Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Chestnut Hill Reservoir: Brighton, MA

Directions: Click here for Google map (there is a free parking lot on Beacon St)

The Chestnut Hill Reservoir park is a splendid place to walk or run with your pup and enjoy lunch on a park bench.  Although it was built in an area that was very secluded at the time, the neighborhood today is bustling with college students, young professionals, families, trolleys, and cars!  But thanks to many lovely trees and shrubbery around the park, nearly all of the commotion fades away as soon as you step onto the walking path.

The reservoir was built in 1870 to support Boston’s dire need for water.  It was considered at the time to be a “masterpiece” of engineering, urban planning and landscape design.  Rapid growth during the 1850s caused Boston’s population to soar by over 30% in a decade and the city’s main aqueduct was woefully inadequate.  It served the city well for a hundred years, but by 1978 it was no longer needed and was taken offline (it is maintained as an emergency backup water source, however).  The reservoir is recognized today on the National Register of Historic Places and is designated as a City of Boston Landmark.

As you walk around the 1.5 mile loop, watch how the sunlight sparkles on the water as geese, ducks and turtles enjoy themselves.  Sunset is a lovely time, as the beautiful Boston College campus is drenched in a sublime apricot syrup.  The exquisite Waterworks Museum (previously a pumping station) is an architectural beauty to behold.  City architect Arthur Vinal designed the building in 1888 by copying the Victorian style of H.H. Richardson, who had died a few years earlier.  As you continue on the loop, you’ll even see the tops of some downtown buildings peeking over the trees.

For more information about the Chestnut Hill Reservoir, click here.  

Dogs are required to be leashed in the park.  

Information sources: Mass.gov Department of Conservation and Recreation

Here are the positive features:
  • A peaceful and beautiful flat path around the reservoir
  • Wheelchair / stroller accessible walkways, although there is a bit of a hill to get from the parking lot to the path and the actual path is gravel/sand - not paved
  • Free parking lot
  • Park benches
  • Open year-round 
  • Lots of restaurants & frozen yogurt in this Cleveland Circle neighborhood
  • There is a paved sidewalk that goes around the entire outside edge of the reservoir, which is another lovely option for a walk
  • The parking lot almost always has space available and even at the busiest times, the path is not overly crowded
Negative features:
  • No restrooms available (although there are businesses in the area with restrooms)
  • No doggie bags are provided, so plan to bring your own
  • People and dogs are not supposed to go in the water
  • The trash barrels disappear once summer is over
  • The path is gravel/sand, so you get little rocks in your shoes
  • Mosquitoes and ticks are here and there, especially in the wooded areas, but they're not bad if you stick to the path
  • People tend to ignore the leash law, so keep that in mind if you have a sensitive dog

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Charles River Greenway: Watertown, MA

Directions: Click here for Google map (you can park along the street)

This lovely park is part of the Upper Charles River Reservation and the East Coast Greenway.  There are lots of things blooming brilliantly in the warmer months, although my pictures above are from January.  It's a bit stark in the winter, but still a fabulous place to walk your dog.  Since the park runs along the Charles, you could walk for miles and miles, but we chose to meander around for about a mile or so near the Watertown Dam, enjoying the footbridges, old mill buildings and many mallard ducks.  
There is free on-street parking right next to the park, paved and dirt walkways, picnic tables, park benches, and beautiful scenery.  There are also areas where your pup can access the water for a splash or a drink.  You probably won't feel very isolated here, as it's a fairly thin strip of parkland along the main road, but it's still charming in its own right!  

The Watertown Dam is an interesting site, with a history of fish weirs dating back hundreds of years.  The Pequossette tribe inserted stakes into the river here, then interwove brushwood to create a weir that would trap herring as the tide went out.  The current dam was constructed in 1900 and includes a fish ladder that provides access to upstream spawning habitats for Blueback herring and Alewife.  In the spring, you'll see lots of Herons and Gulls fishing here!

For more information about the Charles River Reservation, click here.  
For more information about the East Coast Greenway, click here.  

Dogs are required to be leashed in the park.  

Information sources: Mass.gov Division of Marine Fisheries

Here are the positive features:
  • Beautiful paths and foot bridges along and over the Charles river
  • Wheelchair / stroller accessible walkways
  • Free street parking
  • Picnic tables and park benches
  • Open year-round 
  • Bugs and ticks don't seem to be an issue in this somewhat urban setting
Negative features:
  • No restrooms available (although there are businesses in the area with restrooms)
  • No doggie bags are provided, so plan to bring your own
  • No trash barrels when we were there, but they may appear in the summer
  • Some of the path runs along a main street, so you don't quite feel enveloped in nature

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Castle Island: South Boston, MA

Directions: Click here for Google map

Castle Island, located in Dorchester Bay, is an amazing piece of history for Bostonians and visitors to explore and it's a wonderful area for dog walking.  With 22 acres of harbor walkways, grassy parks, sandy beaches, playgrounds, picnic tables, a giant fort, and plenty of free parking, it is easily considered to be one of Boston's best parks.  The areas of Pleasure Bay, M Street Beach and Carson Beach make up a 3-mile segment of parkland along the shoreline.  You can walk in a loop from the shore to Fort Independence (via a pedestrian causeway) and back.  You'll love the beautiful views of the Harbor Islands and commercial airliners flying into nearby Logan Airport.  And don't forget to stop at Sullivan's Restaurant for a lobster roll and an ice cream cone!  

