Farms & Barns
The North Shore is home to many scenic farms and orchards. Russell Orchards in Ipswich is a 120-acre family-owned and -operated fruit farm that is a standout for many reasons, including their from-scratch cider donuts made with cider that comes from their own apple cider. If you’ve had a cider donut before but haven’t eaten one from Russell Orchards, I’ve got news for you: You are missing out. They are that good. The barnyard is a favorite with the younger crowd, who loves to feed and pet the animals who call Russell Orchards home. You can also pick your own fruit; the strawberry crop is up first once June rolls around.
In Hamilton and Ipswich, Appleton Farms sits on 1,000 acres and is the country’s oldest continuously operating farm. Aside from being surrounded by beautiful scenery, this farm boasts a variety of animals and a dairy and farm store that is a must-stop (try the cheese). The property has 6 miles of footpaths and farm roads that provide great walking options for people of all ages (including the stroller set). A picnic lunch on-site is not a hard sell to anyone who visits—the landscape is just that amazing.
A stop at Aster B. Flowers, a sustainable flower farm and floral design studio by the sea (say that five times fast), is a beautiful spot not only for what it produces but also for its mission. Flowers are grown using organic methods, and the owners reuse and recycle as much as possible. Flowers and weddings often go hand in hand, and owner Melissa Glorieux is glad to work with engaged couples on bouquets and wedding arrangements. No fancy wrapping is offered when you purchase flowers at the farm, but you won’t miss the ribbons or elaborate packaging when the blooms are this perfect. The farm also sells “flowers by the bucket” so the home flower enthusiast can try their own hand at putting arrangements together. Plus, it is such a simple pleasure to see where and how such a variety of beautiful flowers are grown.
Overlooks & Islands
Ravenswood Park in Gloucester is a wonderful place to welcome spring. With over 600 acres and everything from birdwatching to carriage paths, including the kid-friendly Ledge Hill Trail, it is easy to spend several hours surrounded by the lush scenery. Spend any amount of time exploring the park and you are likely to find yourself at the overlook to Gloucester Harbor or following the boardwalk to the Great Magnolia Swamp, home to native sweetbay magnolias.
Bakers Island is a small private residential island 5 miles off the coast of Salem. Home to a historic lighthouse, Bakers Island Light, this location is more well known for what it lacks than what it has. You won’t find many modern amenities here, and with no public roads, you’d be hard-pressed to find yourself caught in an afternoon traffic jam. The island is accessible to the public via a small landing craft, the Naumkeag, which lands directly on the beach. Upon arriving, visitors can take a guided hike up the beach to the light station to enjoy one-of-a-kind views.
Closer to the mainland, Thacher Island sits just a mile off the coast of Rockport. Accessible via boat (either your own or a privately run service) as well as by kayak, the island has much to offer. With 3 miles of manicured trails, there’s no shortage of nature walks. A visit down a trail named Annie’s Way will have you feeling as though you are walking through the pages of a seaside storybook. The island also has a museum and a campground, where camping is permitted from June through September.
Bikes & Hikes
If birdwatching is your hobby, you are likely no stranger to the Parker River Wildlife Refuge on the barrier beach island of Plum Island. With nearly 5,000 acres of diverse habitats, the refuge includes a picturesque beach, as well as a marsh and cranberry bog. The land is home to more than 300 types of birds and a large variety of mammals. It is not out of the ordinary to spot a seal during a walk on the beach (and I promise your children will never stop talking about it if you do!).
Visit Maudslay State Park and be prepared to feel as though you have been transported to another time. With 480 acres of parkland, there is an abundance of hiking and biking to be done here. The site of what was once the Moseley family estate, the grounds are dotted with foundations of mansions that once sat on the property, as well as an enchanting iron gate and the remnants of old barns and other structures. This is a wonderful place for visitors of all ages, and dogs can often be seen stretching their legs alongside their owners.
Another location worth visiting is the Willowdale State Forest in Ipswich, which features miles of trails for hiking and walking as well as the opportunity to fish and boat on Hood Pond. The tranquility of this forest cannot be overstated; it is not hard to feel as though you are completely alone with nature and your thoughts. The property has a single track for mountain biking and other roads that can easily accommodate walkers, runners, and strollers, as well as ideal perches for bird watching.
Arts & Architecture
If you appreciate museums, a visit to American folk art museum Cogswell’s Grant (a Historic New England property) should be on your list. Located in Essex, the museum was the summer home of celebrated collectors Bertram K. and Nina Fletcher Little. In addition to tours, the museum has several interesting happenings taking place in May, including a bird watch walk and an Artist’s Plein Air Day, when artists and painters are invited for a day of outdoor painting on the grounds. As summer gets under way, the museum conducts a Coastal Farming Walking Tour, and will also be holding an in-depth paint tour. “Colorful Origins” will be led by Sally Zimmerman, a noted expert on historic paint colors. This event is being held in conjunction with the nearby property Beauport, the Sleeper-McCann House.
Another Historic New England property, the Beauport/Sleeper-McCann House, was the summer home of one of the country’s first professional interior designers, Henry Davis Sleeper. A National Historic Landmark, the site opens to the public for the season at the end of May and has several upcoming special events. A highlight will be Designing Beauport, Room by Room, a house tour where visitors will get to experience the house’s rooms in the order that Henry Sleeper added them.
The Cape Ann Museum is an American art museum situated one block from the water in downtown Gloucester. With a focus on history, crafts, and fine arts, this spring the museum is celebrating the collection opening of a new exhibition featuring renowned landscape and marine painter Charles Movalli entitled Charles Movalli: Cape Ann & Beyond. The museum is also home to the largest collection of works by Fitz Henry Lane, including a rare watercolor and 100 drawings.
It matters little if you choose to hike, bike, walk, or run, the options for North Shore residents and visitors are plenty. No matter where you end up, the backdrop is sure to be gorgeous, and you’re likely no more than 10 miles away from a plate of fried claims or a lobster roll at any given moment. So lace up your shoes, pack some sunblock, and don’t forget to leave room for ice cream along the way.
Lunch Spots & Sweet Treats
Fried clams with a view
(cash & personal checks only)
88 Eastern Ave., Essex
Oceanfront dining & seafood that can’t be beat
My Place by the Sea
68 Bearskin Neck, Rockport
Every hot dog under the sun (and then some)
Top Dog of Rockport
2 Doyles Cove Rd., Bearskin Neck, Rockport
Ice cream and more
Haley’s Ice Cream
168 Route 1 Traffic Circle, Newburyport
Homemade flavors made on-site daily
Hodgie’s Ice Cream
71 Haverhill Rd., Amesbury