Great Places to Hike with Kids in the Boston Area
Hiking just may be the perfect family activity. It is appropriate for all ages and a wide range of abilities, it is very inexpensive, it’s dynamic, and it’s good for the body, mind and soul. Perhaps that’s why hiking has become a holiday tradition for our family; looking back on Easter, New Year’s Day, Christmas Eve, and Labor Day, I have realized that we celebrated those holidays with a family hike.
Read on for a few of our favorite places to explore nature and enjoy a couple of hours away from our hectic schedules. You may notice that most of these places offer more than hiking trails – that’s because, for better or for worse, the kids are far more enthusiastic about a hike when it holds the promise of another fun activity, like playground time, a swim, or animal encounters.
Walden Pond State Reservation
Concord and Lincoln
Take your family to the birthplace of the conservation movement and connect with Thoreau’s spirit on a hike around Walden Pond. Visit the replica of Thoreau’s one-room cabin, and pick up a memento at the gift shop or the bookstore. Pack a picnic lunch and go for a swim in the summer. The DCR works to make the experience accessible to all with a beach wheel chair for access to the beach and water. Before you go on a hot summer day, call ahead to make sure there is still parking available.
Take a look at the Reservation brochure to learn more about Thoreau, the history of Walden Pond, and useful logistical information.
Location: The Visitor’s Center is at 915 Walden St., Concord, MA. You can pick up a trail map there.
Cost: There is a year round parking fee of $5.00 per vehicle. Parking is only permitted in the lot off Rte. 126. When the park reaches capacity it will close. If you plan to visit Walden Pond and other DCR parks often, you may want to purchase a $35 DCR ParksPass, which buys you unlimited parking at the parks for the calendar year.
Thanks to interactive trail features like animal prints, little wooden boxes for sharing natural treasure finds, and an area for building homes for earth’s creatures, Drumlin Farm’s Forest Discovery Trail is my kids’ favorite place to hike. It’s also the perfect place to introduce hiking to little ones. Drumlin Farm has many other appealing features, of course, like farm animals, a brand new Farm Life Center for terrific educational programs, a greenhouse in the middle of a learning garden, an area for picnicking and a new playground. Parking is free and there are new bathrooms in the farm area in addition to the ones in the Nature Center.
Location: 208 South Great Road, Lincoln, MA 01773
Contact: 781-259-2200 or email@example.com
Cost: $7 for nonmember adults; $5 for nonmember children (2-12) and seniors
Hours: Nature Center Hours: 9:00 am-5:00 pm March 1-October 31; 9:00 am-4:00 pm November 1-February 28. Trails: Open only when the nature center is open. Drumlin Farm is closed Mondays except on federal Monday holidays.
Stoneham, Medford, Winchester
The Friends of the Fells offer wonderful family hiking programs, including a program on Tuesday mornings for tiny explorers and their adults, Babes in the Woods. I recommend joining one of the free guided hikes – the experienced volunteers know the lay of the land and plan trail explorations most appropriate for children (these are noted on the event descriptions). If you decide to go it alone, take a look at the trail descriptions and find a place to purchase a map, listed on the website. You can also download a map of the entire (massive!) Fells Reservation.
Location: The Botume House Visitor Center is located at 4 Woodland Road, Stoneham on the eastern shore of Spot Pond one half mile south from the Stone Zoo
Contact: Visitor Center at 617-727-1199 x406 or Friends of the Middlesex Fells Reservation at firstname.lastname@example.org or 781-662-2340
Although Habitat is probably best known to families for its many excellent nature programs and camps, it’s also a really nice place to take the kids for a quiet, relatively easy, year-round hike. From the Georgian-style mansion visitor’s center, you and the kids can explore 2.5 miles of trails that wind through deciduous and evergreen forests, across meadows, around two ponds, and along a wetland containing a vernal pool.
Location: 10 Juniper Road, Belmont, MA 02478
Contact: 617-489-5050 or email@example.com
Cost: Mass Audubon Members and Belmont residents are free. $4 for nonmember adults; $3 for nonmember children (2-12) and seniors.
Hours: The Visitor Center (with restrooms) is open Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Call ahead; the gallery and formal gardens may be closed for weekend functions. The trails are open every day, dawn to dusk.
The Blue Hills Reservation
If you’re craving green time but you don’t want to venture too far from the city, The Blue Hills Reservation may be the perfect place. On the hiking trails, which traverse upland and bottomland forests, marsh, swamp and pond edges, meadows and an Atlantic white cedar bog, you may encounter a wide variety of plant and animal life, including several rare and endangered species in Massachusetts, such as the timber rattlesnake!
For family fun and educational programs, see the Hikes and Happenings newsletter, and for trail ideas with skill levels and approximate hike times, take a look at Ranger Tom’s Suggested Hikes. In addition to many miles of trails, the Reservation is home to the Blue Hill Observatory and Science Center and Mass Audubon’s Blue Hills Trailside Museum. Other activities include non-motorized boating, camping, fishing, ice skating, mountain biking, picnicking, rock climbing, cross country skiing, downhill skiing, softball, and swimming.
Location: Reservation Headquarters, 695 Hillside Street, Milton, MA. A large 19 x 27 four color trail map of the Blue Hills Reservation may be purchased for $2.00 at the Blue Hills Park Headquarters at 695 Hillside Street in Milton or at the Blue Hills Trailside Museum at 1904 Canton Avenue in Milton.
Hours: Reservation is open dawn to dusk
Online resources for hiking in Massachusetts:
Section Hiker: Hiking and Backpacking for Beginners and Experts