Once a half mile offshore, Castle Island was connected to the mainland in 1930 in order to bring bathers to Pleasure Bay by streetcar.  The prominent feature of Castle Island is Fort Independence, a pentagonal five-bastioned, granite fort built between 1834 and 1851.  Castle Island is the oldest continuously fortified site in British North America, having had a military presence from 1634 through WWII.  The current Fort Independence is the eighth fort to occupy this site.  The fort is open to visitors in the summer months, offering free tours (but doggies aren't allowed inside).  Castle Island and Fort Independence are listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places.

For more information about Fort Independence, click here.  
For more information about Castle Island and a trail map, click here.  
For more information about the Boston Harborwalk, click here.

Dogs are required to be leashed in the park.  Dogs are not allowed on the sandy beaches from May to September.

Information sources: Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, Boston Harbor Association, Castle Island Association

Here are the positive features:
  • Miles of waterfront walkways next to and over Boston Harbor
  • Wheelchair / stroller accessible walkways
  • Nearly unlimited free parking in lots and along the street
  • Restrooms available (closed for winter)
  • Picnic tables and park benches
  • Playgrounds and swimming areas
  • Dogs can run around on the beaches during the off-season
  • Open year-round (but the restaurant closes for the winter)
  • Trash barrels and water bubblers (bring a bowl for your pup)
  • I didn't notice any bugs or ticks!
Negative features:
  • No doggie bags are provided, so plan to bring your own

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Christian A. Herter Park: Boston, MA

Directions: Click here for Google map

If you live in the Boston area, or feel like taking your best buddy for a drive to the city, this is a fantastic park to visit!  It is a wonderful section of the Charles River Reservation, offering long walking paths along the river, pretty trees and lawns, picnic tables, park benches, a playground, community gardens, and loads of free parking.  The well-paved trails are great for rollerblades, bikes, wheelchairs, and strollers and your dog can splash around in the river at any point along the way.

The area that is now Herter Park was originally built in 1899 as the Charles River Speedway, an oval track and promenade for horse-drawn vehicles.  It encompassed 90 acres, with a shore frontage of 2 miles.  Much of that acreage is now Soldiers Field Road, but the shoreline was preserved as the largest section of open parkland in the Charles River Basin. The park was named for Christian Herter, a former Massachusetts governor, US Secretary of State, and friend of the environment.  It is now the finish line for two of the biggest water sports events in the country: the Head of the Charles Regatta and Run of the Charles canoe and kayak race.

You can read an interesting master plan for the park by clicking here.  For more information about all the Charles River parks, click here.  

Dogs are required to be leashed in the park.

Information sources: Massachusetts Energy and Environmental Affairs, Charles River Conservancy

Here are the positive features:
  • Lovely, well-maintained walking paths along the Charles River
  • Wheelchair / stroller accessible paths
  • Close to I-90 and easily accessible from Soldiers Field Road
  • Four large, free parking lots
  • Restrooms available (closed for winter)
  • Picnic tables and park benches
  • A very clean river for your dog to enjoy
  • A great playground with summer water sprays for the kids
  • Open year-round (it's very quiet and serene during the off-season)
  • Trash barrels provided
Negative features:
  • No doggie bags are provided, so plan to bring your own
  • We didn't notice any bugs in the fall, but the conditions are perfect for ticks and mosquitoes during warmer months

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Blue Hills Reservation, Ponkapoag Pond Loop: Canton, MA

Directions: Click here for Google map

A 20-minute drive from Boston, the Ponkapoag Trails are a series of popular hiking trails embedded within the 7,000-acre Blue Hills Reservation.  The Blue Hills Reservation extends from Quincy to Dedham, Milton to Randolph, offering 125 miles of beautiful trails, open year-round.  Great Blue Hill, the highest of the 22 hills in the Blue Hills chain, offers a rocky summit at 635 feet, offering spectacular views of the entire metropolitan area.

The Blue Hills were named by early European explorers, who noticed a bluish hue on the slopes as they sailed along the coastline.  Ten thousand years before the Europeans arrived, Native Americans made their homes in the hills, referring to themselves as the Massachusett or "people of the great hills".  In 1893, the Metropolitan Parks Commission purchased the land of Blue Hills Reservation as one of the first areas set aside for public recreation.

