scorecardresearch Skip to main content

Taking a day trip along Route 117, from Waltham to Lancaster

<b id="U733358917832bR" style=""><span id="U733358917832PlE" style="">Nashoba Valley Winery</span> <span id="U733358917832WLI" style=""> Bolton</span> </b> | Rian and Sara Brarmann of Natick <span channel="!BostonGlobe/NO1_REG-01">find a shady spot for a </span>picnic with their 7-month-old<span channel="!BostonGlobe/NO1_REG-01"> daughter</span>, Stella.ZARA TZANEV for The Boston Globe/Globe Freelance

It starts just off Main Street near the busy Waltham city center, and within a few miles Route 117 becomes a winding New England country road with no hint of the urban congestion left behind.

From Waltham to Lancaster, there are legendary ice cream stands where families have gone for generations, walking trails, a working farm and animal sanctuary, country stores, apple orchards, farm stands, and greenhouses seemingly around every bend along the 28-mile stretch.

There’s also the Nashoba Valley Winery, one of 28 in the state’s growing wine-making industry, perched at the top of a hill overlooking 55 acres of orchards in Bolton.


The winery, which includes J’s Restaurant, named for the sons, Jesse and Justin, of owners Cindy and Rich Pelletier, makes all of its wines, beers, and spirits, using primarily fruit from the property and area farms.

There are 12 varieties of peaches grown at the orchard, 82 varieties of apples, and grape arbors in all directions.

It is a destination for people from across the country, according to Cindy Pelletier.

“We get people from everywhere — I mean everywhere — and we get a lot of people from the Boston area,” she said. “And we get a lot of dates, and a lot of engagements happen here.”

On a recent sunny afternoon, the visitors included Kevin McGrath and Ellie Humphreys, who took the day trip from Rye, N.H., to sample some of the house-made wines and microbrews.

“We woke up this morning and thought, what a great day for a road trip, so here we are,” said McGrath, who took the day off from his job as an emergency medical technician.

Robyn Roberts, who works at the winery, described each type of white wine as she poured the varieties for Humphreys, and the micro-brewed beers for McGrath.


“Mmmmm, I really like this one,” Humphreys said as she sipped a sample of Estate Vignoles, a dry white wine made with grapes grown on the property, harvested by hand and “whole-cluster pressed.”

In addition to wine and beer, Nashoba also makes vodka, whiskey, brandy, and gin, according to Pelletier.

The winery hosts weddings and corporate outings, and has pick-your-own peaches available in August, and apples in the fall. There are also winery tours on weekends, starting around 11 a.m. and running about every hour on a first-come, first-served basis, Pelletier said.

Reservations are recommended for J’s Restaurant, and the brewery is busiest in the fall, “and on nice days; if it’s not nice, not so much,” she said.

While the Nashoba Valley Winery is a stop near the end of the picturesque roadway popular with bicyclists and motorcyclists, there are plenty of other places to spend some time along the way.

On the eastern end of 117, less than 2 miles from the start in Waltham, is Cedar Hill Dairy Joy in Weston, which began selling ice cream in 1927.

Today, the stand, which opens in the spring and closes at the end of the season, serves not only ice cream but also hamburgers, hot dogs, and some of the freshest fried seafood around.

Traditional New England whole-belly fried clams, scallops, shrimp, and fish are available, along with “lobster rolls made with 100 percent real, chunk lobster meat and mayo, just like you’d get in Maine,” according to the menu.


Just a few more miles west on 117 is the Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary in Lincoln, where you can see crops growing on a working farm, walk along 1.5 miles of accessible trails, and watch pigs, sheep, goats, chickens, and cows in the farmyard at the Massachusetts Audubon Society property.

There are programs for children and adults about sustainable farming, birding, and other topics, a summer camp, and other special events at the 232-acre site, according to employee Amanda Duggan .

Keep following Route 117 west, passing through its intersection with Route 126 in Lincoln, and you’ll find a great place to park the car, motorcycle, or bike, and take a hike through town conservation land at Mount Misery.

These woods were a favorite stomping ground for Thoreau, and trails wind through hemlock woods and open marshes, with some beautiful views of the Sudbury River. Except for a short climb to the top of Mount Misery, which is more like a big hill, the approximately 3 miles of trails are mostly flat.

If a swim is more your style, detour off 117 onto Route 126 heading south, and Concord’s Walden Pond is just a couple of miles down the road on the left.

Sticking on the main route, just past the conservation land is the Lincoln Boat Launch, which has places to park your car and set off on the Sudbury River with a canoe, kayak, or row boat, after taking a path through some vegetation.


The boat launch is just before Lee’s Bridge, which was rebuilt with granite after collapsing in 1999.

Verrill Farm in Concord is just off Route 117 at Sudbury and Wheeler roads, where fresh produce — all grown within 2 miles of the farm — is sold along with an assortment of baked goods, meats, and gourmet items. There are also farm tours and special events held throughout the year.

On Saturday, the farm will host a strawberry festival from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; activities include pick-your-own strawberries, hay rides, and a strawberry dessert recipe contest with categories for adults and children.

About 12 miles from Waltham along Route 117, after passing through Weston, Lincoln, Concord, and Sudbury, you’ll hit Maynard, and Erikson’s Ice Cream, a seasonal stand that has stood on the site since 1937.

“It’s a second home,” said Maynard High School junior Leslie Kuhn.

Kuhn and a busload of fellow students on a class field trip had stopped at the ice cream stand on their way back from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston.

“I got the bus driver to stop as a reward for such a great year of hard work,” said their teacher, Paddi Gerondeau .

The Maynard resident said her own kids “grew up coming here.”

Erikson’s serves more than 50 flavors of ice cream that rotate through the season, including perennial favorite peach, which is made at the end of summer with local fruit, and a variety of sundaes with fresh blueberry and raspberry toppings, and a hot apple and cinnamon sauce in the fall, according to manager Irene Fraser . Her husband’s grandparents first opened the dairy.


“We pour our hearts and souls into this place,” she said.

Fraser can’t even count the number of cones served over a summer, but said that Erikson’s would be making 900 gallons of ice cream during a recent week alone.

Just past Erikson’s ice cream stands the town of Stow and a lodging landmark along the route, the Stowaway Inn, which was built in 1835.

Its owners, Celia and Doug Hyde, who have run the bed and breakfast operation for the past 27 years, recently put the inn up for sale.

“We’re definitely still open for business, and we’re hoping it will just be a turn-key sale so things will continue just as they are,” Celia Hyde said.

Just past the state highway’s junction with Interstate 495 is Colonial Candies and Ice Cream, which has sold handmade chocolates for nearly 100 years. There’s also a make-your-own sundae bar, and an assortment of candy and chocolates that line the shop in the Hebert family’s “candy mansion.’’

And 3 miles down the road, at 117’s intersection with Route 110, is Bolton Orchards, famous for its clear golden russet apple cider in the fall, and an assortment of artisan breads and locally grown produce throughout the year.

The road continues, but not before passing the Fairgrounds in Lancaster, site of the 137th Bolton Fair, from Aug. 8 through 10.

Ellen Ishkanian can be reached at