Here’s a reminder, in case you need it: We live in a place where other people vacation. That’s because the North Shore is a bona fide destination, where take-your-breath-away beauty is painted onto every rocky cove and woodland grove. This is especially true in summer, that golden, sun-drenched season when the days warm up and life slows down.
So don’t pack your bags this summer. Instead, stick around to soak up the sun-warmed sand, surf a few waves, and hit the trails. Fill up your weekends with tons of summer fun on the North Shore.
If your endless-summer dreams include riding the waves, the North Shore has a few spots that are surfboard ready, especially for beginners. Take, for example, Good Harbor Beach in Gloucester, where sandbars and consistent knee-high waves combine for the perfect conditions for learning how to surf, according to Christian del Rosario, co-owner of the surf shop Surfari. “It’s a really easy learning wave,” he says.
Among Surfari’s most popular summer offerings are the adult surf nights (women-only on Sundays and coed groups on Tuesdays) from 5:30 to 7:00, which are open to everyone from “total newbies” to experienced surfers and include a lesson and the chance to get out in the waves. Just bring yourself to the beach (but sign up in advance because spots fill up quickly); Surfari supplies the board and wetsuit.
Another great spot to learn to surf is the shallow bay at Nahant Beach, where surf shop Ocean House Surf in Swampscott takes its beginner surf students. “It’s this really nice, gentle, long rolling wave that’s perfect for beginners to learn how to surf,” says Ocean House co-owner Tim Oviatt.
For more experienced surfers, both Surfari and Ocean House Surf offer gear and rentals, as well as advanced lessons. Oviatt says a lot of people don’t know you can surf on the North Shore, but “when it’s good, it is really good.” And if you try it, you might just fall in love. “It’s a life-changing experience,” claims Oviatt. “Once you stand up for the first time, you’re instantly hooked, and once you get hooked, that’s all you want to do with your free time.” Visit surfcapeann.com and oceanhousesurf.com to learn more.
Pete Marotta’s Favorite North Shore Hikes
“I hike all over the place,” says Marotta, who is a hiking enthusiast as well as the stewardship data and projects coordinator for The Trustees of Reservations. On the North Shore, he looks for places where he can experience three of the region’s most iconic landscapes: coastal, woodland, and agricultural. Here he shares some of his favorite North Shore hikes.
Hike the trails on Crane Beach’s Castle Neck in Ipswich to find a wide variety of coastal flora and fauna, sweeping views of the Essex River and Ipswich Bay, and easy trails that can be made more strenuous by hiking up and down the dunes and loose sand.
Hike the outer loop at Ravenswood Park in Gloucester by connecting the Ledge Hill Trail (orange blazes), Fernwood Lake Trail (blue blazes), and Magnolia Swamp Trail (yellow blazes) to see glacial erratics throughout the rocky woodland landscape. Combine that with either Stage Fort Park or Magnolia Woods and Rafe’s Chasm for an added coastal experience.
At Dogtown Common in Gloucester, look out for notable glacial erratics like the “Babson Boulders” (where life advice such as “stay out of debt” is etched into the rock) and an expansive network of trails and connections to Essex County Greenbelt properties such as Carter Reservation, Natti Woodlands, and Kleimola Reservation. The hiking (and finding the opportunity to get pleasantly lost) is easy.
Hike through the classic agricultural landscape at Appleton Farms on the Plains Loop Trail (blue blaze) for beautiful views across the Great Pasture.
In Good Company
Not in the mood for a solo hike? Not in the mood for a hike at all? There are other ways to hit the trails and the road on the North Shore this summer.
On a bike: Join free group rides at Riverside Cycle’s Haverhill and Newburyport locations through mid-September. The rides vary by distance, speed, and rider ability; check riversidecycle.com for upcoming rides. Rides from the Haverhill location, for instance, might include loops through Bradford, Rocks Village, West Newbury, and Boxford. For trail rides and mountain biking beyond the group rides, take a tip from Haverhill store manager Kurt Johnson, who loves the Beverly Rail Trail, Haverhill’s Winnekenni Park, Bradley Palmer State Park in Topsfield, Martin Burns Wildlife Management Area in Newburyport, and Harold Parker State Forest in Andover. “People don’t realize all the places we have to mountain bike here on the North Shore,” he says.