The Ponkapoag Pond Loop is a flat, easy 4-mile loop with well marked and well groomed trails.  The loop passes by an open water pond and a rare Atlantic white cedar bog - home to several rare and endangered species!  The scenic trail takes you on a fun bog boardwalk, through diverse habitats and past spring and summer wildflowers.

Hikers are allowed to park at the Ponkapoag Golf Course.  Walk along the main road through the golf course and you will reach the pond within a few minutes.  When hiking around the pond, you will come to the Ponkapoag Camp, where hikers can rent cabins from the Appalachian Mountain Club or just stop for lunch at one of the many picnic tables provided.

You can find more information about camping by clicking here.  For park information, including a trail map, click here.  

Dogs are required to be leashed in the park.

Information sources: Trimble Outdoors, Friends of the Blue Hills, bostonhikes.blogspot.com, trails.com, Massachusetts DCR

Here are the positive features:
  • Miles of beautiful, serene hiking trails close to Boston
  • Close to major routes & highways (I-93, I-95, Rts. 1, 3, 24) 
  • Large, free parking lot
  • Restrooms available at golf course
  • Picnic tables and cabins available
  • Your dog will enjoy the stream and pond, which also allows canoes/kayaks, swimming and fishing 
  • We only saw two other people there and we often felt like we had the park all to ourselves
Negative features:
  • Ticks, mosquitoes and other bugs abound, so be prepared and check yourself and your dog after you leave
  • Doggie bags & trash barrels may not be provided, so plan to pack everything in and out

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Chandler Hovey Park: Marblehead, MA

Directions: Click here for Google map

On a beautiful autumn day, my boyfriend and I decided to pack up the dog and go do some geocaching.  I picked out Chandler Hovey Park at Marblehead Neck because it looked like a beautiful spot, it has a parking lot and dogs are allowed.  Well, let me tell you, beautiful is an understatement!

As a reviewer on Yelp stated, this park is "a little piece of heaven on earth".  I can't think of a better way to describe it myself.  It is, in fact, quite little.  You can walk the whole park in about 5 minutes.  But the view, with its rocky coastline, gentle waves and bobbing sailboats, is just breathtaking.  You could come here to relax, clear your mind, have a picnic, find a geocache!  Our dog, Cooper, who is usually full of energy, was quite content to lie down and watch the boats go by.

Marblehead is a sailing mecca and a picturesque town with many stunning 18th century homes.  We enjoyed the drive there almost as much as the park itself!  From the park, you can see the shorelines of Beverly and Manchester-by-the-Sea.  There are lots of pavilions, picnic tables, benches, restrooms, and parking spaces provided.  The land was originally owned by the U.S. Government, but was purchased in 1948 by Marblehead resident Chandler Hovey, who donated it to the town.  It is also the location of the Marblehead Light Tower, a skeletal structure that replaced the original 1835 brick and wood tower.  It is the only tower of its kind in New England and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

You can find more information about Marblehead Light by clicking here.  For park information, click here.  

Dogs are required to be leashed in the park.

Information sources: Newenglandlighthouses.net, Marblehead.org

Here are the positive features:
  • Calm, quiet area with beautiful ocean views
  • Free parking lot
  • Restrooms (closed for the winter)
  • Doggie bags are provided in case you forget to bring one
  • Picnic tables, pavilions, benches, trash barrels
  • Gorgeous drive along the shoreline
  • We didn't notice any ticks or other bugs
  • A lovely little piece of New England history
Negative features:
  • The park is quite small, so you won't be hiking around much to explore

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Huntington State Park: Redding, CT

Directions: Click here for Google map

I finally made my way through the Nutmeg State for a little road trip and found a delightful park in the quiet neighborhood of Redding.  The Collis P. Huntington State Park offers over 1,000 acres of tranquil fields, woodlands and ponds for you and your pup to explore.  There are miles of easy to moderate trails, as well as picnic areas, multiple parking lots and composting toilets.  The trails are somewhat rough earth or stone, so bring good footwear.

The park's land was used primarily for agriculture until the late 1800s and was bought and sold by a variety of families until the wealthy Archer M. Huntington purchased it in the 1930s.  Archer was a lifelong friend of the arts and scholar in the field of Hispanic Studies whose father, Collis Potter Huntington, was a famous railroad tycoon (for whom the park is named).  Archer's wife, Anna Hyatt Huntington, enlivened the estate and inspired the artistic world with her brilliant life-size animal sculptures.  Several of her pieces remain at Huntington State Park, while others reside in CT, NY, DC, Madrid, Buenos Aires, and other parts of the world.

The Huntingtons are some of the most notable philanthropists in Connecticut's history, responsible for the founding of many museums and wildlife preserves along the east coast.  The town of Redding is also famous for being Mark Twain's final residence, where he founded The Mark Twain Library.

You can find more information about Huntington State Park, including hours and a trail map, by clicking here.  

Dogs are required to be leashed in the park.

