What started out as a lavish gift from a loving husband to his wife, is now one of the best hikes in Connecticut. The Heublein Tower hike and trail, located atop Talcott Mountain and just west of Hartford, offers views as far as Massachusetts.
I grew up hiking Talcott Mountain and visiting the tower with my mom. As a kid, it seemed to be shrouded in mystery and wonder. Now, as an adult, I know much more about the history behind the Heublein Tower, but I still find it just as magical.
The History of Talcott Mountain Tower
I tend to find history in general very fascinating, more specifically, New England history. I mean, that is where I grew up after all. The history of Heublein Tower (which later became the Heublein Tower hiking trail) is similar to many other building histories in the area, but a little more romantic and dramatic.
The Heublein Tower story actually begins long before the Heubleins moved to America and predates the birth of the Heublein tower builder.
Talcott Mountain saw not one, or two, but five towers atop the Connecticut mountain prior to the tower that stands today. The first tower, built by Daniel Wadsworth, stood from 1810 until 1840 when it blew down in a windstorm.
Daniel Wadsworth’s first tower was built entirely of wood and stood 55 feet tall. It featured an observation deck for the public to enjoy. After the loss of the first tower, Daniel constructed another one, but this time, secured it to Talcott Mountain with large steel cables. This second tower, which stood at 65 feet tall, was lost in 1864 to a fire.
Three years later, a third tower was constructed by Mathew Bartlett with the idea of charging visitors to tour the destination. This tower at Talcott Mountain began an important and popular piece of the community. This 60-foot tavern had public grounds and many buildings for merriment. These included a tavern, a dance hall, and a carriage house for the horses that would transport visitors to the top. Mark Twain and many of his friends were known to frequent the tower at this time.
In 1889 Bartlett sold his tower to Robert Hoe, who soon closed the tower to the public and shortly after tore it down. Bartlett was distraught at this and decided to build another tower on Talcott Mountain, this one in Tariffiville.
After changing hands once, this tower saw the terrible fate of fire in 1936. Today, despite five total towers calling the mountain home, only one still stands: the Heublein Tower.
The Heublein Family and the Heublein Tower
Gilbert Heublein was born in Germany, but as a child moved to the United States with his family. Upon settling in Hartford, his father, Andrew Heublein immediately began building their American dream. First, the family built a prominent hotel and restaurant business, which soon branched out to another endeavor.
The Heubleins created a large import/ export business for food, liquor, and the first premade cocktail mixes to go international. This empire even included the now famous Smirnoff vodka brand and A-1 Steak Sauce.
The family quickly became members of the Hartford elite, and that is how Gilbert met his wife Louise Gundlach. During their engagement, the couple was hiking Talcott Mountain, and Gilbert promised her a castle built upon the mountain.
His promise did come true. First, the tower was constructed, and fifteen years later, an addition with servants rooms, a large dining room, and a larger kitchen was completed. The tower was designed to withstand 100 mile per hour winds and was constructed of concrete and iron for strength.
By this point, the six story tower featured a bedroom on each floor, and a luxurious living room on the bottom floor. The top floor had a ballroom and was covered in windows for observation of the immense views. Over the years, many elegant parties were held in the tower.
After sitting empty for six years following Gilbert’s death, the tower was sold in 1943 to the Hartford times. The newspaper giant hosted parties and getaways for the employees earning Heublein Tower the nickname of the “Times Tower.”
After almost being turned into a development site, the The State of Connecticut’s Department of Energy & Environmental Protection bought over 550 acres of Talcott Mountain as well as the tower. A restoration effort was launched in 1973, with the Heublein tower hike and building opening up to the public in 1974.
Journeys Across the Heublein Tower Hike
As I mentioned earlier, the Heublein Tower has always been a sight of wonder for me. I grew up right down the road from it, and would often drive by, marveling at it’s 165-foot height sticking up from the ridge at Talcott Mountain.
I have journeyed on the Heublein Tower hike with my mom and family members many times in my life. And most recently, my husband joined us for his first experience. He is a builder, so being able to tour the interior of the tower and get up close and personal with the construction of the time was amazing for him.
