When the temperatures drop, curling up in front of the fire or baking cookies in a warm kitchen has an undeniable appeal. But this year when the chilly weather strikes, consider making a little time for some snowy strolls and wintry wanders.
From a hike through a snow-covered forest to a walk along a deserted beach, the North Shore offers a wealth of places to get outside, no matter the season. So whatever your outdoor goal is, we have a destination for you.
“Depending on what experience you want, the North Shore offers a lot of opportunities,” says Peter Marotta, stewardships data and projects coordinator for The Trustees of Reservations, who is an avid winter hiker himself.
For a Family Outing
Ward Reservation, Andover
Nearly 10 miles of easy and moderate trails loop through swamps, over meadows, and up hills, letting you immerse yourself in nature and making it easy to choose the distance and difficulty that is best for your family. When you’ve had your fill of wandering, grab a sled from the car and trek to the top of 420-foot Holt Hill. Take in the views of the Boston skyline from the highest point in Essex County, and then hop on the sled for a thrilling descent.
For a Ramble in the Field
Appleton Farms, Hamilton and Ipswich
Six miles of gentle paths and farm roads pass through rolling fields and along stone walls on this bucolic working farm, perfect for a cold-weather ramble or for trying out those new snowshoes you got for Christmas. The open landscape offers a change of pace from the wooded norm, and kids will love ending a walk with a stop at the barn to visit the farm’s animals.
For a Change in Perspective
Crane Beach, Ipswich
Best known as a destination for swimming and sunbathing, Crane Beach becomes a different place altogether when the temperatures fall. More than five miles of coastline meanders through sand dunes and along the waterfront, letting you bask in the crowd-free serenity.
“You really feel like you have the place to yourself,” Marotta says. “You feel you’re exploring a natural setting rather than a crowded beach.”
The beach is also an ideal place to catch a glimpse of a snowy owl—some have already been spotted on the beach this year.
For a Quick Stroll
Stavros Reservation, Essex
With just one three-quarter-mile trail, this property is the ideal destination when you want to enjoy a beautiful winter walk without spending too much time in the elements. The loop path makes an easy ascent up a coastal drumlin, offering sweeping views of Ipswich’s Crane Beach to the north and Rockport’s Halibut Point to the east. On the return, the trail edges scenic salt marshes.
“You can get out and get some fresh air and not feel like you have to overpack or worry about getting lost,” Marotta says.
For a Woodland Wander
Ravenswood Park, Gloucester
To enjoy the beauty of a snow-covered wood, you can’t do better than Ravenswood. Ten miles of trails take you under hemlocks, magnolias, and pine trees, enveloping visitors in the natural world. Wintry light filters through the branches, and drifting snowflakes sparkle in the air with every breeze.
Novice winter hikers can keep to the wide and gentle Old Salem Road path, a former carriage road. If you’re seeking a more challenging hike, try the boulder-studded Ledge Hill Trail. No matter which route you choose, be aware that Ravenswood is very dog friendly, so your walk is likely to include some cavorting canines.
For Some Wildlife Magic
Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary, Topsfield
If there is anywhere you can enjoy a sense of cold-weather enchantment, it is this Audubon property in Topsfield. In total, 12 miles of easy, well-maintained trails twist through the sanctuary, allowing for ample exploration. Snow-dusted stone walls and bridges, wetland boardwalks, and even a rocky grotto to investigate all create a unique sense of winter wonderment.
Sue Hamel of Haverhill and her two daughters like to bring birdseed when they visit the sanctuary and allow their feathered friends to enjoy a snack right from the palms of their hands. “It is a magical experience,” Hamel says.
The shorts and t-shirts you wear on the trails in the summer just aren’t going to cut it when the New England winter kicks in, but you may not be sure what is best for cold-weather hiking. So we asked The Trustees’ Peter Marotta, an experienced and enthusiastic winter hiker, for some guidance on how to stay warm and comfortable on the trails no matter the weather. “I hiked last year in 10-degree weather, but I totally enjoyed it because I had the right gear,” he says. Here’s how:
+ Start at the bottom:
Keeping your feet dry and happy is the most important factor, so waterproof boots and wool socks are essential, Marotta says.
+ Get a grip:
If you expect ice on the trail, consider a set of traction devices you can slip on over your shoes to get a better grip on slippery surfaces. Yaktrax and MICROspikes are two notable brands. “They are a total game changer,” Marotta says.
+ Layer it on:
Instead of reaching for your heaviest, bulkiest coat, try several thinner layers so you can adjust your warmth level as you proceed. Marotta suggests a thin thermal base layer, a wool sweater, and a down vest under your jacket. And don’t forget a backpack to hold any layers you remove.
+ Hands and head:
When the weather moves from chilly to frigid, opt for mittens instead of gloves, Marotta recommends. And don’t grab just any hat—choose a wool hat if possible and consider something with ear flaps to boost your warmth even further.