EASTON — Every so often, the local chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club hosts a moonlight hike, without flashlights, at Borderland State Park in Easton.
By day, the park is calm, chapter chairwoman Cheryl Lathrop said, but by night, hikers see the reflective eyes of animals and hear the nocturnal sounds of the woods. Moonlight shines on the pond. It’s a totally different experience.
“It’s just spectacular,” she said.
The AMC’s organized hikes, which welcome nonmembers, are just one way to broaden your hiking repertoire this season. Hikers and walkers who prefer to strike out on their own have plenty of options from which to choose, on both public and private conservation land.
Borderland, perhaps best known as a walking spot, has trails and unpaved roads that wind around three main ponds and several smaller ones. Trails total more than 20 miles, including some that are hillier and more difficult than the mostly flat loop around Leach Pond. Horses and mountain bikers are welcome.
Visitors who do the pond loop enjoy stopping at the lodge, a small stone building at the water’s edge. On the water, the park allows canoeing, kayaking, fishing, and ice skating.
“Borderland is a wonderful historical landscape,” said Gary Briere, assistant director for recreation at Mass Parks, part of the Department of Conservation and Recreation. “I really like the historical context to it.”
In addition to the lodge, Borderland is home to the graceful, three-story Ames mansion, built of stone in 1910 and open occasionally for tours led by the Friends of Borderland.
Another popular hiking and trail-running spot that was once a family estate, Whitney and Thayer Woods in Cohasset and Hingham, offers about 800 mostly wooded acres, including the Milliken Memorial Path, first planted in the 1920s and lined with rhododendrons and azaleas. Sections of the stone walls that still run through the woods were built in the 1600s.
The main entrance to Whitney and Thayer on Route 3A can be easy to miss. Look for Sohier Street; the entrance is across 3A from there. Trail maps, available in the parking area, guide hikers to a color-coded set of loops. “You are here” maps on the trails make them user-friendly.
Visitors can also enter through Weir River Farm, an abutting conservation property. Both are owned by the Trustees of Reservations. Whitney and Thayer Woods also borders Wompatuck State Park and other conservation land, creating nearly 5,000 contiguous acres of open space on the South Shore.
Hikers who have the time and stamina to go several miles can head toward Turkey Hill, a grassy peak with views of Boston and the ocean on a clear day. Parts of Turkey Hill are owned by Hingham, Cohasset, and the Trustees, according to the Trustees’ South Shore superintendent, Ed Pitcavage. For hikers unable to walk to Turkey Hill from the Whitney and Thayer Woods parking area, it is also accessible by car, via Turkey Hill Lane.
“It’s one of the best views around,” Pitcavage said.
Closer to Buzzards Bay, in Rochester, lies a protected property where grassland-dwelling birds fill the air with near-constant song during the day. East Over Reservation, once part of the Hiller family farm, spans about 75 acres of fields, some of which are changing to forest.
Bluebird boxes dot the property, and a sign lists more than two dozen species of ground-nesting birds that can be found at East Over, including the eastern meadowlark, turkey, bobwhite, and bobolink. East Over isn’t for long hikes — trails total 1.75 miles — but it does offer the beauty of a farm landscape, including views of the distinctive golden-yellow Hiller farm buildings, which are privately owned.
Grassy trails meander along the property’s substantial stone walls. A sign at the entrance extols the effort it took to build them: “Building these walls took a half-dozen men more than 1,000 days and cost $50,000 between 1853 and 1864.”
“People who love stone walls are often attracted to the stone walls that are there,” said Diane Lang, superintendent of the South Coast unit for the Trustees of Reservations, which co-owns the property with the town of Rochester. “It is an outstanding feature of the property.”
This time of year, the fields the stone walls encircle are full of long grasses and buttercups.
“I like the openness,” she said. “I walk my dogs there, and it’s just a very quiet, peaceful place to get you off the road.”
For hikers looking for more of a challenge, no sampling of trails south of Boston would be complete without the Skyline Trail in the Blue Hills Reservation, an expanse of parkland and hills up to 635 feet high and stretching into several towns, with peaks chiefly in Milton and Quincy.
Trails in this approximately 7,000-acre state reservation are often rocky and steep, though easier trails are available. Hikers use the steeper ones to train for the White Mountains, and several peaks offer a 360-degree view. The best, according to Alexandra Echandi, Mass Parks natural resources specialist, is from Buck Hill, where hikers are rewarded with views of the Harbor Islands and, in the distance, Wachusett Mountain.
True to its name, the Skyline Trail also traverses many of the reservation’s other peaks. For hikers who don’t want to spend a full day, Buck Hill can be reached by a shorter loop of a few hours, or even faster by granite steps, from one of the parking areas on Route 28, Echandi said.
“It’s very user-friendly for a park this size,” she said.
Lathrop, of the AMC, praised the Blue Hills as the biggest gem among the region’s hiking destinations. “It’s like a little piece of the White Mountains that’s right there outside of Boston,” she said.
No matter where you go, hiking is a great way to get out into nature. In the Boston area today, she said, so much of people’s lives is spent in an urban or suburban environment, in front of a computer, that few escapes can match the feel of leaves crunching under your feet.
“It refreshes my soul,” she said.Jennette Barnes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.