WORDS + PHOTOS BY MARC HURWITZ @HIDDENBOSTON
For many folks in and around Boston, wildlife is mostly relegated to squirrels, pigeons, dogs, and some less appealing creatures that have four (or more) legs. But you really don’t need to go that far out of the city to be immersed in nature, including sightings of both wild and domesticated animals, and one of the best areas for this is the less populated communities just west of Route 128.
One destination that immediately comes to mind is Lincoln, a quiet town near where Routes 2 and 128 meet and one that looks more like a Vermont village than a bedroom community less than 15 miles from Faneuil Hall. Lincoln has done a great job with its open space, setting up a trail system that winds its way through much of the town and goes past ponds, streams, fields, hills, and farms. One of the most interesting hikes within its trail network focuses mainly on the farms, and if you’re lucky, it will allow you to get up close and personal with all kinds of animals while also having a nice stop at one of the region’s most famous bodies of water.
A good starting point for this hike is from the Lincoln Station commuter stop, in part because if you don’t have a car, you can simply hop on the Fitchburg line at North Station and get off right where you’ll start walking. If you have a car, it’s also pretty easy to get to from Route 2 or Route 128, and parking at the commuter lot is free on weekends. (It’s $3 if you go on a weekday.) The hike begins in the back of the lot where you’ll see a road heading west that parallels the tracks to the left, bringing you to a beautiful meadow on the right after only a few minutes of walking.
At the end of the meadow, take a left up a bridge over the tracks, then continue straight until it looks like you’re walking into someone’s driveway. Up ahead you’ll see the grounds for the Codman Estate, but before that, look for a trail on the right that squeezes between a house or two on the right and the grounds of the estate to the left. Within a minute or two, you’ll find yourself face-to-face with some of the friendliest animals around.
Alpacas are often confused with llamas, and for good reason; the two animals are related to each other and tend to look somewhat similar, though alpacas are definitely smaller. And alpacas are beloved for many things, including their wild hairdos, huge eyes and eyelashes, strange-looking legs, and their quirky personalities. All of this is on display as you approach a little alpaca farm on the left just after the Codman Estate, and if you’re lucky, you’ll see several of them, including a male that preens and poses for the camera while a few females quietly graze, snooze on the ground, or come over and gaze at you with their almost surreal eyes. In theory, you could end the hike right here and spend an hour chilling with the alpacas (and perhaps chat with one of the people caring for them if they are there), but there’s much more to see, so after saying goodbye to your newfound friends, it’s time to continue on.
The path from the alpaca farm continues westward and briefly dips into the woods before emerging in another field, and depending on the season and the time of day, you may start hearing a noise in the distance that gets louder and louder as you continue on. Soon, you may find yourself looking at countless chickens clucking and stumbling around in every direction, and you may see a herding dog that will likely run up to the fence and start acting tough for a minute or two before it shrugs, wanders off to a grassy area, and promptly curls up on the ground and falls asleep now that its job is done. If the chickens aren’t here, the quiet is almost deafening, and the field is a completely peaceful place that will make you wonder if you’re really only a half-hour from Boston, which is definitely part of the charm of this little town.
After passing where all the chickens are (or aren’t), you’ll soon reach Route 126, a mostly rural road that runs from Providence, Rhode Island, all the way up to Concord, a few minutes north of where you’re currently standing. Take a right along the path just before the road and walk parallel to the road, quickly coming to a spectacular wetlands area on the right called Beaver Dam Brook where maybe, just maybe, you’ll see one (or more) of these industrious little rodents, though they do tend to sleep during the day so the chances aren’t great. Right after the view of the marshy area to the right, cross Route 126 and take a left onto Old Concord Road, a country lane that goes past the sprawling Lindentree Farm on the left, which you can actually walk through on a separate hike—and the path you would take is part of the Bay Circuit Trail, a 200-mile (yes, 200-mile) pathway that goes from Duxbury to Plum Island and that you already may have seen signs for earlier because you’ve actually been on part of the trail already.