Information source: CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection

Here are the positive features:
  • Very quiet, serene park with many trails & ponds to explore
  • Plenty of free parking in several lots
  • Composting toilets are available at two parking lots (see map for details)
  • Trails are well marked and the trail map is great
  • There are 5 ponds for your dog to enjoy (but no swimming for humans)
  • Picnic tables are provided at some entrances
  • Many trails are shaded by beautiful canopies of trees and vines
  • We only saw a few people there, it is definitely not a crowded place
  • You'll see several ice cream places where you can stop on your way out of Redding, as well as the Blue Colony Diner in nearby Newtown
Negative features:
  • Bow hunting is permitted in most areas of the park from September - December (see hunting map for specifics)
  • No poopy bags are provided, so be sure to bring your own
  • You'll definitely need bug spray for mosquitoes, ticks, horseflies and other insects
  • The park is a little off the beaten path, about 10 miles from I-84

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Canal Walkway: Lowell, MA

Directions: Click here for Google map

We so often look for rural parks, mountains and other country places to take our dogs, but the Canal Walkway in Lowell is a great urban destination!  The walkway starts just feet from a large parking lot and the National Historic Park Visitor's Center.  It is a well-marked, paved path that runs alongside the Lowell Canal System, featuring unique and interesting historical exhibits along the way.  Similar to Battle Road in Concord, it's like an outdoor museum!

Lowell was developed in the early 19th century as a planned textile mill city, the largest textile center and the first large-scale factory town in America, marking the beginning of the industrial transformation of our country.  Massive five- and six-story brick mills were built along the Merrimack River with a complex six-mile network of power canals driving the waterwheels of 40 buildings.  These canals powered 320,000 spindles and 10,000 looms, allowing over 10,000 workers to find employment in the city.  At the height of production in 1850, the mills were annually producing enough cloth to encircle the earth twice!  

There is so much history to explore in Lowell, such as the engineering of canals, invention of the power loom, stories of the mill girls and their boardinghouse system, the development of immigrant communities, construction of railroad lines, the fortune of a few prominent local families, working conditions of Lowell millhands, products of the mills, and lots more!  

While you will enjoy the beautiful sites of mill buildings, trolleys, trains, the canal, and outdoor educational exhibits, your dog will have lots of fun things to smell and plenty of grass & trees to enjoy.  You can walk the canal in a loop by following the signs along the way or just turn around when you're ready.      

There is A LOT more information about Lowell's history, the park's hours, seasons, maps, tours and directions by clicking here.  

Leashes are required in this urban setting.

Information source: Lowell National Historic Park Service

Here are the positive features:
  • A beautiful and educational walk through history in a fun, urban setting
  • Plenty of free parking in a convenient lot (just get your parking ticket validated at the visitor's center)
  • Restrooms are provided at the visitor's center (and there's also a gift shop)
  • The visitor's center staff is very friendly and helpful
  • The visitor's center appears to be open year-round from 9-5, but you can double check their website before you go
  • There are lots of park benches and grass where you can rest and picnic
  • The paved walkway is good for strollers, but there are some stairs along the way
  • There are trash barrels here and there along the walkway
  • Although the city is bustling, the canal walkway is fairly quiet
  • We didn't notice any bugs, but you might need bug spray at dusk
  • Come back without your pup sometime to enjoy the many downtown museums, restaurants, cafes & shopping
Negative features:
  • No poopy bags are provided, so be sure to bring your own
  • There is no access to the canal's water, which will tease your dog, so be sure to bring some water and a bowl

Monday, May 27, 2013

Halibut Pointe State Park: Rockport, MA

Directions: Click here for Google map

Although I have a blog post about Gloucester and Rockport, I didn't mention this park, which really deserves its own entry!  Halibut Pointe State Park is an old granite quarry, once known as Babson Farm and later the Rockport Granite Company.  Made of sheets of 440-million-year-old granite, it is definitely one of the most uniquely beautiful places in New England.  Once you park your car (there is a great big parking lot for just $2), you'll walk down a charming trail groomed with mulch, surrounded by trees, and littered with random 1 ton blocks of granite.  Wait, what?  Yup, it's a neat place!

You'll soon come to a visitor's center, located in a renovated World War II fire control tower that is 60 feet tall.  The tower was built to provide aiming information for the massive coastal defense guns that guarded Boston and Portsmouth harbors.  There are bathrooms here as well as lots of exhibits and information.  The yard in front of the visitor's center has lots of picnic tables and panoramic views of the quarry and ocean that you're about to explore.  

Follow the signs to walk along the quarry, which was active until the Cape Ann granite industry collapsed in 1929.  It's quite a sight to behold and you can see all the way to Ipswich, the Isles of Shoals and Maine!  Continue along the many easy trails and lookouts, which cover 17 acres of conservation land.  You and your dog will love walking from the woods through the catbriar, bayberry, blueberry, arrowwood, and shadbush to the rocky ledges of the crashing ocean.

