A hiker’s guide to the best nearby trails
As spring fever stirs in our New England bones, Franklin’s Lafe Low has the prescription: Get outdoors. He’s the author of “Best Hikes on the Appalachian Trail” and “Best Tent Camping: New England,” and he’s revising Helen Weatherall’s “60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Boston.” The 54-year-old recently shared insights on local hikes.
Q. Can you provide a short résumé of your outdoor exploits?
A. I’ve been an outdoor guy all my life. It started in grade school, around fourth grade. My best friend and I would load up our backpacks with . . . gear, food, and water for one night in the woods nearly every weekend. We were our own Boy Scouts. We learned camping tactics, making a fire, repairing broken gear, duct taping over broken skin, cobbling together barely edible meals, and finding our way back.
Moving to New Hampshire a few years later naturally led to a healthy addiction to skiing. Mountain biking and sea kayaking are also right up there.
Q. When did you first move to the Greater Boston area? What did you know about Boston before moving here, from an outdoors perspective?
A. I was born in Salem . . . and grew up in Mystic, Conn., and southern New Hampshire. . . . After living on the Maine coast for about 10 years, I moved to Waltham in the late ’90s to find better work and to be close to my son, Devin. One thing that was surprising was how many places there are to go hiking or camping or kayaking. From Waltham, I could drop my kayak in the Charles River, and explore six miles of river. We patched together a route to mountain-bike from Waltham to Harvard Square that was about 90 percent in the woods. And one of the campgrounds with the largest campsites is Harold Parker State Forest in Andover. So the “urban wilderness” is there.
Q. How important is it to have these outdoor escapes close to home?
A. Sometimes, when all you have is a couple of hours and need to get out and get wild, it’s critical to have a set of trails or a small mountain just around the corner.
Q. How valuable is that connection from an intellectual, emotional, and physical perspective?
A. There are city people. There are country people. I consider myself a bit of both. But I truly believe that we as human beings need that connection with the natural world. It’s essential. It’s fundamental. We didn’t evolve in office buildings and conference rooms. We didn’t travel the land in SUVs and subway trains. We walked. We hiked. We climbed. We breathed the free air.
If things are bothering me, a quick hike or trail run through Franklin State Forest is the perfect antidote. It clears the mind. It soothes the soul. Human bodies were meant to move. They weren’t meant to sit in ergonomic chairs with filtered light and filtered air.
Q. What makes this time of year so special to get outside locally?
A. Most people can get a little cabin fever around this time of year. They’ve been cooped up all winter long with the weather too cold or too wet to get out. This is the time of year, or at least it’s coming soon, that the forest truly comes alive.
Q. Can you provide a few favorite hikes in each of the Globe’s three zones: North, West, and South?
A. Funny you should ask that way, because that’s loosely how the Boston book is organized.
Skug River Reservation, Andover: The reservation traverses some beautiful woodland, and features an extensive rock garden left by the glaciers. You can also combine Skug River with Ward Hill Reservation via the Bay Circuit Trail. At Ward, hike beneath columns of birch and maple along open fields, through narrow winding trails, up to open hilltops, past swampy marshland, and an array of solstice stones arranged atop Holt Hill.
Plum Island, Newbury: The Parker River National Wildlife Refuge has a vast network of trails, some in the woods, many along sandy beaches and marshlands. This is also prime real estate for bird watching.
Purgatory Chasm, Sutton : It just doesn’t get any better than scrambling about the rock formations here. The cliffs, small caves, and rock structures are difficult to describe. You could spend days here and keep finding new things.
Rocky Narrows, Sherborn: You’d never find this place by accident. It’s somewhat remote, but this network of trails and the variety of trails, from skirting around open fields to winding hiking trails to traversing along a rocky hillside overlooking a swamp, is a special place.
World’s End Reservation, Hingham: This is more of a walk than a hike. But with the scenery and views of the Boston skyline, the verdant fields, and columns of trees, it’s truly like a natural cathedral.
Blue Hills Reservation, Milton/Canton: This is like Boston’s own National Park. Blue Hills has a spectacular variety of trails, from relatively easy to an 8-hour day trek and everything in between. Have a map and make a plan. You’re never that far from civilization, but you don’t want to pop out on the wrong side of the park.