For those who want to find a bit of solace close to Boston, three of the most remote-feeling spots for hiking and walking in the local area
We are now entering year two of the pandemic, and for many, getting away from it all without having to cross state borders has been a big goal. Since March of 2020, we have looked at a number of places for hikes and walks in Eastern Massachusetts, most of which are ideal for getting outdoors safely as they tend to be fairly close to Boston, have little-used trails, at least some parking for those who drive, and lots of scenery. With the COVID anniversary arriving over the past few weeks, it seems like a good time to look at three more spots to escape the stress of everyday life, and these three are particularly remote and mostly free of people—and in the case of two of them, they are almost completely unknown (even to locals) while also being just outside of Route 128.
Holbrook Town Forest and Cranberry Pond, Holbrook and Braintree
The term “town forest” probably doesn’t drum up much excitement, instead bringing about images of flat wooded trails surrounded by houses. And this may be why this gem of a conservation area south of Boston (along with Braintree’s adjoining Cranberry Pond) is so little-used—or it could be the fact that unlike some outdoor spaces, there’s no dedicated parking lot to speak of. Whatever the case is, Holbrook Town Forest/Cranberry Pond is certainly one of the least-known places to hike in the Greater Boston area, and one you’ll probably have to yourself.
There are a few ways to access Holbrook Town Forest and Cranberry Pond, with one of the best options being from Park Drive in Holbrook, a dead-end road off Forest Street (which is just off Pine Street) that has street parking along its short length. A trail starts at the end of the road and from here, you can wander all around the town forest, with a nice route being the Elfin Pond Trail (the pond is lovely, by the way) to Estes Trail, then Long Trail, and finally Wiggins Trail, which will eventually take you to an open area with power lines where you take a right, then an immediate left and enter the Cranberry Pond Conservation Area in Braintree. By bearing left on the green trail at the entrance, you soon cross Cranberry Brook where a quick scramble to the left will bring you to a rocky area with cascades that feels like something in New Hampshire’s White Mountains and makes for a perfect snack break. From here you can continue on the blue trail down to the south edge of the pond and then turn around, go back over Cranberry Brook, and take a left, heading the other direction on the blue trail, which gets hilly and ends near the north side of the pond where you’ll find some gorgeous views.
The yellow trail departs from the pond, with a good route being to soon go left on the orange trail and take another left on the white trail at another set of utility lines, then taking one more left on the red trail, which takes you to the edge of the park at Hillsdale Road (which is a good place to start from the Braintree end). A little ways after the end of the white trail and just before Hillsdale Road, look for what appears to be an ancient pine forest to the left with a small pond in the middle of it. By taking a short, narrow path into the forest, you can pick your way to the edge of the pond where you’ll be rewarded with remarkable views of what really has the feel of a primeval wilderness. Retrace your steps and take a right, continuing on the red trail all the way to where you initially veered off on the green trail, then cross the power lines and take the Wiggins Trail directly back to Park Drive in Holbrook, making for a truly satisfying hike of about five miles in length.GPS coordinates for parking/trailhead: 42.1607858,-70.992905
Twin Pond and Beaver Pond, Lincoln
While perhaps not quite as hidden as Holbrook Town Forest and Cranberry Pond, this mostly self-enclosed spot in the western suburbs is something special, in part because it isn’t really part of one of the many routes that hikers use in Lincoln. While accessed mainly from a small parking lot to the south on Route 117 at the Lincoln/Weston line, Twin Pond and Beaver Pond can also be reached by a few other trails to the east, west, and north but because parking is generally not allowed on Lincoln’s narrow streets, it can be quite a long haul trying to do so, especially if coming from the lots far away at Lincoln Station or Lincoln Public Schools. So unless you live nearby, the Route 117 lot is the only really practical way to get to this area, which helps make it such a little-traveled spot.
The main trail north from the Route 117 lot starts off mostly wide and flat, feeling more like a fire road than a hiking path and making for a quick route to Beaver Pond. Along the way—and almost near the beginning, actually—are the “twin ponds,” which can be accessed from minor trails to the left and right; the trails to the left go to the much bigger body of water that is officially known as Twin Pond, but the main trail goes alongside the much smaller pond, and a short trail to the right affords great views from what looks like an old dam where a babbling brook leaves the pond to the south. Continuing north, you’ll see water to the left, and bearing left at a fork, you’ll cross the water where a rustic-looking house sits above the water, then you’ll have views of water and wetlands to the right. All of this water is known as Stony Brook, by the way, though it looks more like a series of small ponds than a brook—and other than the house, the area has a feel of remoteness not often found so close to Boston.