This park requires all dogs to be leashed and the parking attendant was asking everyone to please pick up after their dog.  There are even bags provided, so it couldn't be easier.  

You can find lots more information about hours, seasons, maps, tours and special programs by clicking here.  

Information source: Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation

Here are the positive features:
  • Parking is abundant with a year-round fee of $2 per day
  • Lots of winding paths along the quarry cliffs and ocean
  • Restrooms are provided at the visitor's center
  • Bags are provided on your way in
  • There are picnic tables and lots of ledges where you can sit and have lunch
  • Even on the busiest days, you can find paths away from the crowds
  • We didn't notice any flies, mosquitoes, ticks, etc.!  There's usually a good enough breeze to help with some of that.
  • There is a bowl and hose for doggie water in the parking lot
  • The Lobster Pool restaurant is nearby, which offers incredible seafood and outdoor dog-friendly seating.  Also check out Nichols Candies on your way home, just off Rt. 128 in Gloucester.
Negative features:
  • Restroom facilities are closed in the winter (check here for seasonal dates)
  • No swimming is allowed in the quarry and the rocky ledges prevent safe access to the ocean
  • No fresh water is available for your pup once you leave the parking lot.  It can get hot out there and your thirsty dog might try drinking puddles of salt water, so be sure to pack a bottle and bowl!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Battle Road: Lexington to Concord, MA

Directions: Click here for Google map

I believe that Battle Road is one of our nation's most amazing treasures.  This 5.5 mile dirt path is like a huge outdoor museum, open only to pedestrians and bicycles (and doggies!).  The path is a preserved section of road that existed in 1775, stretching from Lexington through Lincoln and into Concord, where the British marched from Boston Harbor to seize a supply of arms that the colonists had stored in Concord.  This march culminated in the "shot heard 'round the world", an ambush by the local Minute Men, and what many historians consider to be the official start of the American Revolution on April 19, 1775. 

All along the path, you will see original farms (that are still worked), original homes, an original tavern, the Paul Revere capture site, and many markers telling the stories of local residents and the battles that broke out on that fateful day.  There is also a wonderful Visitor's Center and four free parking lots (some with restrooms) along the path.  During the warm weather months, you can walk into many of the historic homes and you're sure to see lots of characters in costume! 

This path is probably the coolest place I've ever been in New England.  You really feel like you've stepped back in time!  The fact that it is free is incredible, although the Friends of Minuteman National Park organization will gladly accept any donation or volunteers if you are so inclined.  

One important note: this park requires all dogs to be leashed.  Please abide by this rule, as the historical preservation here is extraordinary and we are lucky that they allow dogs at all.

You can find more information by clicking here.  

Information source: National Park Service and Friends of Minuteman National Park

Here are the positive features:
  • It's a historical experience every American should have!
  • You can park at various points to explore different areas of the path
  • The path is very wide, like a real road
  • Nice restrooms are provided at Meriam's Corner, the Visitor's Center and the Hartwell Tavern parking lots
  • A great path for running with your pup
  • It's free and safe
  • There are picnic tables and fields if you want to pack a lunch
  • The farms are gorgeous and some are FULL of sunflowers in July!
  • Characters in costume and rangers abound in the warmer months
  • Downtown Concord is nearby, with many wonderful restaurants, shopping and inns
Negative features:
  • Don't forget to bring poopy bags!  None are provided and it would be shameful to leave a pile of poop on these grounds.
  • There are no trash barrels in the park, so plan to carry your trash (and doggie bags) with you as you walk.
  • You'll need bug spray for black flies and mosquitoes, especially in the spring/summer months (it's quite woodsy and marshy in some areas).
  • If you stick to the dirt path, you probably won't notice any ticks, but there are some fields, grass, and wooded areas where they will be waiting for you.
  • Restroom facilities are closed in the winter (check here for seasonal dates).

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Acton Arboretum: Acton, MA

Directions: Click here for Google map

Ahhhh, this is what New England is all about!  The Acton Arboretum is a 64-acre piece of conservation land, chock full of beautiful gardens, trees, flowers, ferns, and butterflies.  As soon as you walk into the arboretum, I guarantee you will feel worlds away from the everyday hustle and bustle of nearby Rt. 2.  Oh, and your dog is sure to love it, too!

The land boasts a lovely trail system that weaves its way through gardens, woods, ponds, a bog, a glacial esker, and open fields.  Different sections of the interconnecting trails are made up of pavement, crushed stone, dirt, and boardwalks.  I went running on the yellow trail, which takes you around the perimeter of the property in 1.5 miles (I ran it twice and then walked it again to take pictures).  I actually didn't take Cooper on this excursion because he's not so great with off-leash dogs and this park has many off-leash dogs.  So that is something to keep in mind, depending on the nature of your dog.

This piece of land has quite an interesting history and I highly recommend that you visit the arboretum's website to learn more about it.  You can also view trail maps there, too.

