Everyone should have the ability to connect with the natural world, including those with mobility issues. We’ve sleuthed out some accessible trails in Massachusetts that fly slightly under the radar — a welcome feature in these crowd-averse times. For more outdoor recreation options, check out the DCR’s Universal Access Program at www.mass.gov/orgs/universal-access-program or call 413-545-5758.
Tranquility Trail: Pittsfield State Forest, Pittsfield
Heading to the Berkshires for some crimson-drenched sightseeing and Baba Louie’s sourdough-crust pizza? Enjoy a slice of gorgeous nature along the .75-mile Tranquility Trail, one of 30 miles of trails in this superlative state forest. The paved, multi-use loop trail winds through the woodlands, with an elevation gain of about 55 feet. The accessible entrance is located at the north end of the trail.
How is it possible that this 11,000-acre plot of woodsy beauty, home to Berry Pond and Berry Mountain, is so lightly trafficked? Perhaps it’s tough to compete with nearby Mount Greylock. Before you go, head to Balance Rock State Park, in the forest’s northeast corner, to pay your respects to (and grab a selfie with) its namesake 165-ton, gravity-defying marble boulder. 104 Cascade St., Pittsfield. 413-442-8992, www.mass.gov/locations/pittsfield-state-forest
Healthy Heart Trail: Bradley Palmer State Park, Topsfield
A stunning stone mansion, the Willowdale Estate, is a major attention-grabber here, but this 721-acre North Shore park has much to recommend it — including an accessible 1.3-mile trail (also labeled the Healthy Heart trail). Fringed with hemlock and American beech trees, the path runs parallel to the Ipswich River, offering occasional views of the waterway. A boardwalk crosses a beaver impoundment, winding through woods and open areas. A turnoff just beyond the footbridge leads to an open space along the river. The trail ends at a footbridge across the river, leading to Ipswich Road. This wheelchair-accessible, out-and-back path is mostly flat and gentle, with a 29-foot elevation. Take a moment to admire the exquisite Craftsman and Tudor Revival estate (circa 1902) built for lawyer and equestrian Bradley Palmer. 40 Asbury Road, Topsfield. 978-887-5931, www.mass.gov/locations/bradley-palmer-state-park
Blue Trail: Doyle Community Park & Center, Leominster
Some of The Trustees' properties are extremely well known. (We’re looking at you, Crane Beach.) Then there’s sweet little (157-acre) Doyle Community Park, located just off Route 2. (The highway is a fall color tour favorite itself.) At the turn of the 20th century, this spread was the private estate of one Harry W. Pierce, complete with a 29-room stucco mansion, stable, horse paddocks, a pond, and a network of bridle paths. Now, it’s a public park, laced with trails that wind through woodlands, open fields, meadows, and parkland, alongside formal gardens. There’s also an on-site conservation center, which is currently closed.
You’ll get a good look at all the highlights along the Universal Access blue trail, a 1.5-mile crushed gravel, level path, reachable via an accessible parking lot. Along the way, you’ll encounter Pierce Meadow, a 10-acre oasis dotted with huge specimen trees — a prime picnic spot — plus the core of the estate, the pond, and several scenic viewpoints. 464 Abbott Ave., Leominster. 978-840-4446, thetrustees.org/place/doyle-community-park/
John Tinker Trail: J. Harry Rich State Forest, Groton
Looking for short and sweet? Located in a 389-acre expanse of white and red pine called J. Harry Rich State Forest, the John Tinker Trail is a flat quarter-mile out-and-back woodland trail that follows the Nashua River. The trail is 10 feet wide, very flat, and surfaced with hard-packed stone dust. Three stone benches sit alongside the river portion of the trail, with nice views of the Nashua River Oxbow, and there’s a picnic table at the end of the path with a view of the water.
To make a day of it, add on a section of the Nashua River Rail Trail. This asphalt-paved, 12.5-mile path runs from Ayer to Hollis, N.H., and offers fetching views of ponds, farmland, and river, for people of all abilities. Parking areas in Groton at Station Avenue and Sand Hill Road offer reasonably good accessibility, according to the folks at the Groton Trails Network. John Tinker Trail: 97-147 Nod Road, Groton. www.grotontrails.org
Cape Cod Canal Bikeway, Bourne
Most people think of the paved pathway that runs along both sides of the Cape Cod Canal as a summertime pleasure. But it’s arguably even sweeter in the golden light of autumn, when the water and sky are Crayola blue. Choose the off-Cape side, running about 7 miles from Buzzards Bay to Scusset Beach, and you’ll enjoy views of the color-dappled, tree-lined shore on the Cape side. (Both paths function as service roads for the Army Corps of Engineers, but you’re more likely to see couples walking and folks fishing than maintenance crews.)
Made of smooth concrete, this ADA-accessible road has minimal grades. A single yellow line painted down the center designates two-way traffic. In our experience, trail users are pretty good about keeping their distance. Take in sea breezes and views of ships, barges, tugs, and pleasure boats passing through the Cape Cod Canal between Buzzards Bay and Cape Cod Bay, and why not spring for fried clams at the Seafood Shanty (www.theseafoodshantycapecod.com) across from Herring Run? The Buzzards Bay, Herring Run, and Sagamore Recreation Areas all provide accessible access to the Canal’s north service road. www.nae.usace.army.mil/Portals/74/docs/Recreation/CCC/CanalRecreationMap2018.pdf
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at email@example.com