Rather than taking a left on the Bay Circuit, continue up Old Concord Road until you get to another trail on the left just after Fairhaven Lane and just before the road ends. This little walkway skirts yet another farm on the right, zigging and zagging until you reach the end of the open fields, where—again, if you’re lucky—you’ll be staring at some magnificent horses who are likely doing nothing more than staring back at you and wondering why you’re spending the day walking around in the middle of nowhere. The juxtaposition of the horses, the fields, and the farm in the background seems almost unreal, so hopefully you brought a camera or a smartphone to get some snaps before saying farewell to your newest batch of friends and heading onto the next adventure.
Once you leave the farm area and the horses, the trail goes back into the woods for a little while, crossing a path, then giving you the option to go left or right. Head right and cross the tracks, taking the left trail over the tracks instead of the right trail (and yes, you really should have a map because it gets confusing here—see below before you attempt to do this hike). If you’ve somehow figured out the correct trail, you’ll find yourself dropping down to a wild and remote-looking wetlands area called Heywood’s Meadow, which may be the highlight of the entire hike if you’re more into scenery than hanging with animals, though this is another spot where you could see some beavers. Follow the trail with the wetlands on your left, then take a left at the end of the wetlands, and basically go counter-clockwise with the wetlands still on your left until you start climbing a steep hill. This trail then levels out, and as it starts dropping, you’ll see a big, beautiful body of water right in front of you. What exactly is this? Just a place you may or may not have heard of called Walden Pond.
Walden Pond is one of the state’s true gems, not only for its history (Henry David Thoreau and such), but also for its unspoiled scenery, especially if you’re not there in the heat of the summer when it can get crowded. But even then, you’ve emerged at the far end of the pond, so this part rarely gets crowded even on 90-degree days. At this point, you have many options, including walking around the pond (highly recommended), strolling over to Thoreau’s Cabin Site, heading to the gift shop at the parking lot, or perhaps taking a different way back if you’re done with animal sightings and have a good sense of direction. If you opt for anything but this last option, once you return to this point, it is time to retrace your steps for a little while.
If you’ve used a tracking app on your phone that shows a breadcrumb trail, heading back on the path will be a breeze, and it’s highly recommended that you do use something like AllTrails or a similar app to make life easier. Assuming you have or at least don’t get hopelessly lost and have them bring in the choppers to save you (which would make you look bad because you’re in the western suburbs of Boston, not Yosemite), head back past the horses, back down Old Concord Road, across Route 126 to Beaver Dam Brook, left on the chicken and alpaca trail, then stopping at the alpaca farm because this is where you take a new route back that offers more animal sightings—and a little surprise for food lovers.
When you see the alpaca area on the right, this time instead of going straight along the trail toward the bridge over the tracks, take a right down a grassy area that has the alpaca farm on the right, and walk all the way down to Codman Road. Take a short walk to the right along the road, and you may see a huge number of turkeys hanging around and doing their thing (and this is more or less behind where all the chickens are), then backtrack and walk parallel to the road along the grass until you get to the road that leads you to the Codman House. Walk up this road then bear right, continuing on until you see another farm on the left. When you see a gate, take the left through it and enter Codman Community Farm and walk along the dirt road that cuts through it. There’s a good chance you’ll see cows of every size along this road, including mammoth Gronk-sized cows that will probably be staring at you in a rather bored and indifferent manner. Once you’ve had enough of their staring, continue down the dirt road until you arrive at the Codman farm store, which is open to the public and features all kinds of goodies, including burgers, hot dogs, cheese, olive oil, maple syrup, and fresh loaves of bread. It’s self-serve and you can use your credit card, so go to town because it’s all really good stuff.
Once you leave the farm store, you’re basically back. You can walk past the community gardens below the store or walk down Codman Road and take a left on Lincoln Road for a few hundred feet back to Lincoln Station. Or you can go back to the alpacas and hang with them for the rest of the afternoon, taking pictures that will surely impress your friends on social media, with some of them undoubtedly saying, “Oh wow, is that like a llama or something?”
A trail map of Lincoln Conservation Land can be found at lincolnconservation.org. Also, variations of this hike are done by AMC Local Walks/Hikes (including on 3.21), and all hikes are free and open to the public: activities.outdoors.org.