On a horse
You don’t have to cross the Mississippi River to experience Western-style horseback riding along beautiful woodland trails; you don’t even have to cross the state. Instead, venture to Bobby’s Ranch in Westford, which does hourly guided trail rides on horseback through more than 1,500 acres of open space. The horses are calm, quiet, and perfect for beginners and use Western-style, rather than English, saddles. “A lot of people want to feel like they’re a cowboy,” says owner Robert Haigh. bobbysranch.com Get Your Paddle On
Grab a paddle and head out into the ocean with Coast to Coast Paddle, which offers kayak and standup paddleboard rentals, lessons, and group tours and events. With two waterside kiosks—one at Beverly’s Independence Park, the other at Salem Willows—it’s easy and convenient to join in the fun. “People just have to show up. All the equipment is right there,” says co-owner Ashley Skomurski. “We do all the heavy lifting; they just have to get out on the water and have fun.”
Here’s a taste of their offerings:
Paddle and Pints: A 90-minute sunset paddle in Beverly followed by a drink at a local brewery.
Sunset Paddle Tour: A two-hour sunset tour of the coastline at Salem Neck.
SUP Yoga: Take the standup paddleboard (or SUP) out to a protected cove, anchor it, and do a full yoga class right on the board.
Lessons and rentals: Rent equipment on your own or take advantage of learning opportunities like the group or private lessons, kayak rescue skills clinics, a “happy paddle” that combines a lesson with a rental, and more.
Fresh Air + Yoga = Zen
Get out of the studio and experience yoga outside with:
Cape Ann SUP (Gloucester and Essex), which offers twice-weekly SUP yoga through Labor Day. capeannsup.com/supyoga
Saltwater Yoga Studio (Newburyport), which offers yoga on the beach at Plum Island through popup classes and private parties. saltwateryogastudio.com
Cider Hill Farm (Amesbury), which offers farm yoga classes near the strawberry patch throughout the summer. ciderhill.com/farmevents
With a coastline dotted with beautiful harbors, bays, and historic yacht clubs, it’s no wonder that the North Shore is one of the sailing and boating capitals of America. Yet learning to sail can be intimidating (not to mention expensive). Enter the Sandy Bay Yacht Club in Rockport, which combines a reasonably priced annual membership with an awesome learn-to-sail program that teaches hundreds of people to sail every year.
“There’s no classroom; everything is done on the boat,” says Skip Montello, a licensed Coast Guard charter captain and the adult sailing program coordinator for the Sandy Bay Yacht Club. The learn-to-sail programs, which are available for children and adults, teach everything from how to steer to the elements of a basic sloop, maritime rules of the road, and navigation marks. The multi-week course concludes with an exam and is eventually followed by getting the OK to use the club’s loaner boats in Sandy Bay.
Montello says Sandy Bay is a beautiful place to sail, for both beginners and experts. It’s surrounded by land on three sides, so the water is fairly calm, consistent, and predictable; there’s deep water close to shore; and since Rockport doesn’t have a marina or fuel dock, the bay is not crowded. sandybay.org/sailprog.shtml
You can also get out on the water with:
Greater Lawrence Community Boating: For a low summer membership fee ($50youth, $100/adult, $175/family), access sailing and paddling on the Merrimack River. boatingprogram.com
Essex River Cruises and Charters: Explore a beautiful tidal estuary with Essex River Cruises and Charters’ daily narrated public cruises, which run through the third weekend in October. essexcruises.com/tours-cruises
Schooner Fame: Set sail aboard a replica of the 1812 privateer Fame either by day or at sunset for one of their public cruises. schoonerfame.com
Newburyport Whale Watch: Spot fin whales, humpback whales, minke whales, dolphins, and other marine wildlife on these narrated whale watches. newburyportwhalewatch.com
Swim Beyond the Coast
The North Shore might be famous for its beautiful coastline and ocean beaches, but swimming and sunbathing at its freshwater beaches makes for a fun summer day, too. Plus, many of them boast lifeguards, picnic tables, wooded trails, and free or cheap parking. Here are a few:
Heart Pond, Chelmsford
Lake Saltonstall (known locally as Plug Pond), Haverhill
Pearce Lake, Breakheart Reservation, Saugus
Shannon Beach, Mystic Lakes State Park, Winchester
Berry Pond, Harold Parker State Forest, Andover
Sandy Beach, Danvers
Crane Beach is one of the region’s most handicap-accessible, offering rides for beachgoers with disabilities (and all their beach gear) from the parking lot directly onto the sand in an all-terrain vehicle called a Gator during the summer season. A handful of other North Shore beaches, including Long Beach in Nahant and the state reservations at Salisbury and Revere Beaches, offer beach mat access, allowing wheelchair, walker, and crutches users to more easily get across the sand.
The North Shore Paddlers Network is a nonprofit sea kayaking membership group that facilitates paddling trips, skill sessions, workshops, and other events, and also lists popular local locations where paddlers can launch their kayaks at nspn.org/put-in-locations/.
At Nahant Beach, the best time to surf is the morning, thanks to the favorable winds.