15 Parks, Trails, and Other Properties That Are Now Open to Visit in Massachusetts
Assuage that need to leave the house with some of our state's stunning scenery, from gardens and waterfalls, to granite quarries and ocean outlooks.
Looking for an opportunity to take a deep gulp of fresh air, aside from the walk to the store on your bimonthly grocery trip? From trickling waterfalls to narrow chasms, these state parks, Trustees reservations, and other refuges are ready for you. Pick a property near your community from the list below, go for a Sunday drive, and discover the great outdoors that our scenic state has to offer. Keep in mind that you should still abide by the social distancing guidelines we all know well by now, such as maintaining a six-foot buffer from any passerby and wearing a face mask.
If you’d like to look beyond the horizon of this roundup, check out the full catalogues on the Trustees of Reservations and Massachusetts State Park websites. So far, 70+ Trustees sites have reopened since closing in the first weeks of the coronavirus outbreak. And five more are slated to open on May 19, including Crane Beach in Ipswich, the grounds of the deCordova Sculpture Park in Lincoln, and Fruitlands Museum in Harvard, the one-time home of Louisa May Alcott—just be sure to reserve a day parking pass ahead of time. Though in-person programming has been postponed through the end of May, they’ve put together a series of online activities and PSAs regarding how to social distance while on the premises. Many state parks managed by the Department of Conservation and Recreation remain open, though some have restricted access, and they’re asking that visitors follow these guidelines for exploring the parks during the COVID-19 outbreak.
As we linger in this limbo that doesn’t quite feel like normal life, it might be an opportune time to pay a visit to Purgatory Chasm, a geologic landmark 50 miles southwest of Boston. Characterized by dark caves, dramatic bedrock formations, narrow, granite passageways, and sweet names such as “Devil’s Corn Crib” and “Devil’s Coffin,” the two miles of trails may not be for the faint of heart or weak of ankle, but they are incredibly fun to explore.
Dinosaur Footprints, Holyoke
Come for the cool name, stay for the fact that it’s not a false alarm. The Trustees describe the eight-acre property as a “treasure trove of more than 800 prehistoric tracks” preserved in sandstone for tens of millions of years. They say researchers “believe these prints were left by two-legged, carnivorous dinosaurs, up to 15 feet tall.” Located just off the highway, the path is short but for any fossil nerds, the payoff is high.
There’s just something grounding about seeing the ocean. Gain some perspective and get in a nice stroll at Halibut Point Park, parts of which are owned by the Trustees and the DCR. Though the 60-foot observation tower is closed for COVID-19 reasons, you can still walk the breezy paths that loop around an old, flooded granite quarry; if the clouds clear out, you can even see mountainous vistas as far as Maine. Parking is currently closed, so if you’re driving into town, you’ll have to find an alternate spot for the car. And while you’re in Rockport, the winding, wooded trails of Woodland Acres are well worth the extra steps.
Jacobs Hill, Royalston
Near the northern border of the state, you could easily cruise by the pull-off for this forested reservation if you’re not keeping a careful eye out. Once you’ve spritzed yourself with bug spray, take to the trail, which will lead you along a ridgeline, allowing for a couple of incredible outlooks to the lake below. You can call it a day after completing the moderate two-mile hike and admiring Spirit Falls, which cascades through the forest, or ford the stream and march on to the 22-mile Tully Trail.
The Old Manse, Concord
If you’re looking for the kind of clarity Ralph Waldo Emerson conveyed in Nature, spend your next free afternoon at this nine-acre Trustees property. At different times, both Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne called The Old Manse home—a history that contributes to its designation as a National Historic Landmark. Though the house museum and bookstore have temporarily closed, you can still frolic along the small chain of footpaths, and, should inspiration strike, bring your journal to the banks of the Concord River.
