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Spring Travel / Magazine

13 things to love about New England’s mud season

Never mind the puddles. From waterfalls and whitewater rafting, to clam shacks and maple sugaring, spring has plenty of fun on offer.

Associated Press


Take a scenic drive along New Hampshire’s Kancamagus Highway, where the Swift River tumbles down the mountains in a hurry. Sabbaday Falls, Rocky Gorge, and Lower Falls are easy walks from the highway, each with parking and picnic areas. For a longer trek, follow the Champney Falls trail to a series of cascades and waterfalls. The moderate hike in and out will take about 2.5 hours.

In Western Massachusetts, Race Brook Falls in Sheffield is a showy spring spectacle, plunging some 300 feet. The scramble over boulders and streams to the upper falls is well worth the effort. The trailhead is located off Route 41, about 5.5 miles south of South Egremont, in the Mount Everett State Reservation (413-528-0330, mass.gov/eea/agencies/dcr/massparks). Or head to “waterfall country” in the Savoy Mountain State Forest, where, during spring, runoff rivers roar through granite chasms and stacks of boulder fields. You’ll find Tannery Falls, Parker Brook Falls, and nearly a dozen other unnamed plunges and cascades. Park headquarters are located in the tiny town of Florida, in the northern Berkshires (413-663-8469, mass.gov/eea/agencies/dcr/massparks).


Squeeze into a wet suit, hop into a raft, and hang on! Whitewater rafting on the Concord River in Lowell happens only on weekends in April and May, when rain and snowmelt swell the river, producing Class III and IV rapids. This urban river run, a mere 1.7 miles long, is a high-octane ride over three sets of rippling rapids, including Twisted Sister, a massive bronco-busting wave. On the second of your two runs, you’ll paddle into an 1850s lock chamber, a National Historic Landmark, which lifts you 17 feet to a walkway in downtown Lowell. Trips include professional guides from Zoar Outdoor; the proceeds support the Lowell Parks & Conservation Trust (800-532-7483, lowell- landtrust.org). Cost is $85, and children must be at least 14.



Wake up and smell the lilacs at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University (arboretum.harvard.edu). The collection of nearly 400 plants, representing 165 varieties, is one of the finest in the country. The bloom spans about six weeks in spring, but on May 14 there will be special Lilac Sunday activities for families as well as food vendors on site from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. There is no charge to enter the 281-acre park.



Dress in costume (or not) for the medieval-themed Robin Hood’s Faire with shining knights in armor, fire-eaters, and magicians. The fun-loving fete is held the last three weekends in May as well as Memorial Day at the North Haven Fairgrounds in Connecticut (860-478-5954, robinhoodsfaire.com). It’s loads of good cheer and merriment, with themed entertainment, shopping, food, games, and interactive characters. Tickets are $10 to $15; children 6 and under free.


Finally, woo-hoo, we can get back on the water. The Boston Sailing Center (617-227-4198, bostonsailingcenter.com) on Lewis Wharf celebrates the start of its season with its annual Free Sailing Weekend, April 29 and 30, from 1 to 5 p.m. Learn the ropes or simply sit back and enjoy the views as you sail around Boston Harbor. Advance sign up required. For another angle on the harbor, take a ferry to Georges and Spectacle islands; tickets on opening day, May 13, are free. They’re first come, first served at the Ferry Center on Long Wharf-North (617-223-8666, bostonharborislands.org).



Spring migrations can bring rarely seen species to Northern New England. Hot spots include Lake Champlain in Vermont; a driving route connects 88 birding sites around the lake (champlainvalleynhp.org). The New Hampshire Wildlife Viewing and Birding Trail highlights 25 top spots in the state, including Lake Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge, Franconia Notch State Park, and the Winnipesaukee River Trail (visitnh.gov). The Maine Birding Trail covers 385 miles, with 82 top birding sites, like Acadia National Park, Scarborough Marsh, and Monhegan Island (mainebirdingtrail.com).

Even if you’re not an avid birder, guided walks throughout the region are a great way to get outdoors and hear the slow, sweet song of warblers. Mass Audubon’s Joppa Flats Education Center in Newburyport (978-462-9998, massaudubon.org) runs bird walks in the morning on Wednesdays (Mass Audubon members $14, nonmembers $17) and Saturdays ($10 and $12), typically at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, home to more than 300 species of birds. In May, they also offer Friday morning walks ($12 and $15) and Wednesday evening walks ($10 and $12). Spring is when migrant songbirds return to Mount Auburn Cemetery (617-607-1980, mountauburn.org). Join a tour from late April to mid-May on many Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday mornings (be sure to check the online schedule) and Fridays at 5:30 p.m. The cost for each 90-minute walk is $12, and registration is required.



