Outdoor fun continues on the North Shore

Appleton Farms in Ipswich-Hamilton is a popular place for family outings, and has a store of locally-sourced products.
Appleton Farms in Ipswich-Hamilton is a popular place for family outings, and has a store of locally-sourced products.

It was fun while it lasted. You, with your beautiful blue ocean, your lovely long beaches, your succulent fried clams. Me, all relaxed and happy and sticky with sunscreen. Such a brief and joyous time we had together.

Oh, North Shore, how I will miss you!

But wait: It doesn’t have to be this way. If your love affair with the North Shore ended on Labor Day, you’re missing out on a deeper, more lasting connection to the area. Here is a sampling of things you can do to keep those good vibes going. And the advantage is, you’ll need less sunscreen.



“Where are you taking me?” our friend Marcia Glassman-Jaffe asked, upon seeing the signs for Appleton Farms Grass Rides in Hamilton. Turns out, “grass rides” is a British term for a carriage path, harking back to the day when this pastoral property was owned by the Appleton family, who used its sprawling acreage for pursuits like steeple-chasing. Now managed by the Trustees of Reservations, Appleton Farms is a wonderful spot for a long, sun-dappled walk through rolling grasslands, woodlands, and alongside stone walls and grazing livestock. Six miles of trails include footpaths, bridle paths, and farm roads, including a portion of the Bay Circuit Trail. Encountering the occasional rider on horseback adds to the pastoral allure. Enter from Highland Avenue, on the Grass Rides side, and find a wonderful overlook of hills and valley, plus, along the Great Pasture Trail, granite pinnacles salvaged from the former Harvard Library.

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Appleton Farms is the country’s oldest continuously-operating farm, and agricultural activities are still very much in evidence. At the heart of the property are farm buildings, a herd of Jersey milking cows, a CSA garden, and a new farm-and-dairy store, where they sell farmstead milk, beef, eggs, cheese, and other locally-sourced products. Of course, nobody wants to carry eggs when they hike, so you may want to circle back to the store as you’re leaving. Walks are easygoing — most flat, with a few little hills — allowing you to tune into the landscape, and the sense of an era gone by.
Appleton Farms main entrance and dairy store, Route 1-A, 219 County Road, Ipswich; Appleton Farms Grass Rides entrance, Highland Street, Hamilton; 978-356-5728, $3, members free


We crossed over a footbridge, chatting away, when suddenly we stopped in our tracks. A great blue heron stood at the edge of the marsh, just inches from us. We had never been so close to one of these majestic birds. It is unexpected moments like this that make a walk in the Mass Audubon’s Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary such a pleasure.

The North Shore has several spots for those who want a romantic walk in the woods — or simply want to take the kids someplace to stretch their legs after a day in school — but this Topsfield property wins our hearts every time. The variety of environments here is a marvel; you can hike an esker, a drumlin, past a beaver lodge, and alongside vernal pools and ponds, on 12 miles of interconnecting trails.

Our family favorite is the Rockery Trail, which leads to a rocky grotto. The gigantic boulders and exotic trees are remnants of an arboretum that once stood here. Our kids loved to navigate this cave-like pile of rocks when they were little, feeling like fierce explorers. Now, it’s the place we go to reconnect when everybody is home again. The trail loops around a pond, where boulders make a perfect spot to contemplate the beauty of the North Shore in autumn, or take a photo of trees reflected in water. 87 Perkins Row,
Topsfield; 978-887-9264,, $4 adults, children ages 2-12 and seniors $3, members free



Studies show that simply looking at pictures of the outdoors can help calm the spirit. If that’s true, a hike along the gorgeous trails of the Crane Reservation will transport you to nirvana. More than five miles of trails traverse dunes and the beachfront on Ipswich Bay and the Essex River Estuary. These sandy footpaths meander through lofty dunes and maritime forest, with sparkling vistas of the bay and the little islets off the coast. While a walk on Crane Beach is nice in any season, these off-the-beach trails are most appealing when summer’s heat and insects are long gone. There are trail markers along the way, but the ocean makes a dandy landmark. You’ll park in the main parking lot for Crane Beach, and then look for signage on the right that marks the trailhead.

Make a day of it, and visit Russell Orchards, just down the street, for fresh apples, cider (or Russell’s own fruit wine), and a warm cider donut. They also offer hayrides in the fall months and pick-your-own apples while the supply lasts. Who needs summertime when you’ve got all this?

Crane Reservation, 290 Argilla Road, Ipswich, 978-356-4354, $8 per car off-season (nonmembers), $4 after 3 p.m.

Russell Orchards, 143 Argilla Road, 978-356-5366,


For many Bostonians, Topsfield is synonymous with the Topsfield Fair. But if you’re looking for a mellower outdoor pursuit, we suggest the Tops-field Linear Common and Wenham Rail Trail. The two-mile-long trail follows an old rail bed. Recently surfaced with crushed stone dust, it is a wonderful destination for families looking for something fun and outdoorsy to do. We say “families” because it’s flat, and, even though there are couple of major street crossings to deal with, local drivers tend to stop for cyclists. And the scenery is nice. The trail passes over the Ipswich River and the Great Wenham Swamp, home to marshland birds, wetland plants, and wildflowers (even now), passing the fairgrounds en route to the village of Topsfield. There’s a bike shop along the path in Topsfield, plus a couple of stores where you can get a cold drink. Officially, the Topsfield trail ends just north of Route 97, where the Wenham trail begins.

That won’t matter to you as you pedal over crunchy leaves, admiring the heathery tones of the marshes and the spicy aroma of the woods in autumn. Then stop for a treat at Winfrey’s Chocolates, maybe a chocolate-dipped marshmallow on a stick.

Parking spaces on Topsfield Road/Route 97 at the Wenham town line, and at Washington Street in Topsfield. Winfrey’s Chocolates, 143 Topsfield Road, Wenham; 978-468-0549,

Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at bairwright@