Dexter Drumlin, Lancaster
Carved to rounded perfection by a glacier some 10,000 years ago, this petite hilltop is so flawless, you’d think it must be man-made. The mile-long walk is serene and easy: a clean line up one side of the hill, down the other, and around the base back to the beginning. Kites and billowy sundresses are highly encouraged.
Bristol Blake State Reservation, Norfolk
You can do this trek even with a stroller and a two-year-old in tow. Thanks to the extensive boardwalk system, you can enjoy the marshes and spot wildlife—without having to bushwack, or even watch your feet.
Poet’s Seat, Greenfield
Situated alongside the Connecticut River, Greenfield’s Rocky Mountain Park offers several trails to traverse. But if it’s an incredible view you’re after, Poet’s Seat boasts one of the best. Leave your car in the small parking lot, then walk about a half mile uphill along a paved path. At the top, you’ll be greeted by a commanding stone tower which you can walk inside of and, by way of a few spiral staircases, climb four stories up to the rooftop. Or, if you’re not one for heights, take a seat in one of the benches near the base and enjoy a still-lovely panorama of the Western Mass valley.
As the sign at the head of this reservation tells it, the professor whose summer home once sat on the property chose the location because, “at 50 miles from his home in Wollaston, it was ‘far’ enough to require a two-days’ journey by horse to reach, but ‘near’ enough to be a vacation home.” Wandering around the dreamy grounds, you’ll spot plenty of birds and butterflies, an old cranberry bog, wildflowers, an arboretum, and a lovely grove of hemlocks nicknamed “Paradise.”
Acton Arboretum, Acton
Though the park’s caretakers are asking that guests limit their visit to two hours, that’s more than enough time to roam the 65 acres of conservation land. About a 35-minute drive from Boston, the tranquil arboretum is home to a variety of trees, of course, as well as stone dust paths dotted with benches, a gorgeous grape arbor, a boardwalk that criss crosses over a bog, and fragrant flower gardens that are sure to inspire your own green thumb.
Leominster State Forest, Leominster
Outdoor enthusiasts can get their kicks at this wooded state park, which boasts opportunities for everything from rock climbing to the top of Crow Hill Ledges to hiking a portion of the Midstate Trail, which intersects with the western side of this forest. Picnic areas and public restrooms are shuttered for now, but on the up side, all parking fees have been waived.
Fort Revere Park, Hull
Perched in Telegraph Hill, near the tip of peninsular Hull, this historic site is perfect for shutterbugs looking to fill their camera rolls—you can capture shots both of Boston’s skyline across the harbor, and of the concrete bunkers that were used from the American Revolution through World War II, much of which have since been tagged with graffiti.
Quabbin Reservoir, Belchertown
At 39 square miles, the Quabbin Reservoir is no kiddie pool. And though you can’t swim in it, grill near it, or bring your dogs to visit it—it’s a huge source of drinking water—you can walk, jog, or even bike along certain paths that loop around it. You should also park yourself at the New Salem or Enfield outlooks for a serene vista. The park’s observation tower and visitor center are temporarily closed, but you can download trail maps online.
Borderland State Park, North Easton
The three-story mansion may be the focal point of these grounds, but the surrounding property is an equally compelling reason to pay the park a visit. Bring your mountain bike or hiking boots to travel 20 miles of trails, or tow a fishing pole and check out the six ponds. Guided tours of the 20th-century home have been stalled, as have on-site weddings, so the site may be slightly quieter than usual—but that’s all the better for clearing your head.
Maudslay State Park, Newburyport
It’s a little hard to tell from the confines of our homes, but spring has indeed sprung: Lilacs are in bloom, seedlings are pushing their way through the ground, and the air is a little sweeter. While many of our favorite gardens have closed to the public as a result of coronavirus (see: Tower Hill Botanic Garden, Bridge of Flowers), this North Shore gem remains open, though with restricted parking. The one-time estate of a prominent Newburyport resident, the mansions and greenhouses are gone, but the 450-plus-acre property retains stone bridges, thickets of trees, idyllic meadows, and an Italian garden.