Hoofing it for kicks through cold and snow, from Plymouth to Concord
It has been nearly two years now since COVID first made its appearance in the local area, and ever since, we’ve been looking at places to go outdoors where you won’t see crowds of people. Now that it appears that it’s actually pretty difficult to get the coronavirus while outside, it seems like maybe being among the masses in the great outdoors isn’t such a big deal anymore, but why chance it?
There are plenty of spots close to Boston where you can get away from people, and with the cold weather and snow now on our doorstep, there’s something about the utter and complete silence you get when in the middle of nowhere this time of year that helps make for a special day. Ten such places can be found below, with all being within an hour of the heart of the city.
College Pond, Weston
The communities just west of Route 128 have a lot of quiet, unspoiled reservation lands that are perfect for a quiet jaunt. Weston is no exception, as much of the town is made up of conservation areas with an abundance of paths, including the College Pond area, which is a very short drive up Concord Road from the “downtown” area of Weston. Parking along the road just before the pond, you can immediately latch onto a trail and simply wander, skirting the water and making your way to the Weston Observatory hidden away a short distance to the west. And if you’d like, you can turn it into an all-day hike by continuing into the vast Ogilvie and Jericho forests and even cross over into Lincoln for more hiking.
[GPS coordinates for parking area along Concord Road: 42.3797168,-71.314943]
Brookwood Community Farm, Canton
Everyone who hikes knows about the Blue Hills just south of Boston, but relatively few have heard of Brookwood, which is literally across the street from the foot of Great Blue Hill and is basically a continuation of the reservation. Brookwood is the site of an old farm, and it is still used for agriculture, including growing food for people in need. The space itself is almost shockingly beautiful considering that it’s virtually unknown while being wedged between busy Route 93 and Great Blue, with trails there offering views of Brookwood’s rustic buildings tucked into the hills, along with fields and woods beyond the main section of the farm.
[GPS coordinates for Brookwood parking lot: 42.2073656,-71.1118697]
Moncrieff Cochran Sanctuary, Andover
The Merrimack Valley and the surrounding hills have no shortage of hiking areas, including many that are completely hidden within plain sight. Moncrieff is a good example, and much like College Pond and Brookwood, is a good option if you’re short of time and simply want to head into a quiet, peaceful area for an hour or two. Located at the end of Chapel Avenue on land owned by Phillips Academy, this wooded park has a combination of wide and narrow trails, two bucolic ponds in the middle, rolling hills, and a charming log cabin that is used for events. If you hit all of the paths you can get three or four miles in, or you can do a quick two-mile loop if you want to simply get out on a quick lunch break.
[GPS coordinates for parking area: 42.6504266,-71.1302693]
More-Brewer Park, Hingham
The nearby Wompatuck and Bare Cove parks tend to get all the attention in Hingham along with World’s End Reservation, but this local favorite is a good one to explore if you want to try something that only the locals tend to go to. More-Brewer actually has a split character in a way; the main section north of Hobart Street includes lazy carriage paths that are just meant for a Sunday stroll, taking you through dark forested areas, unspoiled fields, swamps, and wetlands by tiny Brewer Pond. If you cross the street into Brewer Reservation and the Ridgewood Reservation beyond, the land gets more rugged, going up to a ridge with views of hills and fields, making it perhaps even more interesting than More-Brewer itself.
[GPS coordinates for parking along Hobart Street: 42.2221783,-70.9024274]
Maudslay State Park, Newburyport
The Merrimack River tends to be seen as simply a moving body of water that mainly goes through old mill towns rather than being a place to go for a hike, but on the outskirts of Newburyport, you can find a vast open space that include trails that give jaw-dropping views of a part of the river that’s quite pristine. Because of its natural beauty and easy access, Maudslay is known in part as a place to go for events such as weddings, but there are also more than 15 miles of paths here, which allows people to quickly find some peace and quiet among its pine forests, verdant fields, historic sites, and yes, the river itself where you can hike for a couple of miles along the water.
[GPS coordinates for parking lot: 42.8215834,-70.9262555]
Heywood’s Meadow, Concord
If you’re not crazy about the crowds at Walden Pond, there are some much quieter areas to hike just beyond that historic body of water, including a great little “secret” area only a few minutes away that feels like it could be 100 miles from Boston. Heywood’s Meadow is nearly completely unknown in part because it resides in a bowl that’s a steep climb (and descent) from the back of Walden Pond, while one side of it is also cut off by railroad tracks. Because of this, you’ll often have this area completely to yourself, and what an area it is, with its boggy marshlands, knocked-down trees due to beavers, and, when the sun is right, an extraordinary light coming into the bog that almost gives it a spiritual quality.
[GPS coordinates for Walden Pond parking lot: 42.4408762,-71.3354035]
Many cranberry bogs in Southeast Massachusetts are off-limits to the public, and those that aren’t don’t have much in the way of a trail system in which to view them. That’s why coming to this new (and charming) development in the middle of nowhere is a must, as it is literally surrounded by cranberry bogs, which means you can park in the village center and simply start walking west, north, or south until you hit the bogs. The area around the Agawam River is particularly breathtaking, as the open space appears to be endless, and because you’re so far away from any main roads, you’ll find a quietness rarely found anywhere near the Boston area.
[GPS coordinates for village center: 41.8296942,-70.6202679]
Beaver Brook North Reservation, Waltham
The small but scenic Beaver Brook Reservation on the Belmont/Waltham line is a fun place to go to if you only have a few minutes, as its cascading stream and attractive little ponds make for a quick getaway. There is another part of Beaver Brook, however, that is much larger and which is part of a trail system that can offer outdoors lovers an all-day hike. A good place to start is by the rather creepy-looking (but historic) Metropolitan State Hospital where you can hike east to the gorgeous Rock Meadow in Belmont and beyond to the Habitat Wildlife Sanctuary, or west and then south through various parklands in Waltham—or you can stay in Beaver Brook North and enjoy the streams and wetlands and perhaps a steep climb up the little-known Mackerel Hill for some nice views.
[GPS coordinates for parking area along Metropolitan Parkway: 42.4053859,-71.2132548]
Tompson Street Reservation, Gloucester
You wouldn’t think that Cape Ann would have rugged, hilly terrain because of its oceanside location, but a good part of the inland sections of Rockport and Gloucester are absolute wilderness, including this large area just north of Route 128 near Wingaersheek Beach. The park includes about 300 acres and many miles of trails, and if you start at the Bray Street entrance, you may be shocked to see how high the hills are here considering how close you are to the water. Highlights include Eagle Rock, which affords views of Maine on a clear day; Sunset Cliffs, which offers fine views of much of Cape Ann; and countless swamps and vernal pools throughout that help make this an interesting hike from start to finish.
[GPS coordinates for parking along Bray Street: 42.6374373,-70.7149006]
Massasoit State Park, Taunton
One of the best areas for hiking in Southeastern Massachusetts, Massasoit is another one of those places that is often overlooked, perhaps because it’s sometimes seen as a city park that can’t be all that interesting. But even though Massasoit is located in the city of Taunton, it is actually a very large state park that is an easy place to get lost in. And because it’s in the southeast part of the state, there’s the obligatory cranberry bog right at the main parking area, and beyond that are several lakes and ponds, deep forests, a woodsy campsite, and so many spectacular views from the waterside trails that it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Massasoit State Park is one of the premier outdoor areas within an hour of Boston.
[GPS coordinates for parking area: 41.8809119,-70.9917681]