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TRAVEL

Pack a picnic: Choice spots away from home for a family meal

Here are some places that might not be on your radar but afford beautiful views, easy trails, and a generally salutary experience.

Massive cleats hint at Bare Cove's history as a US Navy site.
Massive cleats hint at Bare Cove's history as a US Navy site.David Lyon

With the mercury rising, the trees leafed out, and the public health strictures cautiously easing, it’s the perfect time to mask up and load the kids in the car. Everybody gets heavenly scented fresh air, a chance to run around, and a definite change of scenery. You’ll have to pack in your picnic fixings and pack out your trash, so keep it simple and lightweight. Be sure you have something to spread on the ground in case picnic tables are unavailable. Keep in mind that some sites may not have opened their restrooms. Here are some places that might not be on your radar but afford beautiful views, easy trails, and a generally salutary experience.

Bare Cove Park, Hingham

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This 484-acre beauty along the banks of the Weymouth Back River in Hingham includes broad shoreline paths, rich wetlands, and gentle meadows surrounded by thick woods. There’s even a small stony beach where some mums take their toddlers to play at the water’s edge. When the former US Navy ammunition depot was divided up four decades ago, this parcel was set aside for public recreation and a wildlife sanctuary. The woodlands are home to coyotes, foxes, and deer, but they tend to keep to themselves. You’re more likely to see dog walkers, stroller pushers, and joggers.

Park at the lot near the South Shore Model Railway Club and walk in along the Bear Cove Path. You'll pass a native wildflower garden and if you continue straight ahead, you'll reach the old harbor. Besides the stony beach, it also has several picnic tables lined up along gigantic cleats once used to moor Navy vessels.

Bare Cove Park Drive. Open sunrise-sunset. No fee. hingham-ma.gov/Facilities/Facility/Details/Bare-Cove-Park-12

A working dairy farm — complete with a farm pond — is part of Great Brook Farm State Park.
A working dairy farm — complete with a farm pond — is part of Great Brook Farm State Park.David Lyon

Great Brook Farm State Park, Carlisle

The roughly 20 miles of trails on this 1,000-acre property are popular with walkers, hikers, cyclists, equestrians, and history buffs who like to seek out signs of Native Americans and early Colonial settlers. But you won’t have to walk too far with your picnic fixings. A broad meadow slopes down from the parking lot to the farm pond. You might even watch folks fishing while you’re enjoying your repast.

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The property includes a working dairy farm with a thoroughly modern robotic milking system. When you’ve finished eating, it’s a short mosey over to the barnyard with its Holsteins in one area and sheep penned with a young alpaca in another. Chickens come and go inside and outside the pens, constantly strutting and pecking as they put the range in free-range. If you’re lucky, the ever-popular ice cream stand will be open, but pack treats for the kids, just in case.

165 North Road. Open sunrise-sunset. Parking $3. 978-369-6312. mass.gov/locations/great-brook-farm-state-park

The Fort Revere water tower presides over a green lawn that's perfect for a picnic.
The Fort Revere water tower presides over a green lawn that's perfect for a picnic.David Lyon

Fort Revere Park, Hull

Make sure you have something weighty in the car to hold down the corners of your picnic blanket. The wind can be gusty atop Telegraph Hill at the tip of Hull. Boston’s outer harbor spreads out below, including an eagle’s-eye look at Boston Light on Little Brewster Island. A pentagonal earthen fort — staffed by French and American troops — held this high ground during the Revolution, and the grand vantage was especially useful for signaling the impending arrival of merchant ships during Boston’s 19th-century shipping heyday. The Army refortified the heights during the Spanish-American War and christened the concrete complex as Fort Revere. It served through World War II as part of the Coastal Artillery Defense System.

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The remaining eight-plus-acre property now consists of a parking lot next to the grassy meadow beneath the water tower, and the ruins of the old bunkers below the lip of the hill. Younger kids will almost certainly want to clamber around and explore. The surrounding hillside is a residential area, so don't wander too far.

