Hiking Hot Spots
Seven stunning spots on the North Shore that will satisfy your thirst for exploration.
The Parker River Wildlife Refuge in Newbury
When it comes to hiking, the North Shore might not have soaring mountains to scale or vast deserts to trek. But what we lack in scale, we make up for in variety, history, and stunning beauty. So if you feel like exploring, lace up those hiking boots, grab a bottle of water, and hit one of these local hiking hot spots.
Photo by Robert Boyd
IPSWICH RIVER WILDLIFE SANCTUARY
THE EXPERIENCE: With 12 miles of easy and moderate trails winding past vernal pools, along its namesake river, and through forests and meadows, the sanctuary is the ideal place to spend an entire day immersed in the natural world.
WHAT MAKES IT UNIQUE: Along some trails, chickadees will eat birdseed from your hand.
TRAIL TO TRY: Rockery Trail. The rockery, constructed in 1905, offers stone caves, grottos, and passageways to explore.
NUTS AND BOLTS: Members admitted free; nonmember adults $4; children $3. Perkins Row, Topsfield, massaudubon.org.
APPLETON FARMS GRASS RIDES
Hamilton and Ipswich
THE EXPERIENCE: Originally created for horseback riding and carriage driving, this property’s 5.5 miles of wide, serene paths—or “grass rides”—meander between woods and meadows. This former farmland gives you a chance to see the progress of the natural land regenerating after the original old-growth forests were clear-cut in the 17th century.
WHAT MAKES IT UNIQUE: Four carved stone pinnacles, donated by the Appleton family stud the area, adding unexpected touches of art and history.
TRAIL TO TRY: The Great Pasture Trail runs along a stone wall with a forest on one side and a pasture dotted with grazing cows on the other.
NUTS AND BOLTS: Free for members; $5 parking fee for nonmembers. Highland Street, Hamilton, 978-356-5728, thetrustees.org.
BALD HILL RESERVATION AND BOXFORD STATE FOREST
THE EXPERIENCE: Together, these adjacent properties offer 19 miles of trails across 1,500 acres of forest and wetland exploration. Formerly used as a woodlot and a pasture, the land still sports historic stone walls.
WHAT MAKES IT UNIQUE: These two properties sport some of the richest biological diversity; beavers, deer, breeding raptors, otters, minks, blue-spotted salamanders, and even the occasional black bear have been spotted here.
TRAIL TO TRY: Towne Pond Trail offers an easy to moderate 3.7-mile walk through mature forests, past a beaver lodge, and along the edge of its namesake pond.
Photo by Jack Boudreau
LYNN WOODS RESERVATION
THE EXPERIENCE: At 2,200 acres, Lynn Woods is the largest urban park in Massachusetts, allowing visitors to surround themselves in wilderness just moments from downtown Lynn. More than 30 miles of trails offer wide, easy walks and more challenging off-the-beaten-path options for hikers of all levels.
WHAT MAKES IT UNIQUE: The easily accessible stone tower offers beautiful views of the area, including the Boston skyline, while the cave known as Dungeon Rock adds some spooky pirate lore (was it a hiding spot for stolen treasure?) to your amble.
TRAIL TO TRY: Loop around the entire park by following Pennybrook Road and Great Woods Road.
NUTS AND BOLTS: Free parking. Entrances at Pennybrook Road and Great Woods Road, Lynn, lynnwoods.org.
THE EXPERIENCE: For an adventure far more enjoyable than the name suggests, take a ferry (or grab a canoe and a paddle) to cross over to Great Misery Island and wander along two acres of trails, roaming through open meadows, aspen groves, and rocky shoreline. At low tide, wade over to Little Misery Island for more exploration.
WHAT MAKES IT UNIQUE:The ruins of vacation homes and an early-20th-century resort dot the edges of Great Misery Island.
TRAIL TO TRY: The Coastal Trail traces the perimeter of Great Misery Island, offering ocean vistas and an overview of the island.
NUTS AND BOLTS: Accessible by canoe, kayak, or dinghy. Ferry service from Salem available: $35 for adults; $28 for children. Visit sea-shuttle.com for details. More information on the islands available at 978-526-8687 or thetrustees.org.
Photo by R. Cheek
THE EXPERIENCE: The ocean is less than a half-mile away, but enter Ravenswood and you’re immersed in a forested network of trails that could have you forgetting you’re in a seaside town. From a shade-shrouded swamp boardwalk to a wide historic road, each trail has its own distinct character.
WHAT MAKES IT UNIQUE:Kids will enjoy the Hermit’s Haven Quest, a treasure hunt that uses clues to guide an exploration of the trails.
TRAIL TO TRY: The Ledge Hill Trail offers a two-mile loop through the forest that will have you scrambling over glacial boulders, skirting vernal pools, and enjoying views of Gloucester Harbor.
NUTS AND BOLTS: Free parking. 481 Western Ave. (Route 127), Gloucester, 978-281-8400, thetrustees.org.
DANVERS RAIL TRAIL
THE EXPERIENCE: Built along the former route of the Boston-to-Maine railroad, this 4.3-mile trail is a wide, easy walk that takes visitors by historic properties, local cafés, public art, and forested conservation areas. If you’re eager for more exploration, the path links to trails in Peabody, Wenham, and Topsfield.
WHAT MAKES IT UNIQUE: Download the Danvers Rail Trail app for interactive maps, trail news, a photo gallery, and local business listings.
TRAIL TO TRY: A 1/3-mile loop, Danvers-Wenham Swamp Walk is a wooden boardwalk that wends through marshland and swamp, offering possible glimpses of beavers and deer.
NUTS AND BOLTS:No admissions fees. For parking locations, visit danversrailtrail.org.
Photo by Beth Glasmann
CHECK OUT THESE PLACES TO HIKE IF YOU WANT...
TO DISCOVER A HIDDEN GEM
With no signs and a tiny parking lot adjacent to a self-storage facility on Route 133, Red Rocks Conservation Area in Gloucester is easy to miss. Make the effort to find it, however, and you’ll be rewarded with a rocky climb up to some of the best views available.
A WALK THAT’S FOR THE BIRDS
The Parker River Wildlife Refuge in Newburyport was founded to provide a safe haven for migratory birds. Today, birders spot dozens of species from bald eagles and osprey to piping plovers and loons.
A LOT OF DRAMA WITHOUT A LOT OF EFFORT
Just a few minutes’ walk in Rockport’s Halibut Point State Park brings you to the top of the towering granite walls of a water-filled quarry that closed in 1929. Follow the easy, tree-shaded trails around the pit for views that can reach as far as Maine on a clear day.
A BOTANICAL RAMBLE
At Maudslay State Park in Newburyport, plant lovers can wander around formal 19th-century gardens through cascades of azaleas and rhododendrons and by clusters of colorful wildflowers.
A BOLD EXPEDITION
The Bay Circuit Trail stretches 230 miles from Plum Island all the way down to Kingston, passing through dozens of towns. Start at the northern end and the only limit to your hike will be your own ambition.
At Bradley Palmer State Park in Topsfield, a paved road that is closed to vehicles allows easy access for wheelchairs, and a half-mile trail along the Ipswich River lets chair users get off the main drag.