made by taking the blue with yellow dot blazed Branch Brook trail back towards Black Rock State Park, and then reconnecting to the Mattatuck blue trail just to the West of the footbridge that leads to an island with a beach in Black Rock Pond.

On The trail I ascended to a 720' summit, descended and climbed again to Crane's Lookout at 780'. Beneath Cranes Lookout and just past the Jericho Trail junction the Mattatuck passes through a cave open on two ends. This is one of The Leatherman's caves. The trail then descends into the Branch Brook valley and is covered by a canopy of pines with soft packed earth beneath. The Branch Brook Trail is a dirt road that passes alongside the Branch Brook. I crossed Highway 6 and entered Black Rock State Park where I lost track of the Branch  Brook Trail. I walked along the roads into the campgrounds and turned into the Beach Circle campsite where there is a trail to the beach. Just before a steel footbridge to the beach island a wide unmarked footpath veered off to my right. That trail reconnects to the Mattatuck.

View from Cranes Lookout - The Mattatuck Trail - Watertown CT
View from Cranes Lookout - The Mattatuck Trail - Watertown CT

The Legendary Leatherman

What does it take to become a legend? A good dose of mystery, a heartbreaking love story, and some eccentricity all help.

The famed Leatherman of Connecticut walked a 365 mile loop between The Connecticut and Hudson Rivers, sleeping in caves along the way between 1858 and 1889. He wore a 60 pound leather suit in all weather and did not speak English. The legend tells that he walked the loop with uncanny punctuality - arriving at the Forestville Post Office every 34 days within a few minutes of 2pm. Because of his punctuality, locals who lived along his route were able to expect him to pass on a certain day at a certain time and prepared meals for the occasion.

The Leatherman was told to be Jules Bourglay of Lyons, France. He fell in love with a woman whose father was a wealthy leather merchant; and who forbade him to marry his daughter because of his low class. Because of his broken heart, he sailed to America and walked away his life dressed in leather.

He was buried at The Sparta Cemetery in Ossining NY. In 2011 his body was exhumed to learn more about him, his health, and how he died. In yet another mysterious twist, no body was found in the grave.

Lore has been passed down through generations about the Leatherman. A PBS documentary was made, and the Seattle grunge rock band Pearl Jam wrote and produced a song about him.

Mattatuck Trail and Branch Brook Trail

COUNTY: Litchfield

DISTANCE: 4.5 Mile loop

LOWEST ELEVATION: 360FT above sea level
HIGHEST ELEVATION: 790FT above sea level

Directions and Trail Map

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Address for your GPS: 100 Bidwell Hill Road - Watertown CT 
| Coordinates: N41.645783,W073.096645 |
From Bridgeport40 Minutes
From New Haven50 Minutes
From Hartford40 Minutes
From New London1.5 Hours
From Providence2 Hours
From New York2 Hours


Documentary of The Leatherman

Pearl Jam's The Leatherman -1998 - B-Side to Given To Fly