I’ve always loved hiking, so I was eager to get back to it not long after having my first baby. Last fall, we joined the Babes in the Woods' weekly guided hikes for baby-wearing caregivers at the Middlesex Fells, one of my favorite local hiking spots. And this spring, I'd love to explore even more local trails. Whether your kids are in a carrier or old enough to hike alongside you, there are plenty of fun and scenic trails throughout the Boston area to enjoy. Here are 10 nearby spots to take in the great outdoors on foot.
Moms and babies bond with nature in Middlesex Fells. Photo courtesy of the author
1. Middlesex Fells Reservation—Malden, Melrose, Stoneham, Winchester
Parking and restrooms: There are several parking lots around the perimeter of the Fells. There are no restrooms, so go before you arrive (or duck behind a tree if need be).
Why it’s good for kids: Located just north of Boston right off I-93, it's one of the most convenient spots to tromp through the woods. The Middlesex Fells is massive, so pick up a map at the Botume Visitor Center or download one before you go. Long Pond Nature Trail and Spot Pond Brook Archeological District Self-Guided Trail are both about one mile of easy hiking, so they’re perfect for the whole family.
Bonus: Take advantage of guided hikes offered by the Friends of the Fells (I loved the Babes in the Woods program for baby-wearing caregivers and their little ones). Go boating on Spot Pond or bring your four-legged friend for a romp at Sheepfold.
Walden Pond is a four-seasons destination. Photo courtesy of Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism
2. Walden Pond State Reservation—Concord and Lincoln
Cost: $8 daily for Massachusetts residents (or buy a ParksPass for $60 annually)
Parking and restrooms: In the lot on Route 126, which fills quickly in the summer. Call 978-369-3254 to see whether there are spots available before you arrive. Bathrooms are located at the visitor center and near the pond along the trail.
Why it’s good for kids: Walden Pond has it all—recreation and history in one beautiful place. I wrote last year about how to maximize your enjoyment of a Walden visit with kids, so be sure to check that out. I’m partial to the trail that runs along the perimeter of the pond, which is 1.7 miles of easy walking in the woods with plenty of spots to stop for a break, including the site of Henry David Thoreau’s original cabin where he wrote Walden.
Bonus: Bring a picnic lunch and take a dip in the pond in the summer. See a replica of Thoreau’s cabin. Check out the new visitor center, which features a gift shop, exhibit space and large deck.
3. Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary—Lincoln
Cost: Mass Audubon members are free; nonmembers: $9 adults, $6 children (2-12), $6 seniors (65+)
Parking and restrooms: Plenty of free parking. Bathrooms are located throughout the facility, including at the Nature Center, Picnic Area and Red Barn.
Why it’s good for kids: If your children love animals, Drumlin Farm is THE place to go hiking. There are four miles of trails for your to explore, while encountering farm animals and wildlife along the way. Try the Farmyard Loop Trail (½ mile) and combine it with the Forest Discovery Trail (additional ⅓ mile) for a great overview of the farm.
Bonus: Visit the animal barns, take in wildlife exhibits, stop by the learning garden, go on a hayride, visit the farm stand, or participate in a kid-friendly drop-in activity.
4. Habitat Education Center & Wildlife Sanctuary—Belmont
Cost: Mass Audubon members and Belmont residents are free; nonmembers: $4 adults, $3 children (2-12), $3 seniors (65+)
Parking and restrooms: Plenty of free parking. Bathrooms are located in the visitor center.
Why it’s good for kids: Only seven miles from Boston, Habitat is great place to go hiking with kids if you don’t want to spend a lot of time in the car. There are four miles of trails that wind through forests, meadows and around ponds, providing a quiet escape from the city. Don’t miss the half-mile Turtle Pond Loop where you can glimpse turtles and frogs plopping into the water in the summer.
Bonus: Habitat offers year-round programs and events for children and adults. You can even host a birthday party there!
5. Blue Hills Reservation—Milton, Quincy, Braintree, Canton, Dedham, Randolph
Parking and restrooms: There are several parking lots around the perimeter of the Blue Hills (see trail map for details). Bathrooms, which are open seasonally, can be found at the visitor center, Houghton’s Pond, the Trailside Museum.
