13 Outdoor Places in MA and NH to Explore With Your Family
Where to Go:
1.Flat Rock Sanctuary, Fitchburg, MA. Mass Audubon has dozens of sanctuaries all across the state that are worth a visit, but Flat Rock is one that many people don’t know about. It’s a large, unstaffed sanctuary with miles of hiking trails and a variety of habitats to explore. I spent two seasons there hiking and tracking mammals for my Master’s Thesis, so trust me when I say it’s worth a visit.
2. Wachusett Reservior, near Worcester, MA. Managed by MA’s Department of Conservation and Recreation, the Wachusett Reservoir is an extensive body of water with surrounding trails for hiking and snowshoeing. I love how accessible this beautiful place is from so many towns. To find an access point, visit the Wachusett Reservior home page (above).
3. Henry E. Cowdrey Nature Center, Lunenburg, MA. A 300 + acre parcel of conservation land right on Rt. 2A, that is dog-friendly and great for families with young children.
4. Mine Falls Park, Nashua, NH.Another wonderful green space located in a small city, Mine Falls offers hiking, paddling, skiing and biking for families and pet-owners.
5. Mid-State Trail, Worcester County, MA. The Mid-State Trail is a series of connected trails that stretches entirely across the state of MA from north to south, and extends up into Southern New Hampshire via the Wapack Trail (see below).
6. Wapack Trail, Southern New Hampshire. The 21-mile Wapack Trail starts at Mount Watatic (a terrific kid-friendly mountain – see below) in Ashburnham, MA and goes up to North Pack in Greenfield, NH. It is a day hike trail only and is one of the oldest interstate trails in the Northeast.
7. Mount Watatic Reservation, Ashburnham, MA. Mount Watatic was one of the first elevated hikes that we took our oldest son on when he was 5. With an elevation of 1832 feet, the hike is high enough to offer rewarding views from the summit, without being too long or strenuous for young legs.
8. Dexter Drumlin, Lancaster, MA. Owned by the Trustees of Reservations – a state-wide land trust organization – this small property is home to a beautiful meadow where you can view native grassland bird species while picnicking with your family.
9. Bolton Flats Wildlife Management Area, Bolton, MA. I actually haven’t been to this Mass Wildlife property, but I’m dying to go birding there, which is why it’s on my list. Their website says: “The combination of a slow river, floodplain forest, and dry sand makes for excellent turtle habitat. In fact, Blanding’s Turtles (Threatened), Wood Turtles (Special Concern), and Spotted Turtles have all been documented from this stretch of river. The marshes along the river also support rare marsh-nesting birds: American Bittern (Endangered), King Rail (Endangered), and Pied-billed Grebe (Endangered) have all been spotted here at some time of year.
10. Broad Meadow Brook Wildlife Sanctuary, Worcester, MA. This is truly a sanctuary-in-the-city. You would never know a wildlife sanctuary was present if there were no signs out front on the residential street that’s just a 1/4 mile from even busier parts of the city. As a fully-staffed Mass Audubon sanctuary you can either go there for a walk on your own, or check in with their calendar in advance to find out what programs are being offered at any time of the year.
11. America’s Stonehenge, Salem, NH. “Built by a Native American Culture or a migrant European population? No one knows for sure. A maze of man-made chambers, walls and ceremonial meeting places, America’s Stonehenge is most likely the oldest man-made construction in the United States (over 4000 years old). Like Stonehenge in England, America’s Stonehenge was built by ancient people well versed in astronomy and stone construction. It has been determined that the site is an accurate astronomical calendar. It was, and still can be, used to determine specific solar and lunar events of the year.”
12. Rhododendron State Park, Fitzwilliam, NH. “Rhododendron State Park is named after the 16-acre grove of Rhododendron Maximum, which is the focal point of the park. A 0.6 mile-long universally accessible trail encircles the grove. A wildflower trail, maintained by the Fitzwilliam Garden Club, winds through the forest adjacent to the grove. The rhododendron grove is the largest in northern New England.”
13. Nashua River Rail Trail, Ayer, Groton, Peppperell, Dunstable, MA. This is an 11-mile local treasure that we use all the time. Our oldest son’s first lengthy bike ride was here, and I’ve spent time on the trail training for a triathlon. You can access the rail trail at various points in each town – visit their website for more info. In addition to being a great biking resource, there are some beautiful wetland viewing areas along the Groton section, and offers a fun birding walk if you’re so inclined.
What to Do:
If just going out to a natural space isn’t enough to keep yourself or your family engaged, here are some resources for activities to do at pretty much any outdoor location:
Letterboxing - A fun scavenger hunt for any activity level
Geocaching - Similar to letterboxing but using hand-held GPS units.
Birding - You don’t need to be an expert birder to enjoy birding. This site can help you get started even if you can’t tell a Blue Jay from a Cardinal.
There are so many other places to go and things to do, that this article could go on and on. But I hope it gives folks in central/eastern MA and southern NH a starting place. And now I have no excuse for not being able to think of someplace fun to take my family!