Information source: Friends of the Acton Arboretum

Here are the positive features:
  • Wow, what a beautiful place!
  • Dogs may explore off leash, as long as they are under voice control
  • Lots of private spots for you to sit on a blanket and relax (quite romantic, actually)
  • A wonderful place for a picnic, as the large field offers several picnic tables
  • Not a huge parking lot, but there was ample free parking on a beautiful day
  • Some trails are handicapped accessible; also great for strollers
  • There are signs identifying different plants as you walk along the trails
  • Free bags provided so you can clean up after your pup
  • An outhouse is provided in the parking lot
Negative features:
  • There were many, many off-leash dogs who were not under voice control (ok for some people and dogs, but not all)
  • You'll need bug spray for black flies, mosquitoes, and ticks, especially if you venture into the damp, woodsy area

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Nashua River Rail Trail: Ayer, MA to Nashua, NH

Directions: Click here for Google map to Ayer parking (for more parking options and map, click here and scroll down)

The Nashua River Rail Trail is a former railroad right of way that travels 11 miles through the towns of Ayer, Groton, Pepperell, and Dunstable.  The trail offers a 10-foot wide paved surface for the entire length.  It is completely flat and straight (a rare thing in New England), and is surrounded by beautiful trees, flowers, and chirping birds.  The rail trail is quite a lovely place to walk, compared to the busy roads in the area.

The rail trail was once known as the Hollis Branch of the Boston & Maine Railroad.  One by one, various tracks were abandoned between 1929 and 1982.  The State of Massachusetts' Department of Conservation and Recreation purchased the Hollis Branch in 1987 and opened the walking trail to the public in 2002.  You can find more info here.

Cooper and I had a great time walking the trail this afternoon!  Please note that you must keep your dog leashed for safety (the trail is shared with bicycles and horses).  Also, remember to bring a bag to clean up after them; some parking lots provide bags, but not all.

Information source: Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation

Here are the positive features:
  • Quiet trail, beautiful country walk
  • Well maintained pavement
  • Large, free parking lots are available all along the trail
  • Thanks to the paved trail, we didn't get any ticks
Negative features:
  • We didn't see any streams along the way, so bring water for your puppy!
  • There's no "loop", you just have to turn around when you're ready to head back
  • The bicycles can really whiz by, so be careful not to let your dog roam from one side of the trail to the other (which they like to do when there are good smells!)

Monday, July 4, 2011

Winnekenni Castle: Haverhill, MA

Directions: Click here for Google map

I grew up near Haverhill, MA and have many childhood memories of this wonderful park with an enchanting castle on the grounds (what little girl wouldn't love that?). I love to revisit Winnekenni Castle as an adult and it's an especially great place to bring my dog! With over 200 acres of conservation land and 9 miles of foot-trails (which loop around a beautiful lake), your dog is sure to enjoy it, too!

"Winnekenni" is Algonquian language for "Very Beautiful". The castle was built in 1875 by a local physician using 35,000 cubic feet of glacial boulders found on the property. The summer home covers 3,500 square feet, rising 250 feet above lake level. The castle was sold to the city of Haverhill in 1895 and it became Haverhill's first public park. The grounds are now open to the public and the castle is often used for cultural and educational events. Allowable activities in the park include: hiking, X-C skiing, snow-shoeing, mountain biking, horseback riding, picnicking, tennis, fishing, sledding, and skating.  You can find more great info (including a trail map) on their website: Winnekenni.com

Please note that dogs must be leashed on the grounds.

Information source: Winnekenni pamphlet and Winnekenni.com

Here are the positive features:
  • Beautiful, well maintained trails offer many options for short or long walks
  • There are many opportunities for your dog to jump in the lake, cool off, and get a drink
  • Abundant free parking is available
  • The park offers tennis courts and a great playground
  • Lots of nice green grass make for great picnic areas
  • We didn't have one mosquito or tick bite us on a humid day in July. Maybe that was a fluke, but maybe they spray for them (not sure).
  • It's close to I-495, but still peaceful and quiet in the park
  • You and your dog can walk right up to the beautiful castle
  • The walking trails are easy, well shaded and cool
Negative features:
  • No poopy bags are provided, so be sure to pack some

Monday, June 13, 2011

Lime Quarry Reservation: Chelmsford, MA

Directions: Click here for Google map

The Bruce and Torry Gullion Lime Quarry Reservation is located on Rt. 110 in Chelmsford, MA. Cooper and I discovered it because it's right down the street from his vet. Acquired in 1967, this 64-acre parcel of land is the former location of lime quarries and kilns dating back to 1736! The quarries operated until 1830 and were a major source of lime for plaster for homes in Chelmsford and Lowell.

There are several loops of relatively short trails (about a mile or so) running through the quarry, which feature the old quarries and kilns as a central focus. The trails are all very well maintained and marked, making for an easy and fun afternoon stroll! Due to its unique geology, the wooded area supports a number of locally uncommon plants, which are only found in areas of high PH (as exist in limestone). You can find more great info and a map of the property on the Chelmsford Conservation Commission website.

