Photos by Marc Hurwitz
Back in May, we looked at a handful of places for walks and hikes in Eastern Massachusetts where you could get far away from people, which was a pretty big deal at the time as the COVID-19 surge was still pretty much in place.
The surge may be over but dangers remain, and since the weather is now perfect for getting outdoors—and many are tired of being cooped up for weeks on end—it seems like a good time to look at a sequel list, with this one focusing just a bit more on areas that are fairly close to Boston while also being obscure spots where you will typically see few—if any—people.
As always, keep in mind that many visitor centers remain closed, so plan ahead for bathroom breaks. And stay safe, wear a mask!
Hayden Woods and Dunback Meadow, Lexington
Two remote-feeling conservation areas that can be done in one hike, these spots on either side of Waltham Street (and just north of Route 2) make up approximately 250 acres of unspoiled space for exploring. Hayden Woods features what feels like an endless boardwalk through a densely wooded area of swamps and wetlands, while Dunback Meadow also has swamplands along with vast open spaces and is a great place for those who are into serious birding. lexingtonma.gov/trails
Blue Hills, Randolph
Houghton’s Pond, the Shea Rink area, and Great Blue Hill have been packed with people during the pandemic, but did you know that there’s a little-known piece of the Blue Hills hidden away south of Route 128 and east of Route 24? This section, which is easily accessed from the Donovan School parking lot off Reed Street, features narrow, winding trails that go past vernal pools, old stone walls, and wetlands, and even includes an old Nike missile site that is hidden in the woods. mass.gov/doc/blue-hills-trail-map-guide/download
Wanapanaquin Hill in the Middlesex Fells, Stoneham
The North Reservoir section of the Fells had once been completely off-limits to hikers, but now people can legally use the main trail around that body of water, which means that one of the least-known hills in the Boston area is now able to be visited without getting into trouble. Wanapanaquin Hill, which is accessed via a short spur trail just off the main trail between the North and South reservoirs, is easy to miss (the AllTrails app is your friend here, as are the exact GPS coordinates for the hill, which are 42.45711, -71.11309), but worth it for its jaw-dropping views of the water below and low hills in the distance. friendsofthefells.org
Farrar Pond, Lincoln; Trout Brook, Wayland
If you park at the lot on Route 117 to access this area, it may feel crowded at first, but you’ll quickly lose the crowds as you cross the street to this rather large body of water. Taking the trail along the west and south edges of the pond, you’ll feel like you’re far, far away from Boston, and you can extend the hike into the Trout Brook conservation area of Wayland from trails along either the west or east edge of Farrar Pond (and then along side streets) where you’ll find wetlands, gorgeous ridges with steep drops into valleys below, and deeply wooded areas with very few people anywhere. lincolnconservation.org
Indian Point in Bare Cove Park, Hingham
The section of this sprawling riverside space between the main parking lot (off Fort Hill Street) and Route 3A can get a bit crazy on weekends in the summer, but if you head to the southern section of the park via various trails to the left once you leave the lot, you’ll soon leave the crowds behind and you may actually find yourself all alone in the woods. If you keep walking southward, you’ll eventually come to the end of the line at Indian Point, a breathtaking spot that includes verdant meadows and wetlands, peaceful water views, and, across the way, the hills of Great Esker Park and Osprey Overlook Park. hingham-ma.gov
Crow Hill in Breakheart Reservation, Saugus
As mentioned here before, this wild and remote-feeling conservation area just off Route 1 has some great hiking trails, but perhaps the highlight of the entire reservation is one that very few seem to even know about. Situated across from Castle Rock (the highest point in Breakheart), Crow Hill just recently “gained” a trail on the latest map for Breakheart. This narrow and rather dicey little cliff path leads up to a summit with unimpeded views in all directions, including from the spectacular Montowampate overlook on the north edge of the summit. mass.gov/doc/breakheart-trail-map/download
Whitney and Thayer Woods, Cohasset/Hingham
A relatively small outdoor space compared to neighboring Wompatuck State Park, this local favorite has a whole lot to offer given its size. Here you’ll find some beautiful wooded areas (including a rare American holly grove, which is a must around the holidays) along with views of the Boston skyline from the open summit of Turkey Hill and bucolic scenes from Weir River Farm, which is adjacent to the summit. You can also turn this into a long and much more remote-feeling hike by starting from the visitor center at Wompatuck, but if you’re short on time, the lot on Route 3A is best. thetrustees.org
Habitat Wildlife Sanctuary, Belmont
A hilltop conservation area smack dab in the middle of a quiet (and extremely wealthy) residential area, Habitat is your ultimate hidden gem for hiking and enjoying the great outdoors. Part of the terrific collection of Mass Audubon properties, this education center and sanctuary is currently free to all visitors during the pandemic (restrooms and buildings are closed, however), and some great sites are found within minutes of the parking area, including a meadow where you’ll often see goats grazing, a small woodland pond full of turtles, and a community garden and picnic area. massaudubon.org
East Point, Nahant
OK, so you’ll probably have to park at Nahant Beach (and you’ll have to pay to park), then walk a good three miles to this park at the very end of town, but its end-of-the-world feel and views that rival any on the Massachusetts coast make it all worth it. Perched on a particularly wild part of the ocean, East Point feels almost like Downeast Maine with its crashing waves, bracing salt air, and rock outcroppings, and if you have time, you can combine it with the equally gorgeous 40 Steps Beach nearby. google.com/maps/place/East+Point+Loop+Station
Noanet Brook Area, Noanet Woodlands, Dover
If you really want to get away from it all and still be only a few miles from the Boston line, this Trustees property is one of the best options out there, particularly if you like rocky peaks, bubbling brooks, and quiet ponds. The latter two can be seen in all their glory by focusing on the middle of the conservation area where a minor trail connects three ponds—Upper Mill, Third Iron, and Sawmill—while winding its way along the beautiful Noanet Brook. This short trail is just meant for frequent stops and maybe a picnic lunch (all three ponds are perfect for that), and very few know about it, so you may have it all to yourself. thetrustees.org