Getting dirty is a blast at MuckFest MS (muckfestms.com), a mud-filled 5K obstacle run for all ages. You’ll slip and slide through tunnels, climb over mud-covered hills and through watery valleys, and crawl through mucky pits during this fun event to benefit the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Little ones can slosh around in the free Lil’ Muckers play area. Held at the Willard Athletic Complex in Devens on May 20 and 21; cost is $105 per runner.


Spring is prime time to visit Appleton Farms, a 1,000-acre working farm that straddles Ipswich and Hamilton. Start at Jimmy’s Barn and wander the pastoral property, home to Jersey cows, goats, sheep, and chickens. Count on seeing calves nearly any time; kid goats arrive in May. At 4 p.m. daily, you can watch farmers milk the cows. And poke your head into the creamery, where they make five kinds of cheeses (978-356-5728, thetrustees.org). Trustees of Reservations members free, nonmembers $3.


Boston Marathon runners aren’t the only ones who undergo an endurance test in spring: Millions of river herring migrate into Massachusetts’s coastal waters for their annual journey upstream. When they encounter obstacles like dams and steep elevation changes, man-made fish ladders help them up and over. Pick a sunny day and head out to watch one of nature’s more intriguing spectacles. The Nemasket River in Middleborough is the largest herring river run in the state. As many as 1 million fish migrate over the Wareham Street Dam and Fishway, making it a great place to view the herring run. Watch on Wareham Street off Route 105 in downtown Middleborough from late March to early May. Another great spot is Oliver Mills Park, site of an annual herring run festival on April 8 and 9.



We’re talking clams, sizzling in the fryer. For a true taste of summer on Cape Cod, there’s no need to wait; some of the Cape’s iconic clam shacks throw open their doors before spring arrives. Seafood Sam’s (508-888-4629, seafoodsams.com), with sparkling views of the Cape Cod Canal in Sandwich, opens March 1. (There’s also a location in Falmouth.) Come April 13, Spanky’s Clam Shack and Seaside Saloon in Hyannis (508-771-2770, spankysclamshack.com) starts serving up its famous crispy clams; the following day, Baxter’s Fish ’N’ Chips (508-775-4490, baxterscapecod.com) opens on Hyannis Harbor. Pair those briny bivalves with some of Cape Cod Beer’s Beach Blonde ale, and your mouth will think it’s July — even if you’re still wearing fleece.


If you’ve ever met a moose, you know you won’t soon forget the encounter. These denizens of the forest are big, some weighing up to 1,500 pounds. And they happen to love munching on fresh spring buds. Your best bet for seeing one in the wild is to jump on a guided moose safari. Pemi Valley Moose Tours in Lincoln, New Hampshire, (603-745-2744, moosetoursnh.com) offers three-hour evening bus safaris, beginning early to mid-May (adults $32, kids 12 and under $22). Mount Washington Valley Moose Bus Tours (603-662-3159, mwvmoosetours.com) offers similar excursions out of North Conway (adults $32, children 14 and under $19 when accompanied by an adult).


Ah, the taste of sugar on snow and the intoxicating aroma of the maple-scented steam from a sugarhouse. Such are the joys of sugaring season in New England. Vermont supplies 40 percent of all the maple syrup produced in the United States, making a trip to a sugarhouse one of the state’s signature experiences. A great time to do it is March 25 and 26, during Maple Open House Weekend (vermontmaple.org/openhouse). More than 70 Vermont sugarhouses offer maple-drenched tours featuring candy-making demonstrations, crafts, live music, and samples of sticky-sweet treats. Local breweries, distilleries, restaurants, and inns also get in on the action. Ever tried a maple mojito or sapling maple bourbon French toast? This could be your chance. Participating inns, like Four Chimneys Inn in Bennington (802-447-3500; fourchimneys.com), offer overnights with maple- inspired menu items.


Boston’s Fort Point neighborhood, historically one of New England’s largest artists’ communities, will host a Spring Art Walk May 12 to 14 that’s expected to include open studios, artists talks, exhibitions, hands-on workshops, and musical performances (617-423-4299, fortpointarts.org).

Diane Bair and Pamela Wright are frequent contributors to the Boston Globe. Send comments to magazine@globe.com. Follow us on Twitter at @BostonGlobeMag.