Information source: Chelmsford Conservation Commission

Here are the positive features:

  • Great for a short stroll through the woods that will make your dog very happy
  • There are many brooks babbling through the property for your furry friend to splash around in
  • Abundant free parking is available at the start of the trail
  • The lime quarries and unique plant life are so interesting
  • The trails are very well marked, so even people like me (who are frighteningly adept at getting lost) will find their way easily
  • There's hardly ever anyone else there
Negative features:
  • During late spring and summer, you'll probably need bug spray for mosquitoes
  • It's close enough to I-495 that you can usually hear some traffic
  • The trails can be a bit muddy, especially in the spring

Monday, May 31, 2010

Skinner State Park: Hadley, MA

Directions: Click here for Google map

J.A. Skinner State Park is more than 400 acres of forest on Mount Holyoke, at the western end of the Holyoke Range. It offers breathtaking views of the Connecticut River Valley. The summit is accessible by road from April through November, and by hiking trails year-round. The Summit House was a popular mountaintop hotel in the 1800s. The park is named after Joseph Allen Skinner, a wealthy businessman who donated the hotel and land to the state in 1940.

Before driving to the summit, we stopped at Barstow's Dairy Store and Bakery just down the street to pick up our lunch. This little cafe is awesome! It is part of Barstow's Longview Farm, a local family farm. They sell a variety of farm fresh delights, make great sandwiches, offer mouthwatering desserts, and serve homemade ice cream! It's fun to sit at one of their picnic tables, watch the cows (who are quite friendly, I've learned) and breathe in the fresh air. After visiting Barstow's, we drove to the summit and walked along the "green" trail to one of the overlooks that I photographed above. It is a short, easy trail and a great place to picnic. We saw several hawks and a bald eagle! 

Information source: Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation

Here are the positive features:
  • Barstow's Dairy Store and Bakery!
  • Lots of hiking trails to choose from - even a 5 minute walk will bring you to breathtaking views
  • You can drive to the summit on a paved road or park half-way up and walk the rest
  • Parking at the top is just $2 and it's free to park half-way up
  • We didn't see one tick the whole day (maybe that was just luck)
  • Amherst is close by - a college town with lots of restaurants, stores, etc.
Negative features:
  • The summit house (and restrooms) are in disrepair and are closed indefinitely

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Mt. Equinox: Bennington County, VT

Directions: Click here for Google map

Mt. Equinox is the highest peak in the Taconic Mountain Range. This mountain range is part of the Appalachian Mountain system and includes mountains from Vermont, New York and Massachusetts. At an elevation of 3,848 feet, Mt. Equinox is sure to please with amazing views from many overlooks!

The Mount Equinox Skyline Drive is the longest privately owned paved toll road in the USA (5.2 miles). It's a beautiful drive to the top with many places to turn off and picnic. A variety of hiking trails are available, ranging from an easy .02 miles to a very challenging 4 miles. The mountain includes a gift shop and restroom at the base and an inn with public restrooms at the summit (built in 1949). I'm not sure whether the inn allows dogs, as we didn't stay overnight.

Mt. Equinox features some very interesting history. For example, over 100 years ago it was quite popular for people to hike to the summit (since that was the only way of reaching the top). Along the way, many hikers carved their names and the date of their hike into the soft rock ledges that existed. While the inn was being built, these old ledges were accidentally discovered and many carvings were preserved inside the inn. They include P.B. Wilcox (1843), E.B. Warren (1851), and L. Brown (1815) whose descendants still live in the valley today.

There also happens to be a monastery within viewing distance of Mt. Equinox (if you're going up the mountain, it will be on your left about halfway up).  You can find more great info at the EquinoxMountain.com website.

Information source: EquinoxMountain.com

Here are the positive features:
  • There are many hiking trails, some starting at the bottom and some just around the top
  • You can easily drive to the summit on a nicely paved road
  • Clean restrooms are available at the bottom and top
  • There's a great farm store & ice cream shop down the street (turn left when exiting Mt. Equinox)
  • There are 360 degree breathtaking views
  • Plenty of parking at the summit
Negative features:
  • It costs $12 per car & driver, plus $2 for each passenger, to take the toll road to the top (kids are free)
  • There didn't seem to be any restaurants close by, but Manchester is not too far away

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Visitor's Center Park: Claremont, NH

Directions: Click here for Google map

When I was a high school student in NH, I remember hearing that Claremont was facing a plethora of financial difficulties and, let's just say, was not the prettiest town in the state for visitors. However, in recent years, this rural community has made quite a comeback! I'm not sure how it all happened, but it appears that Federal grants have contributed to widespread restoration. Hooray!

