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Ten great places for outdoor family adventures

A reflection in The Harold Parker State Forest

John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

A reflection in the Harold Parker State Forest

It’s so easy to get into a rut as a parent, from making the same meal to watching the same movie to revisiting the same place, over and over again just because you know your kids like it. But guess what? Kids like novelty, too.

Last year, while writing a guidebook, I crisscrossed the region looking for outdoor adventures for families. And my family discovered several new favorites, places that were off the beaten path — or at least off ours.

Continue reading below

Here is a list of 10 places in Greater Boston perfect for autumn adventure. Most of these destinations are well known by those who live nearby. But by others? Not so much. So likely you will see some familiar spots, but no doubt you should be able to find plenty of new spots to explore.

1 BREAKHEART RESERVATION

100 Hemlock Road, Wakefield; www.mass.gov/dcr, 781-233-0834. GPS coordinates: 42° 29.662’ N, 71° 2.587’ W

Breakheart Reservation has more than two dozen trails on its 700-plus acres, but one that’s especially good for families is Eagle Rock, which gives a commanding view of Pearce Lake — also called Lower Pond. At the lake, you’ll find a playground, climbing structures, and picnic tables. Off to one side is a fishing platform, and that’s where you can pick up the trail that leads to Eagle Rock, an easy hike of less than half a mile.

To go to the visitor center from Pearce Lake, take Fox Run Trail, which is about a mile long. A 5-mile paved loop around the park offers a wonderful and safe place for kids to ride their bikes. (At one point, the reservation roads were open to cars, but only rangers are permitted to use it now.) Breakheart features many rich animal habitats, with two freshwater lakes, marshes, rivers, and seven hills that are more than 200 feet high.

2 NOANET WOODLANDS

Dedham Street, Dover; www.thetrustees.org, 508-785-0339. GPS coordinates: 42° 14.863’ N, 71°16.157’ W.

Noanet Woodlands, a Trustees of Reservations property, encompasses a former mill site, with a waterfall and ponds, all good destinations for a walk. Pick up a laminated map at the trailhead of the 1.6-mile Caryl Loop Trail (marked by red blazes). This trail leads to the old mill site, the waterfall, and the Upper and Lower Mill Ponds.

As you walk, the first interesting landmark you hit is a big boulder. Kids love to stop here for a short climb. When you get to the mill site, take a short detour around the Lower Mill Pond to look over the waterfall and to see Upper Mill Pond. For a longer hike, follow the yellow blazes to Noanet Peak Trail, which leads to the top of 387-foot-high Noanet Peak and panoramic views of the Boston skyline.

3 ROCKY WOODS

Hartford Street and Route 109, Medfield; www.thetrustees.org, 508-785-0339. GPS coordinates: 42° 12.359’ N, 71° 16.632’ W.

Rocky Woods has 6.5 miles of trails to explore, with a variety of options perfect for families, including many easy, clearly marked paths. As you wander the paths, you’ll see the rocks among the trees that give the property its name. Some of the trails in the 491-acre reservation lead around ponds, while others lead up to the 420-foot-high Mine Hill ridge.

The 0.75-mile loop around Chickering Pond is probably the best for families with little ones. Look for bullfrogs and painted turtles that make their home here. About halfway around the pond, a small playground and a few picnic tables on the shore are perfect for a lunch break. Visitors are allowed to catch-and-release fish here. For a longer walk, the Hemlock Knoll Loop to Whale Rock is a 1-mile hike that you can pick up from Chickering Pond and that leads to a rock that looks like the back of a whale.

4 LYNN WOODS
RESERVATION: DUNGEON ROCK

Pennybrook Road, Lynn; www.flw.org, 781-477-7123. GPS coordinates: 42° 28.587’ N, 70° 59.163’ W.

October is the perfect time to visit Lynn Woods, with its made-for-Halloween tales focused on Dungeon Rock. Legends about the area go back to 1658, when a pirate ship sailed into Lynn Harbor and lowered a boat into the water with a chest onboard. Supposedly one pirate escaped from British soldiers and hid in the woods with the treasure. Later, the story goes, an earthquake hit the area and a rock sealed up the cave, trapping pirate and treasure.

In the 1830s, treasure hunters set off explosive charges destroying the cave’s opening but they failed to find treasure. Then, in 1852, Hiram Marble, a spiritualist who believed he received a message from the beyond telling him to come to Dungeon Rock, bought 5 acres surrounding the cave. He and his family dug and set off charges around the cave for years looking, also to no avail.

Today, you can climb down dark, slippery stairs into part of the tunnel that Marble blasted as he looked for the treasure. Bring a flashlight to go down into the 174-foot-long tunnel. It’s cold, damp, slippery, wet, and spooky — in a good way.

5 KING PHILIP’S ROCK AND CAVE

81–93 Mansfield St., Sharon; www.sharonfoc.org, 781-784-4533. GPS coordinates: 42° 04.461’ N, 71° 10.801’ W.

It’s always fun to have a good story to go along with a walk, and King Philip’s Rock and Cave offer more than just one, according to local lore.

Some think the site was an Indian meeting place and is named for the Wampanoag leader Metacomet (also known as King Philip). Groups of Native Americans might have met here to plan strategy during King Philip’s War
(1675–76).
Others surmise that ancient peoples observed the solstices and made other astronomical observations from the large rock formation.