60 Farina Road. Open sunrise-sunset. No fee. mass.gov/locations/fort-revere-park

This small stand of trees is all that remains of the woods that once covered Dexter Drumlin.
This small stand of trees is all that remains of the woods that once covered Dexter Drumlin.David Lyon

Dexter Drumlin, Lancaster

Landscape does not get much simpler than Dexter Drumlin, a haystack-shaped hillock managed as a tall-grass meadow by The Trustees of Reservations. Follow the broad mown swath from the entrance to the top of the hill. Another swath circles the base of the drumlin. The grasses in the middle remain high to encourage ground-nesting birds, so don’t be surprised if a killdeer suddenly shoots up out of the grass with a herky-jerky flight designed to distract predators from its chicks. That’s the chance for natural history instruction. The hill itself is a geology lesson. It’s a perfect example of a glacial drumlin — debris deposited in the melt and freeze cycle of a retreating glacier.

Kids can work out their yah-yahs running up and down the hill before you select an area off the mown path to spread out the picnic. One caution: The circumferential trail at the base of the drumlin can get pretty muddy after a good rain.

George Hill Road. Open sunrise-sunset. Free roadside parking. thetrustees.org/places-to-visit/central-ma/dexter-drumlin.html

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Dexter Drumlin is a Trustees of Reservations property.
Dexter Drumlin is a Trustees of Reservations property.David Lyon

Maudslay State Park, Newburyport

Sprawling across more than 450 acres, this undulating landscape of rolling meadows, ancient white pines, acres of rhododendrons, and one of the largest stands of mountain laurel in the state was originally amassed by the Moseley family. Martha Brooks Hutcheson, a pioneering member of the American Society of Landscape Architects, designed the grounds. In 1985, the state purchased the site from the Moseley family to create the state park. A local organization continues to maintain the original formal gardens.

If you’re coming for a picnic and a hike, your best bet is to veer left after entering the park to stroll the Pasture Trail. The surrounding grassy areas are perfect picnic spots. The trail continues into the woodlands. You’ll pass through a veritable tunnel of mountain laurel punctuated by shady bogs under the high pines where skunk cabbage and other woodsy flowering plants proliferate. A side trail follows along a small brook where you might glimpse a bounding deer who has stopped for a drink.

74 Curzon Mill Road. Open sunrise-sunset. Massachusetts resident parking $5, nonresident $10. mass.gov/locations/maudslay-state-park

A boardwalk crosses one of the few boggy spots along the trail network at Fruitlands Museum.
A boardwalk crosses one of the few boggy spots along the trail network at Fruitlands Museum.David Lyon

Fruitlands Museum, Harvard

The Shaker, Native American, and Art museums of this complex may not be open yet, but the rolling meadows of Fruitlands offer plenty of inviting spots for a family picnic. One of the nicest might be the lawn of Fruitlands Farmhouse, where Bronson Alcott and Charles Lane established a short-lived utopian community in 1843. (By 1844, the nearly starving Alcott family had evacuated to Concord.)

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Walking trails wend through the adjoining woods and pass a couple of well-interpreted former house sites and a Native American hunting-and-gathering area. To encourage social distancing, the trail system is a one-way circuit with some side-trail exits to cut the hike short if the kids are beginning to flag.

102 Prospect Hill Road. Open Wednesday-Monday 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Entry and parking $10 per vehicle by advance reservation only: eventbrite.com/o/the-trustees-26948364259; reservation free for members. 978-456-3924. fruitlands.thetrustees.org

World’s End, Hingham

This majestic landscape was once an island before marshes filled in to create an isthmus that linked it to the Hingham mainland. Indeed, it's one of the few parts of the Boston Harbor Islands National and State Park you can get to without a boat. The rolling hills and craggy shoreline feature more than four miles of lyrical, tree-lined carriage roads laid out by Frederick Law Olmsted. They now serve as perfect walking trails and the fields between them practically cry out for a picnic.

The vistas from these flat uplands are often surprising. The town of Hull looks so close that you feel like you could reach out and touch it. In another direction, the towers of downtown Boston shimmer on the horizon 15 miles away — so close and yet so far. Woodlands bracket the open fields and Olmstedian allées, and nesting boxes for birds dot the landscape. Once considered for the site of the United Nations headquarters, World’s End truly feels like a sanctuary.

Martin’s Lane. Open daily 8 a.m.-sunset. Entry and parking $10 weekdays, $15 weekends per vehicle by advance reservation only: eventbrite.com/o/the-trustees-26948364259; reservation free for members. Entry is timed to limited number of vehicles per hour. 781-740-6665; thetrustees.org/places-to-visit/south-of-boston/worlds-end.html

Patricia Harris and David Lyon can be reached at harrislyon@gmail.com.