The Claremont Visitor's Center is one of the improvement projects recently completed in the town and it features a
quite beautiful park on the Sugar River (complete with a lovely pedestrian bridge over the river). The nearby Historic District Mills make a great backdrop. Dogs are welcome and it's a great place to take a short stroll, have a picnic or read a book! We happened to be there at sunset, which was very pretty. Afterwards, I had dinner on an outdoor patio (just inches from the rushing river) at the Common Man restaurant. The river even flows through the inside of the restaurant, which is really neat.

Information source: City of Claremont

Here are the positive features:
  • It's a great place to stop and stretch your legs (if you happen to be in the area)
  • Claremont has two good restaurants just around the corner from the park: (The Common Man and Ramunto's).
  • The park is new and very pretty
  • There's a bin full of plastic bags to clean up after your pup, which is convenient
  • The park is reasonably close to other attractions, such as Mt. Ascutney
  • There is a big parking lot at the Visitor's Center
Negative features:
  • You can't take your dog directly to the river - it's sort of blocked off
  • The park is relatively small
  • The Common Man doesn't allow dogs on their outdoor patio

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Loon Mountain: Lincoln, NH

Directions to Loon: Click here for Google map

Loon Mountain is a real adventure for the whole family, including your 4-legged child! When you think of Loon, you may immediately picture a wonderful ski mountain, but it's also a fantastic place to visit in the summer! We just spent a week there and had a great time.

My favorite parts of visiting Loon with Cooper were the Pemigewasset River (aka, the "Pemi"), which runs straight through the middle of the resort, and our hiking trip at Sabbaday Falls. The weather and the view at Loon were so beautiful and peaceful that we just wanted to enjoy the outdoors as much as possible (which was as easy as stepping outside our rented condo). But just down the street, you can also enjoy a variety of great restaurants and lots of shopping! Does it get any better than that?

Here are the positive features:
  • Tons of hiking trails off the main road (Kancamagus Hwy, or the "Kanc"), which often have pretty rivers & waterfalls (we hiked here: Sabbaday Falls)
  • Lots of very helpful info from the resort's staff
  • Beautiful and relatively cheap condo rentals
  • Incredible attractions and views just outside your door
  • Many family-friendly activities (gondola, horseback riding, mountain bike rentals, etc.)
  • Great restaurants & shopping just down the street
  • Not overcrowded at all in the summer
  • Tick-free! I'm sure they exist, but I didn't find one tick on Cooper so they clearly aren't as bad as they are in Massachusetts.
Negative features:
  • The nicest resort lodging is not pet-friendly (see below for lodging options)
  • You can't really do all the resort's activities with your dog (i.e., horseback riding & mountain biking), but walking/hiking is amazing and free!
Lodging options:
Dining options:
  • The Common Man: Casual, delicious home cooking
  • Gypsy Cafe: Excellent food from around the world (we liked the mediterranean dishes)
  • King's Corner Cafe: Awesome (and cheap) breakfast!
  • Flapjacks: Also a good breakfast (but we liked King's Corner better)
  • Kimberlee's Deli: A fantastic lunch spot with fresh deli sandwiches and salads
  • There are lots more places that we didn't try, but I wouldn't recommend Gordi's Fish & Steakhouse. The food was bland and the service was sloooooow (and there were only 3 parties in the whole place).
For more info on Loon Mountain, visit their website! Have fun!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Ascutney State Park: Windsor, VT

Directions to Mt. Ascutney: Click here for Google map

Mount Ascutney is a doggie heaven! It is a people heaven, too, (if you're the outdoorsy type) offering many different hiking trails (beginner to advanced), very friendly staff, restroom facilities, camp sites, an observation tower, a hang gliding launch, picnic areas, and a paved road to the summit. The 2,000 acre park was developed in 1935 by the Civilian Conservation Corps and stands at an elevation of 3,144 feet above sea level.

We hiked the Weathersfield Trail
, which was 2.9 miles to the summit. The intermediate trail offered plenty of shade and plenty of water for Cooper (thanks to many beautiful waterfalls!). In fact, this trail winds through several waterfalls, including Crystal Cascade Falls - an 84 foot high waterfall! With all the rushing water, we hardly noticed any bugs and benefited from cool breezes on a hot August day.

Information source: Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation

Here are the positive features:

  • Hiking trails range from short & easy to very challenging
  • The staff at the park are very friendly and helpful
  • A paved road will lead you to the summit where there are lots of easy trails
  • The amenities (bathrooms, campsites, etc.) are great for a state park
  • Hardly any bugs while we were there and I didn't find any ticks
  • Day use fees are low (free for young kids, $3 for adults)
  • Mt. Ascutney is a dormant volcano, which is really neat
  • Two great restaurants are nearby: The Common Man and Ramunto's
Negative features:
  • Apparently, porcupines abound - even during the day (although we didn't see any)
  • During hot summer months, the waterfalls tend to get smaller (and the small ones sometimes dry up completely).
For more info on Ascutney, visit their website!