fb-pixel Skip to main content

Take a little walk with me: DCR’s Healthy Heart Trails entice bodies into motion

The Pond Path at Walden Pond State Reservation in Concord. David Lyon for The Boston Globe

Truth be told, we weren’t thinking much about fitness when we headed to Sullivan’s in South Boston for the spring ritual of burgers and fries. But the day was so nice that we took a post-lunch stroll out to Castle Island to watch fishermen casting from shore and planes coming in for a landing at Logan Airport.

A heart-shaped symbol marked the path. On closer examination, it turned out to be the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) designation of a Healthy Heart Trail. We were cheered to learn that the state worries about our fitness, even if the Castle Island loop is just a three-quarter mile circle around Fort Independence. But by continuing to follow the heart-posted trail around Pleasure Bay, we added an additional flat 1.9 miles.

We suspect that such incrementalism was DCR’s hidden motive behind the Healthy Heart Trails program. A corollary of Newton’s first law of motion is that a person in motion tends to stay in motion. (And a person on the couch tends to stay on the couch.) The DCR has designated more than 70 Healthy Heart Trails throughout the state. They are all rated as easy to moderate and are identified by distance and type of surface. More than half are also ADA accessible. You can check out the entire list at tinyurl.com/hearttrails. Here’s a sampling to get you started. Be sure to bring insect repellent.

Halibut Point State Park, Rockport


Like many DCR properties, Halibut Point has deep historical resonance. The park sits on the site of the Babson Farm granite quarry, which closed in 1929. The self-guided 1.3-mile main trail begins at the visitor center (closed for repairs) and is ranked as moderate. Much of the footing is uneven, especially as it circles the water-filled quarry. That said, we saw families with small children bouncing along like Peter Rabbit when we visited on Easter weekend. At the trailhead, pick up a map, which details several historic stops. One of the most impressive sights is the so-called “grout pile,” a heap of huge boulders dumped at the peninsula’s point because they were too irregular to use as building blocks. On a clear day, the view from atop the grout pile extends from Crane Beach in Ipswich up the coast to Maine’s Mount Agamenticus. The specks on the water in between are the Isles of Shoals. Plan about a half hour if you pause to read the plaques. Gott Avenue, Rockport, 978-546-3120.


Walden Pond State Reservation,

There’s no guarantee that Thoreau’s profundity will rub off as you circumambulate Walden Pond, but one can hope. A 1.7-mile trail follows the perimeter of the 102-foot-deep, 62-acre kettle pond. If you walk counterclockwise from the parking lot access crosswalk, you’ll reach the site of Thoreau’s cabin in just a half mile. A stone marker indicates that it was discovered in November 1945. The small area delineated by stone posts must have seemed at times claustrophobic, but by his own account, Henry David Thoreau spent far more time out of doors than in. Perhaps because the trail lends itself to peripatetic meditation, DCR has designated it for walkers only. Another route is open to joggers and dogwalkers, although in our experience, only dogwalkers follow the rules. Thoreau no doubt would have had sage advice for the sweaty scofflaws: Slow down! Plan on 45 minutes to walk the loop with eyes wide and ears open. The beautiful new visitor center opened late last year and its exhibits, including a new Ken Burns film , are scheduled to launch this summer. 915 Walden St., Concord, 978-369-3254.

Waquoit Bay National Estuarine
Research Reserve, Falmouth


The 2.5-mile loop of the Quashnet River Trail is a fine trek through the forested banks of the river. From the small parking lot on Martin Road just off Route 28, the western bank trail begins as a wide dirt road that soon climbs uphill at a fairly steep rate. Small side trails lead down to the river for catch-and-release fishing. The waterway was once famous for its sea-run brook trout, but conversion of the land around the river into cranberry bogs all but destroyed the fishery. Since the 1970s, state, federal, and Mashpee town agencies have been restoring the habitat. Turns along the trail are well marked, often with blue triangles. Plan on at least a half hour to reach the bridge across the river to the return trail on the eastern bank. It is narrower and has many more turns and changes of elevation, but it also has some of the best views of the rushing waters. 149 Waquoit Highway (Route 28), Falmouth, 508-457-0495.

Blackstone River & Canal Heritage State Park, Uxbridge

The Towpath Trail along the remains of the Blackstone Canal is a flat path between the visitor center at River Bend Farm and the remains of an old woolen mill. The two-mile round trip is perfect for runners, joggers, dog walkers, and elderly naturalists out for a stroll. The packed sand and gravel path follows the last remaining stretch of the Blackstone Canal, which flourished 1828-1848, bearing barges with up to 40 tons of freight. This section of the canal was bolstered in 1860 to serve as a feeder trench to power a woolen mill, which made cloth for the Union Army during the Civil War. Human history recedes as River Bend Farm fades from sight. The flat waters of the canal are a prime habitat for amphibians, birds, and some fish. We observed a dusky salamander slipping down a canal bank and dozens of painted turtles basking on snags in the water or rocks along the banks. Chittering tree swallows skimmed along the water for bugs as the insistent scree! of red-winged blackbirds filtered in from the marshes alongside the canal. With luck, you might spot a great blue heron resting or preening on a log. Round trip takes 50 minutes if you stop to take photos of the wildlife. 287 Oak St., Uxbridge, 508-278-7604.


Mount Tom State Reservation,

The summit of Mount Tom is a popular spot to watch hawk migrations in the fall, but the Healthy Heart Bray Loop Trail is more about tree trunks, moss formations, and mountain springs than a sky full of raptors. It begins along the wheelchair-friendly Universal Access Trail but splits off and heads away from Lake Bray. The 1.6-mile packed earth trail ascends through open woods of oak and beech mixed with a few conifers. Springs burst from the hillside and expose loose rocks where they cross the well-posted path. Mud fills the spaces between the rocks, so footwear with a gripping sole and some resistance to water can be helpful. The first half of the climb zig-zags up the hillside. In the shaded light, green mosses almost glow, especially those coating fallen timbers with a soft fuzz the texture of velvet on a deer’s antlers. As the Bray Loop Trail descends the hillside to Lake Bray and the Reservation Road trailhead, striking mountain laurel plants line the route. Count on an hour or more, depending on how recently it has rained. 125 Reservation Road, Holyoke, 413-534-1186.


Contact Patricia Harris and David Lyon at harrislyon@gmail.com.