The trail continues north with Stony Brook and the wetlands staying just off to the right, and eventually you will come to a short bridge over moving water and a tiny body of water on the left with endless wetlands behind it. This is a great lunch/picnic spot with plenty of shade and soft ground to sit on, and the constant sound of the babbling brook by the bridge. From here, it’s a relatively short hike north to the bucolic Beaver Pond where you can explore a bit before looping back to the lunch spot, then taking a narrow trail with Stony Brook on the right, eventually coming to the fork by the house where you initially veered off to the left. From here it’s a quick walk back to the parking area, though before you do so, look for the trail to Twin Pond on the right (across from the “smaller” Twin Pond with the dam) for some tremendous views before turning around and heading back to the lot for a hike that totals a bit under four miles.
GPS coordinates for parking/trailhead: 42.3995569,-71.3096697
Pinnacle Rock/Black Rock/Melrose Rock, Middlesex Fells, Malden and Melrose
Perched high above civilization and far, far away from the main lots of the Fells (those at Sheepfold, the Flynn Rink, Bellevue Pond, and Long Pond), this series of ledges and cliffs is often overlooked mainly because of a lack of easy access. But Pinnacle, Black, and Melrose Rocks—all of which are on the Rock Circuit Trail—are a must for anyone who wants dramatic (and at times dizzying) views without having to leave the Boston area, and allow for much more of a challenge than Holbrook Town Forest/Cranberry Pond and Beaver/Twin Ponds, so if you’re into adventure, this is the option for you.
If you’re into relatively long hikes, consider parking at the Flynn Rink in Medford and make your way east via the Rock Circuit loop, but if it’s a short hike you want—or you simply just want to focus on the ledges and cliffs—you have two options: Either start at the small parking area on Fellsway East near the Malden/Melrose line or start at the Oak Grove T stop in Malden. (The latter is a bit tough to follow so for the sake of simplicity, this route will begin from Fellsway East.) Walking south about 300 feet from the Fellsway lot and crossing the road at the trail intersection, look for a white-marked trail that goes off to the right and up a hill overlooking the road (this is the Rock Circuit Trail) and follow it up and over, then up again after crossing a fire road. The Pinnacle Rock area actually has two overlooks, including one off to the right that has a rock face that’s easy to get to and sits high above a Malden neighborhood, and another to the left that’s a very steep dead-end path and can be dicey if the rocks are wet. Both perches have jaw-dropping views of the Boston skyline and mark one of the least-explored pockets of the Fells.
Dropping down from the “left” Pinnacle Rock begins a somewhat tough-to-follow part of the Rock Circuit trail that can be a real leg burner with lots of ups and downs, and as you head northward you’ll start to catch some views to the right. These views, while nice, pale in comparison to those of Black Rock, which is an exposed and mostly treeless cliff whose edges you won’t want to get too close to if you’re scared of heights, but the scenes up here are like nothing you’ll find anywhere in Eastern Massachusetts and help make it a very fine spot for a food break. On your way down Black Rock, look back to see the pointed peak of the cliff area where you just were (it looks like a little mountain), then continue dropping down to the top of the glorious Cascade Falls, which can be downright dangerous if you hike down to its base (don’t try this unless you’re an experienced hiker). You’ll start rising once again as you approach Melrose Rock. This clifftop looks a little like that of Black Rock, with more views to the north and some equally scary-looking drop-offs. It is also a great place to take a break before returning to the parking area by retracing your steps or, if you’re pooped, by walking west down from Black Rock and taking the easy Black Rock Path south, then a right on the Cross Fells Trail (marked with blue blazes) and back to the road. This route is only about a couple of miles in length, so if you want a longer hike, definitely start from the rink, which will give you about five or six miles in total.
GPS coordinates for parking/trailhead: 42.4428912,-71.0793415
Marc is the founder of @hiddenboston, a textbook editor, a hike leader for @AppMtnClub, and a food and travel writer and commenter for DigBoston, NBC/NECN, WBZ, WMFO and indie617.