Spend any time on Massachusetts’ North Shore and you will quickly understand that it is a region of exceptional beauty. There are quaint harbors, rugged stretches of rocky coastline, shaded forests, rolling farm fields, and vast expanses of golden grassy marsh.
“It’s a beautiful region partially because of the variety of scenery,” says Annie Harris, chief executive of the Essex National Heritage Area, a region encompassing 500 square miles in 34 towns that has been designated by the federal government as a landscape of important natural, historical, and cultural resources.
With so many awe-inspiring sights to choose from, where do you start? We’ve assembled 14 of our favorite ways to take in the splendor of the North Shore.
CIRCLE the quarry at Halibut Point State Park in Rockport, one of Harris’ personal favorites. A gentle path surveys the picturesque, water-filled quarry, and side trails bring walkers down to the rocky shore or up to a cliff that offers sweeping views of the coast as far as New Hampshire.
SURVEY the view from Chandler Hovey Park on the very northernmost point of Marblehead Neck. The drive to this petite park is stunning in its own right; when you arrive, a panorama including rock-lined shore, historic downtown buildings, and a sailboat-studded harbor continues the magic.
CLAMBER up Red Rocks in Gloucester. You’ll park in an unmarked dirt lot next to a storage facility and your walk starts as a fairly unremarkable stroll through the woods. But once you make the short-but-steep ascent, you’ll find yourself above the treetops surveying the natural beauty for miles around.
CROSS the Annisquam bridge. The wood-pile bridge that spans Lobster Cove in Gloucester was built in the mid-19th century and offers charming views of sailboats moored in the rock inlet, shingled cottages, and an expanse of sandy beach.
PICNIC on the Ocean Lawn at Coolidge Reservation in Manchester. A short, sloping walk through the forest leads to an expanse of manicured grass, once the yard of a marble mansion that is long gone. Relax on the lawn, enjoy some sandwiches, and take in a view of the Atlantic interrupted only by a few rocky islands.
CAPTURE the perfect photo of Manchester Harbor, a quaint irregular harbor dotted with boats and surrounded by trees, just steps from downtown. “Manchester Harbor is one of the quintessential New England views,” Harris says. “It just doesn’t get prettier than that.”
DRIVE along Route 127 from Beverly to Manchester. This small stretch of the Essex County Scenic Byway provides stunning glimpses of wave-pounded stones and tree-lined coast. Pull over near Endicott College to snap a photo or just spend a few minutes enjoying the sight.
CLIMB the stone tower in Lynn Woods. One of the largest municipal parks in the country, Lynn Woods is a forested oasis in the middle of the city. From the top of the 48-foot stone tower—the highest point in the city—visitors can view the Lynn waterfront and the Boston skyline.
SUMMIT Castle Hill on the Crane Estate in Ipswich. Beyond the stunning architecture and landscaping the estate offers, the top of the hill looks out across moody marshes, white-sand beaches, and undulating coastline.
GET UP early and go birdwatching on Plum Island. First thing in the morning, the sun paints the marsh grasses golden, the waves hiss on the sand, and a chorus of birds serenade your walk. It is several of the region’s natural highlights all rolled into a few perfect hours.
ORDER some fried clams at J.T. Farnham’s in Essex, bring your meal out to the marshside picnic tables, and take in the undulating course of the Essex River through the graceful grassy marsh.
STROLL through Harold Parker State Forest in Andover. This unassuming property is a hidden gem for enjoying the beauty of New England woodlands and wetlands, with trails circling peaceful ponds and traversing swamps. Canoeing and kayaking are also popular here.
MEANDER along the Merrimack River in Amesbury. Start on Main Street near Lowell’s Boat Shop—the oldest operating boat shop in the United States—and travel along the water on Merrimac Street and Pleasant Valley Road to watch the broad, pine-edged river rolling out to the sea.
RAMBLE the Appleton Farms Grass Rides in Hamilton and Ipswich. Five miles of wide paths were originally designed for carriages to pass. Today, walkers can wander through cow-dotted pastures, through wooded stretches, and up hills that offer bucolic views of agricultural land and forest.