Whatever the case, kids will love the easy walk to a series of large climbable rocks. Trails extend from Sharon into Foxborough conservation land and have wide, relatively flat paths attractive to mountain bikers.

6 BORDERLAND STATE PARK

259 Massapoag Ave., North Easton; www.mass.gov/dcr, 508-238-6566.
GPS coordinates: 42° 3.739’ N,
71° 09.896’ W.

Borderland, with 1,800 acres, has everything an outdoor enthusiast could want, from fishing on six ponds to hiking or biking on extensive trails or picnicking on the manicured lawn of a historic mansion.

Borderland State Park

Borderland State Park

Borderland State Park.

The property was once a country estate in the 1900s and got its name from its location straddling the towns of Sharon and Easton. The Ames home, a three-story stone mansion built in 1910, is the centerpiece of the park — call about tours.

The 3-mile pond walk, which starts next to the visitor center and loops around Leach Pond, is popular with families. The path follows old farm roads and goes through hayfields. If that seems too long, go down to the pond to skip rocks and then take a spur on to either Swamp Trail or Quiet Woods Trail.

7 WEIR RIVER FARM

Turkey Hill Lane, Hingham; www.thetrustees.org, 781-740-7233. GPS coordinates: 42° 41.896’ N, 71° 06.628’ W.

This 10-acre working facility is one of the last farms in Hingham and home to horses, pigs, cows, chickens, and sheep as well as an easy 1.5-mile loop trail. The farm gets its name from the Weir River, which passes through the property.

Weir River Farm on Turkey Hill Lane in Hingham is a 10-acre working farm.

David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Weir River Farm on Turkey Hill Lane in Hingham is a 10-acre working farm.

Every Saturday from May through October, the farm has open barnyard hours, when you can visit the animals and watch the farmers at work. If you visit when the barnyard isn’t open, you may still see grazing animals but not too close, so warn the kids.

If you’d like to take a longer trek, you can get to the adjacent Whitney and Thayer Woods via trails at the farm. Trails also connect to Wompatuck State Park and the Triphammer Conservation Area.

8 HAROLD PARKER STATE FOREST

305 Middleton Road, North Andover; www.mass.gov/dcr, 978-686-3391.
GPS coordinates: 42° 37.243’ N,
71° 5.078’ W.

Harold Parker State Forest, which lies in Andover, North Andover, North Reading, and Middleton, has 3,500 acres, numerous trails, and 11 ponds. One day or even a weekend is not enough time to experience all it offers.

For a first-time visit, start at Berry Pond, where you can hike to the site of an old quarry and mill ruins, then circle around to end at the pond. Look for the Healthy Trail sign and white blazes near the parking lot to start your walk, which quickly leads to a boardwalk, then a gravel path, and finally a dirt path. You’ll come to large granite rocks where kids can climb. This is not the old quarry, but if you have younger kids, this is a good stopping point; you can shorten the trip here and head to Berry Pond. You can fish for bass, skip rocks at the pond, or throw a ball in the field.

9 IPSWICH RIVER WILDLIFE
SANCTUARY

87 Perkins Row, Topsfield; www.massaudubon.org, 978-887-9264. GPS
coordinates: 42° 37.899’ N, 70° 55.288’ W.

Head directly to the Rockery Trail for a feature kids will love: huge rocks that were brought in to form part of an arboretum built in the 1900s. Tunnels, staircases, and bridges that were part of the facility await exploration.

Members of the Endicott College Outdoor Adventure Club set off on a trip on the Ipswich River

John Blanding/Globe Staff

Members of the Endicott College Outdoor Adventure Club set off on a trip on the Ipswich River.

Once you move on, more than 10 miles of trails take you through forests, meadows, and wetlands. Rockery Trail goes around a pond, where you might see painted turtles basking in the sun. Take the Waterfowl Pond Trail to the Stone Bridge to see evidence of beavers hard at work in the pond. If you cross the parking lot to the short Bunker Meadows Trail, it leads to an observation tower you can climb.

Mass. Audubon members can rent canoes to paddle on the Ipswich River, rent the sanctuary’s one cabin, or camp on Perkins Island from May through
October.

10 BROAD MEADOW BROOK
CONSERVATION CENTER AND WILDLIFE
SANCTUARY

414 Massasoit Road, Worcester; www.massaudubon.org,
508-753-6087. GPS coordinates: 42° 14.013’ N, 71° 45.816’ W.

After you arrive, check out the visitor center and its interpretive exhibits, especially the large 3-D model of the sanctuary.

For an easy but fun walk, take Holdredge Trail to Frog Pond Trail to Sprague Trail, which meets up again with Holdredge to return to the center. Along the 1.5-mile route, you’ll meander through forests, marsh, and wetlands. Stop at tiny Frog Pond and see how many of the amphibians the kids can spot. A little play area features swings and seats cut from logs.

If you have kids who like to quest — a kind of outdoor treasure hunt with rhyming clues that guide participants and teach about the sanctuary and its wildlife — download the clues from the center’s website before you go.

Kim Foley MacKinnon’s most recent book is “Outdoors with Kids Boston: 100 Fun Places to Explore In and Around the City.” She writes a weekly blog called “Kids Outdoors” for the Appalachian Mountain Club at http://kids.outdoors.org. Contact Kim at kim@kfmwriter.com.
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