Whether you're looking to hike for exercise, the sheer pleasure of an excursion in nature, as part of a family camping trip, or to discover fascinating flora and fauna, Massachusetts has more ground to cover than you could possibly cover in one vacation. From the massive Appalachian Trail, only a segment of which runs through the state, to a variety of historical and riverside hikes, Massachusetts has it all. You'll want to pack lots of water and maps for your next excursion, no matter where in the state you are planning to visit.
The relaxing outdoor recreation area and family-friendly campsite are currently controlled by the US Army Corps of Engineers, but The Recreation Area is fully open to the public from May to October. The 1,300-acre reservoir area is available for hiking, as the property is managed to sustain its healthy ecosystem brimming with biodiversity from habitats of forests, wetlands, waters, and a variety of wildlife like songbirds, moose, otters, owls, amphibians, reptiles, porcupines, red-tailed hawks, and white-tailed deer. Enjoy the picnic areas or explore the forests during the day and night, as you can camp on the grounds during the summer. Be careful to help preserve the unique ecosystem of Tully Lake.
William Cullen Bryant Homestead
The poetry of this New York Evening Post editor and publisher influenced the 19th-century land conservation movement, and so his spectacular view of the Westfield River Valley has become a house museum and conservation land. The property includes a two-story farmhouse turned into a three-story Victorian cottage, full of memorabilia and period pieces, as well as pastures, fields, and woodlands. While the house is not always open for tours, the grounds include many walking trails that are open to the public. The Rivulet Trail follows a course through a hemlock forest along a stream so named by Bryant's poem about the "Rivulet." Another trail, The Pine Loop, includes views of the tallest pines in the Northeast, some over 150 feet in height.
Rising to 3,491 feet, Mount Greylock is the highest point in Massachusetts, and on a clear day, you can see as far as 90 miles from its peak. The park is open from dawn to dusk, with a Visitor's Center that is open year-round at different hours. Mount Greylock Reservation's trails vary in challenge level from casual to extreme, so take time to plan your excursion before venturing out. If you plan to hike in a group, certain passes like the Scenic Byway are narrow enough that taking mini-buses and passenger vans for transport is recommended. The changeable New England weather is also another reason for taking precautions. It is also possible to schedule a staff-guided tour, based on staff availability. The mountain also includes The War Memorial Tower, which is open from Memorial Day to Indigenous Peoples Day, as long as the skies are clear. Please remain respectful in composure while visiting the tower. Another fun adventure while you're in the Mount Greylock area is to stop in at Arrowhead, the historic home of famous novelist Herman Melville – you should even be able to view the majestic mountain from his homestead!
Provincetown Dunes in National Seashore Park
Part of Cape Cod National Seashore, this park protects the ecosystem of the dunes, both to preserve its natural beauty and the habitat for creatures abiding there. Aside from the spectacular fascination of the sandy dunes and how they function as an ecosystem and also their historical significance (such as the park's foundation by President John Kennedy and Thoreau walking along the Cape shoreline), the dunes are home to Artist's Shacks, which are registered as historical landmarks. These preserved buildings are now used for temporary artist residences. Take a tour to learn about the artists who have made use of these shacks, and to make sure you're hiking the 2-mile Dune Shack Trail in the safest way possible.
Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge
One of eight National Wildlife Refuges that are part of the Eastern Massachusetts National Wildlife Refuge Complex, the Assabet River Refuge has been hunted and fished by Nipmuc Tribes, farmed by colonists and early United States citizens, covered in railroad tracks, and used for military training. What is now the Refuge was the Sudbury Training Annex attached to Fort Devens, controlled by the US Army until 2000, when the US Army transferred 2,000 acres to the US Fish and Wildlife Service – which now controls and preserves this land. Explore over 15 miles of different habitats here, including freshwater wetlands, oak-pine forest, and shrubland, home to a variety of wildlife, including migratory birds, raptors, American beavers, bobcats, deer, and more. De-stress through the magic of nature as you visit the home of so many diverse species.
Purgatory Chasm State Reservation
Follow the trails of this unique natural landmark to surprising rock formations like The Corn Crib, The Coffin, and Lovers' Leap. Alternatively, you could take your family for a picnic in this scenic park, which is open from sunrise to sunset throughout the year. The Chasm Trail is closed during the winter due to slippery, wet conditions, but the other trails are still accessible. As long as you stay away from the chasm edges and behave with caution in slippery, wet conditions, the trails should be safe for the entire family. The Reservation involves two miles of trails in a variety of directions to a wide assortment of awe-inspiring natural rock formations and stunning vistas.
There is no list of hiking in Massachusetts that would be complete without the scene and inspiration of the famous writings of Henry David Thoreau. Perhaps you will recreate his journey of self-discovery as you wander through these breathtaking natural paths and consider the lessons wilderness can teach society. Walden Pond State Reservation is part of the Massachusetts State Park system and is a protected area of about 335 acres, where you can view coves formed by glaciers and the clear water of the pond itself. Since the park is a preservation space, no pets or bikes are allowed on the trails. There are short and longer path options, so this attraction is child-friendly.