Parking for Talcott Mountain State Park and Heublein Tower hike trailheads are located in two areas, the upper and lower. I have hiked to the tower from both parking lots and find them both enjoyable.
The trail that begins at the upper trailhead is rockier and more difficult to navigate, but less steep. The lower trailhead is an easier hike, and follows the yellow markers. The beginning of this trail is steep, but I find it to be a good workout. Although on the last visit, when we got to the ridge after the initial climb, we were all gulping up water on the hot august day.
To gain a greater understanding of the Heublein Tower trail, you can view teh Heublein Tower trail map below.
Despite the heat and the climb, its worth it, I promise. The Heublein tower hike trail is a total of 1.25 miles, so 2.5 miles to the tower and back to your car. The way there features an initial climb, followed by a good length of trail along the ridgeline.
Most of the Heublein Tower hike trail is in shade, but many breaks in the trees offer viewpoints off of Talcott Mountain into the valley below. I am pretty terrified of heights, so I did not get too close to the natural viewpoints. They do not have any rails or fencing to stop you from falling down the cliff.
The trail does incline again, but leads right to Heublein Tower. Once at the tower, you can admire the groomed grounds and landscaping while taking in the views. Further down the trail from the tower are picnic areas, and the BBQ pit from the Heublein family’s days.
On days when the tower is open, you can watch a video outlining the tower’s history in what used to be the carriage house. You can also tour the interior of the tower. Unfortunately, many changes to the tower were made to make it safer and more visitor friendly, but much of the original splendor is still there.
As a kid, I have memories of visiting the tower that vary greatly from what I see today. During my first memories, I was very young, so odds are, they are a bit skewed. But during this last visit, I was disappointed to see so much of the tower taken up by two staircases for visitors.
The tower is also in the process of being changed into more of a museum, featuring tower history, the history of the Heublein empire, and historical exhibits of the time period. In the foyer I read many plaques and documents that explained the tower history from the beginning, as well as photos and information about the food industry the Heublein family built up.
The foyer itself is mostly intact, complete with original furniture. After the foyer, myself and the group headed up the “up” stairs, and were able to view a bedroom, and a lounge/ sunroom, both filled with furniture of the time. In the sunroom, I had to resist jumping the rope and hanging out in the comfortable, antique lounge chairs to enjoy the sun and breeze.
At the top of the Tower, you enter what used to be the ballroom, and is now the observation area. The ballroom is full of large windows, and has views facing each direction. The tower is tall, and the views are far.
If you’re like me, and don’t like heights, I still highly recommend making the climb to the top for the views, just be sure to look out, rather than down!
The views are so expansive you can even see all the way into Massachusetts. Other views include the barn Door Hills, Connecticut Mountains, and extensive views of Talcott Mountain.
After spending an hour or two exploring the top, I found the Heublein tower trail to be much easier to handle on the way down.
What to Know Before Taking Heublein Tower Hike
The out and back trial of the Heublein Tower hike is 1.25 miles one way. Access to the tower is only available via hiking to the general public. Parking, hiking and visiting the tower is free of charge.
The Heublein Tower Trail entrance address is off of Summit Ridge Drive in Simsbury, CT. Summit Ridge Drive is located off of Hartford Road/ route 185.
The trail itself is open year round, but the tower interior and museum is only open Thursday- Monday Memorial Day through Labor Day, and on Tuesday through Saturday from Labor day to Halloween. From Halloween until Memorial Day, Heublein Tower is closed.
Pets are allowed and encouraged on the trails, as long as they are well behaved, and on leash. No animals (except services dogs) are allowed inside of Heublein Tower. We have often hiked the trail with dogs and have just had the group view the tower half at a time, with the other half staying outside with the dog.
Picnic areas are plentiful at the top, and benches can be found there as well as along the trail for those needing a break.
If you would like to lengthen your hike, the Metacomet trail intertwines with the Heublein Tower hike trail.