It’s amazing what a simple walk in the woods can do for you. Hundreds of studies have shown that spending time outdoors can reduce stress and promote feelings of well-being and happiness. Bring the kids along and you add extra fun and quality family time.
Pack your water bottles and head to one of these nearby destinations for some fresh air, a little exercise, and sanity-saving surroundings.
Rocky Woods, Medfield
What a gem! This 491-acre oasis has it all: five ponds, woodlands and wetlands, a small hill to climb, secluded picnic areas, and even a fishing pier. Pack some snacks and your fishing poles.
Six and a half miles of trails snake through the protected property. We like the 0.75-mile loop around pretty Chickering Pond, the largest pond in the sanctuary. If you like, you can continue on a spur trail that climbs up 435-foot Cedar Hill and loops back down again to the Chickering shoreline. Families also like the shorter, half-mile hike to Echo Pond, crossing a footbridge before reaching the water. Along the way, listen for songbirds — they just might be telling us that soon all will be right with the world. 508-785-0339, www.thetrustees.org/places-to-visit/metro-west/rocky-woods.html
Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary, Natick
Encourage the kids to look for turtles that lounge on the logs and lily pads in the streams and rivers at this Mass Audubon property. The 624-acre preserve along Indian Brook and the Charles River has 9 miles of connecting trails. The All Persons interpretive trail includes a wide, 0.25-mile boardwalk along the edge of the marsh. You can download or call 508-530-0002 for an audio tour that describes what to look and listen for at 12 stops along the trail. Continue on the Marsh Trail, skirting Mill Pond, with water and marsh views. Visitors must reserve an online timed ticket for entry and parking. 508-655-2296, www.massaudubon.org/get-outdoors/wildlife-sanctuaries/broadmoor
Ward Reservation, Andover
Owned and managed by The Trustees, this sprawling 704-acre refuge offers a peaceful respite amid marshlands and meadows. There are 10 miles of trails, linking three major hills: Shrub, Boston, and Holt. Take the kids on the boardwalk hike to Pine Hole Pond, stopping at signposts to learn about the surrounding environmental features. Is it water or is it land? Pine Hole Pond is actually a rare quaking bog, defined by Webster as “a bog of forming peat that is wholly or partially floating and that shakes when walked on.” How cool is that?
The hike up 420-foot Holt Hill rewards with sweeping views. The grassy summit, with a natural compass made of stones, is where a cluster of people watched the burning of Charlestown during the Revolutionary War. Today, you’ll have views of surrounding forests and the Boston skyline. 978-689-9105, www.thetrustees.org/places-to-visit/northeast/ward-reservation.html
Breakheart Reservation, Saugus
Are you towing a stroller to accommodate a tired wee one? This 652-acre nature reserve, with two lakes and a section along the Saugus River, has two paved, multi-use walkways that stretch through the property, and are perfect for strollers and bicycles. The inner loop is 2 miles long and outer loop is 3 miles long; both lead to Pearce Lake, also known as Lower Pond, with a beach and lifeguards.
You have plenty of choices for hiking, with 25 miles of interconnecting trails. The Silver Lake Trail/Upper Pond Trail is also popular. 781-233-0834, www.mass.gov/locations/breakheart-reservation
Harold Parker State Forest, North Andover
This watery wilderness, stretching over 3,500 acres, is filled with freshwater ponds, and some 35 miles of trails. The property was once used for farming and milling in the 18th century. Today, it supports a large network of walking trails and old fire roads leading through forests to shorelines. Families with strollers will appreciate the hike on Berry Pond Road, about a mile of paved road now closed to motorized traffic. The Sudden Pond Trail, near the Headquarters Building (Gate 4) is also popular with families, as it’s a relatively flat, short, multi-use loop road.
If it’s hot, consider a visit to the Berry Pond Day Use area, which has a natural kettle hole pond, and a small sandy beach. 978-686-3391, www.mass.gov/locations/harold-parker-state-forest
Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary, Marshfield
Let’s go bird-watching. Follow the 1.4-mile out-and-back Fox Hill Trail in this wetland sanctuary, walking through expansive grasslands. Look up for swooping tree swallows gobbling flying bugs. Continue to the Fox Hill Observation Platform, where you’ll have big views across open fields out to the Green Harbor River. Can you see the osprey? There’s a platform nest to the east. Take the River Walk spur loop on your way back, crossing the Green Harbor River and swamplands.
Another family favorite is the 0.4-mile Pond Loop Trail, stopping at a bench overlooking Webster Pond, where you might see ducks, turtles, and herons. There’s also a purple martin colony, housed in nesting gourds near Webster Pond. In all, there are 3.5 miles of trails crisscrossing this 578-acre preserve. 781-837-9400, www.massaudubon.org/get-outdoors/wildlife-sanctuaries/daniel-webster
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org