Barnstable Land Trust
Over 1,100 acres in the Town of Barnstable are protected under the awning of the Barnstable Land Trust. For its 40th Anniversary celebration, the Barnstable Land Trust is hosting the Hike Barnstable Challenge during the summer months of 2023 – starting in June and ending at the beginning of September. The challenge involves free participation for hikers of all ages and abilities, with the goal of each person hiking at least 40 miles on trails in the Town of Barnstable. The Barnstable Trail Guide includes 34 locations with almost 95 hiking trail miles in the Town of Barnstable itself and includes the 21 miles of trails from the Cape Cod Pathways Trail Guide that run through a section of Barnstable. There are more than enough trails to keep you interested and active all summer long.
A list of hiking along the East Coast would not be complete without a mention of this notorious hiking journey. AMC-WMA's Appalachian Trail Management Committee manages, maintains, and protects the 90 miles of the Appalachian Trail that runs through Massachusetts. The trail cuts through the Berkshire region of Massachusetts with highlands, distinctive mountains, layered ridgelines, verdant river trails, shaded glens, thick forests, and so much more. For those intending to hike a longer portion of the Appalachian Trail, or in need of a restful night away from camping, there is bus service through the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority available in several towns along Route 7, which runs parallel to the Appalachian Trail.
Rock House Reservation
The Reservation is a fascinating compilation of human and geologic history. The way that the rocks were left behind by glaciers, not just in this spot, but across New England, is a strange and delightful phenomenon. Over time, forests and fields became farmland, and people milled the rivers and ponds for water, but slowly nature is reclaiming this land as its own. Even before this, Native Americans found shelter here in the harsh New England winters. In the 1900s, this was also a popular stop along the Ware to West Brookfield electric "Copper Line" trolley. Today, you can explore the 296 acres of land encompassing the Rock House and the three miles of trails and woods connected to it. The Rock House itself is a 20 or 30-foot-tall boulder that looms over Shaw Pond. These areas are filled with wildflowers and hardwoods to entice all nature lovers.
Blackstone River and Canal Heritage State Park
The historic canal was used for trade in the 1800s, and you can follow a trail alongside it. The Blackstone River and connected park include 1,000 acres of natural trails and historic sites. While hiking is the main featured activity, there are also options for biking, horseback riding, canoeing, fishing, hunting, picnicking, and more. The Visitor Center focuses on the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor, with presentations, displays, and exhibits about the agricultural and industrial history of the region. Operated by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, the Visitor Center also houses restrooms available to the public. Wildlife is also a superb attraction, especially sitting at the Rice City Pond on the park property.
Erving State Forest
This forest, sitting beside the stunningly clear Laurel Lake, comprises eight miles of forest roads and extensive trails for hiking, swimming, and camping. The Mohawk Trail is a gorgeous trail along the lake, but there are several trails that delve further away from the lake and further into the surrounding forest. The forest encompasses a variety of vegetation, such as oak, maple, and hemlock trees. Erving State Forest Park is open from sunrise to sunset. In mid-June, the Mountain Laurels bloom, offering campers and hikers a delightful view. Whether you come for the exercise or the camping, you'll stay for the stunning views and the beautiful bird calls. Watch out for the bigger mammals like deer and skunks.
Long Hill Estate
This historic house museum, open to the public from April through October, includes an expansive property with a variety of gardens full of vegetation rarely seen elsewhere and woodland trails. The Historic Sedgwick Gardens are five acres cultivated with aromatic plants and designed in a popular style that matches the history of the house. You can also take a refreshing break from the outdoors by touring the house or even spending time relaxing in the music room or reading in the library, let alone visiting the gift shop with food for sale. There is also a Summer Garden designed by Julie Moir Messervy of a notorious Vermont architecture and design firm. As for true hiking, the woodlands surrounding the gardens involve a network of trails, such as a 1.2-mile loop. The property also includes an apple orchard and children's gardens.
Only the most dedicated hikers – or most open to a challenge – should attempt this trek, but the waterfall vista at the end is well worth the work. Falls Brook carved a deep gorge – plunging 45 feet into a natural pool, which is now hidden deep in the forest that has come to take over the once-cleared landscape. The winter view of the thrilling ice wonderland is just as spectacular as the summertime beauty of cascading water. The hike is extremely strenuous and can be slippery, so hikers must use caution no matter the time of year. Falls Brook Reservation is a piece of the Tully, Metacomet-Monadnock, and New England Trails. There is also a basic open-sided shelter near Falls Brook itself for backpackers hiking one of these longer trails.
Explore all that Massachusetts has to offer for natural hikes, in addition to the many golf courses and country club walks, and playgrounds available throughout the state. Either way, you're guaranteed to find nature fun for the whole family! Aside from hiking, most of these environmental preserves also involve lakes or rivers that can be used for water fun like skiing and canoeing. If you're looking to diversify your experience with nature in Massachusetts, check out activities all year round, including snowshoeing. There is no limit to outdoor fun in this historic state.