If friends and family are visiting from out of town, these routes give you a chance to show off a little local history and culture. Here are some great walks that will get you outdoors, from Boston to Provincetown, Lowell to Lexington, and to Rocky Neck in Gloucester.
EMERALD NECKLACE, BOSTON
If you’re really ambitious, you could start on Boston Common and walk the full 7-mile stretch of the park system designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. A founder of the landscape architecture profession, Olmsted is celebrated for crafting some of America’s finest parks. His graceful landscape designs still predominate in the outer jewels of the necklace. We’re fond of the 4.6-mile stretch that begins at the Victory Gardens in the Back Bay Fens.
You’ll have to dodge some construction around the Fens restoration project, but you’ll see the beautiful Japanese temple bell and Veterans Memorial Park, complete with massive bronze angel. Crossing a complex intersection outside Landmark Center gets you to the most lyrical and serene portions of the Emerald Necklace — the Riverway and the banks of the ponds in Olmsted Park.
Jamaica Pond comes up next, followed by a short stretch on Arborway sidewalks to reach the Arnold Arboretum. While most deciduous trees have shed their leaves by now, the curving Willow Path (just inside the arboretum gate) makes a charming conclusion for the holiday stroll. The Forest Hills MBTA station is right up the street.
BATTLE ROAD TRAIL, CONCORD TO LEXINGTON
It’s a lot more pleasant to stroll this roughly 5-mile route now than it was for the British soldiers who literally ran for their lives on April 19, 1775. The Battle Road Trail starts at Meriam’s Corner. Shortly after noon, 400 Colonial militia used the cover of the Meriam house and barn to attack the flanks of the column of 700 soldiers marching back to Boston from the skirmishes at Lexington and Concord.
You won’t walk far between interpretive signs. Posted by Minute Man National Historical Park, they make those now-remote events seem almost palpable. The marshlands, fields, and woods have changed significantly over the centuries, yet they remain eerily evocative of the struggle of Colonial farmers against an occupying military force. By the time the battle had reached Hartwell Tavern (closed until spring), militia from nearby towns had swelled the Colonial forces to 1,500.
You can’t miss the rather grand marker at the site where Paul Revere was captured on his midnight ride, but look more closely for trailside stones with small plaques reading ‶Near here is buried a British soldier.″ The trail concludes at Fiske Hill, where the British forces received reinforcements to enable a more orderly retreat. If you have two vehicles, leave one at the Fiske Hill parking lot so you don’t have to walk the trail in reverse to get back to your ride.
RIVERWALK RAMBLE, LOWELL
Nearly two centuries ago, industrialists dug roughly six miles of canals in the Lowell landscape to provide power for the textile mills that jump-started America’s Industrial Revolution. The Lowell National Historical Park focuses on those canals and mills, but it’s worth remembering that the power really came from the mighty Merrimack River. Of the four Lowell Waterways walks created by the National Park Service, the 1.6-mile Riverwalk Ramble is the most scenic and inspiring.
The walk begins at Boott Cotton Mills, where canal outlets create small estuaries frequented by splashing ducks and surreptitious herons. Park Service signage hits the historical highlights while setting the river, the canals, and the industry in a human context. At its height, Lowell attracted immigrants from more than 40 nations to work in the mills. One of the largest population groups were French-speaking Canadians, as fans of Ti Jean (Jack Kerouac) know well.
An air of industrial majesty still clings to the route, especially where a giant brick chimney reaches into the sky, or where you can look across the Merrimack rapids to the site of the former Lowell Textile School, known as the Industrial West Point. (It was a predecessor to the University of Massachusetts Lowell.)
The route concludes at the guard locks and Francis gate of the Pawtucket Canal, near the Nelson Mandela Overlook on the university campus. The 1-mile walk back to the free parking lot at the National Park Visitor Center cuts through neighborhoods where the mill workers once lived.
PROVINCETOWN INSTAGRAM TOUR
P-town pops. We all know it. The tiny community at the very tip of Cape Cod is so full of color and scenic views that it must be one of the most Instagrammed places in New England. Ptown Insider Tours has branched out from its guided cycling and walking tours to a handful of self-guided tours that rely on the Built Story mobile app. The Provincetown Instagram Tour ($10) covers 2.3 miles, mostly along Commercial Street, from Fanizzi’s Restaurant in the East End to the Pilgrims landing site and the Provincetown breakwater in the West End.
More than just a list of 15 sites, the app walks you down the route with history and anecdotes as well as advice on where to get the best Instagram shot. We’re dubious that these are necessarily the most Instagrammed spots in P-town (”Bubbles the Whale”? Really?) but have to confess that following the tour led us to things we’d never seen before and reminded us of old-favorite sites like the “Flag House.” It’s an especially good approach to Provincetown in the off-season, when fewer shops and galleries might be open to distract you and fewer tourists will walk in front of your photo.
ROCKY NECK HISTORIC ART TRAIL, GLOUCESTER
If you’re on the North Shore and looking for an easy stroll between football games, this trail of 15 sites associated with Gloucester artists between 1850 and 1950 could be right up your alley. Truth is, Rocky Neck remains a thriving art colony, though plein air painting gets a little iffy in the November chill. The online map of this well-developed trail integrates well with Google Maps and has site-specific information for each stop along the roughly 1.5-mile route. (There’s a good paper brochure with the same information — minus the Google Maps integration and the now/then comparative photos. Sometimes the brochure is available at a kiosk at one end of the free Rocky Neck municipal parking lot.)
Like Provincetown, Gloucester is a traditional fishing community where the ocean light attracted many artists. Stops include a shoreline view of Ten Pound Island (a favorite of Winslow Homer), the Breckenridge School of Art, and the house where Marsden Hartley had his studio. Although many sites lie along the main road to the boatyard at the tip of the peninsula, the trail circles back to the parking lot by passing through the residential ridge-top streets. Some houses are grand — like the home Edward Hopper painted in “The Mansard Roof” (1923) — while others sport small Gloucester Historical Commission signs identifying the 19th century fishermen who built them.
Patricia Harris and David Lyon can be reached at email@example.com.