Why it’s good for kids: Much like the Middlesex Fells, Blue Hills Reservation is a quick jaunt south of the city, making it an easy place to escape without a long car ride. Houghton’s Pond has a nice, easy loop trail that’s suitable for all ages. Or for kids who don’t mind a little rock scrambling, take the path up to the Chickatawbut Overlook for stunning views of the city skyline.
Bonus: Bring a picnic and take a dip in Houghton’s Pond after your hike to make a day of your adventure.
World's End trails were formed along what used to be carriage roads. Photo by R.Cheek courtesy of the Trustees
6. World’s End—Hingham
Cost: Trustees members are free; nonmember adults are $6
Parking and restrooms: Parking is limited and fills quickly on weekends, so it’s recommended that you check the World’s End Twitter account for availability. There is a bathroom at the main entrance.
Why it’s good for kids: World’s End used to be an island at high tide, but colonial farmers reshaped the landscape by damming the salt marsh to grow hay. Frederick Law Olmsted was commissioned to design a subdivision on the property and though it was never built, the carriage paths from that time remain. There are 4.5 miles of easy to moderate trails to explore, many with views of the Boston, which is only 15 miles away.
Bonus: Bring your dog for a leashed walk the whole family can enjoy or bring a picnic to make a day of your trip.
7. Maudslay State Park—Newburyport
Cost: $5 for Massachusetts residents; $10 for nonresidents
Parking and restrooms: Ample parking and bathrooms are available at the main entrance.
Why it’s good for kids: A former estate, Maudslay is about as picturesque as it gets. And while you can go anytime, spring might just be the perfect season. That’s because Maudslay has one of the best and biggest displays of azaleas and rhododendrons around. Take them in on the Introductory Walk, which is an easy one- to two-mile hike depending on which trails you decide to take.
Bonus: Dogs are allowed, so this can truly be an outing for the whole family. It’s also a lovely place to bring a picnic. And the estate offers educational programs in the summer.
Ward Reservation offers spectacular views. Photo courtesy of the Trustees
8. Ward Reservation—Andover and North Andover
Cost: Trustees members are free; $5 per car for nonmembers
Parking and restrooms: Parking is available at the main entrance. There are no restrooms.
Why it’s good for kids: Ward Reservation is another great spot to take in views of the Boston skyline from afar. It’s also home to a few very unique natural features. On top of Holt Hill you’ll find the Solstice Stones, large stones embedded in the earth marking various compass and solstice points. With kids, don’t miss the boardwalk that takes you to Pine Hole Pond, where you’ll encounter the rare quaking bog.
Bonus: Holt Hill is the highest point in Essex County. You can bring dogs and picnics to the reservation.
9. Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary—Natick
Cost: Mass Audubon members are free; nonmembers: $5 adults, $4 children (2-12), $4 seniors (65+)
Parking and restrooms: Parking and bathrooms are available at the main entrance.
Why it’s good for kids: If your children love seeing wildlife in its natural habitat, Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary is the place to go. The property’s nine miles of trails are teeming with dragonflies, turtles, otters and many species of birds. Most of the trails are Broadmoor are short and suitable for kids of all ages, so you really can’t go wrong no matter which path you choose.
Bonus: The accessible boardwalk means that all visitors can enjoy the beauty of the sanctuary. Picnic in designated areas and check the schedule for kid-specific programming.
10. Crane Beach Dunes—Ipswich
Cost: Varies by season and day of the week. Free for members and up to $30 per day per car for nonmembers.
Parking and restrooms: Parking is available on a first-come, first-serve basis. It often closes during busy summer weekends, so check the Crane Beach Twitter for availability. Bathrooms are available at the main entrance.
Why it’s good for kids: Crane Beach is a popular summer destination for families who love the sand, sea and sun. It’s one of our favorite beaches and even when it’s not beach weather, we go to Crane to hike the dunes. This is a super unique experience that you can’t have in many places. It’s best for people who are babywearing or with slightly older children as some of the dunes are a bit tricky to navigate for small legs. But kids will love scrambling around in the sand.
Bonus: If it’s warm out, sit on the beach after your hike or even take a dip in the ocean. This is a great spot for picnics. And you can even visit Castle Hill while you’re there.
Top photo courtesy of August Muench via Flickr/2.0