Q and A with travel expert Steve Jermanok on places to play close to home

Several ski areas, such as Wachusett’s Look Mom terrain park in Princeton, require skiers and snowboarders to first take a short safety session before entering the park.
Several ski areas, such as Wachusett’s Look Mom terrain park in Princeton, require skiers and snowboarders to first take a short safety session before entering the park. Wachusett Mountain

Few people know more about getting out and about in Greater Boston than Steve Jermanok. It’s his job. A travel writer, guidebook author, travel consultant, and owner of a boutique travel business — ActiveTravels — with his wife, Lisa Leavitt, Jermanok has embraced the region. An upstate New York native and father of two, Jermanok also penned Outside magazine’s Adventure Guide to New England.

“I fell in love with New England winters 20 years ago,” said Jermanok, 50, who lives in Newton. “It’s been two decades of really enjoying what New England has to offer. We take it for granted. Now is really the time to get out and appreciate nature, on our own.”


Here are Jermanok’s recommendations for those who want to follow his lead:

Q.Pretend you’re the Massachusetts travel czar. What activities and locations would you recommend to the winter enthusiast?

A. Any walk you can go on in winter is worthwhile. Anything you love in summertime is just as good in winter. Winter in New England is for New Englanders. The tourists aren’t there, so you have more solitude and tranquillity. My urban oasis is Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary in Natick. It’s a Mass Audubon site that’s popular for bird-watching and walking. It borders the Charles River, where trails weave over marsh and river on boardwalks, and then goes into a thick forest of tall pines. In winter, they have owl prowls, where you actually try to spot owls at night.

Q. Any other destinations?

A. My top picks for walks, including Broadmoor, are Arnold Arboretum in Boston; World’s End in Hingham Harbor with great ocean views of the Boston skyline; and Walden Pond [in Concord]. If you really want to feel what Thoreau felt like in the winter, take a walk around Walden Pond.


Q.What would be your picks for hidden gems in Greater Boston?

A. I hate to be macabre, but I love Mount Auburn Cemetery in Arlington and Cambridge. It was opened in the early 1800s as an arboretum, long before there were national parks or state parks. It still has 700 species of trees, ones that you won’t see anywhere else, like century-old sugar maples. You can see the graves of Winslow Homer and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, but you can also take a wonderful walk through the woods, and climb a tower that has views of downtown.

I also love Middlesex Fells [Malden, Medford, Melrose, Stoneham, Winchester], where you can take a walk along the reservoirs. One of the trails, the Skyline Trail, is almost 7 miles long, so you can take it in bits and pieces.

Q.What are the best locations for the budget-conscious traveler?

A. Our state parks are wonderful for getting out there for a walk or a ride, if the weather cooperates — Willowdale State Forest [Ipswich], Maudslay State Park in Newburyport, and Wompatuck State Park [Hingham]. It’s just so invigorating to be outdoors this time of year, to get away from the football games and breathe some fresh air.

Q.If money is no object?

A. I’d ski Wachusett [Mountain, in Princeton]. It’s only an hour drive away. One of my favorite times to ski Wachusett is Super Bowl Sunday. The game doesn’t start until 6:30, so you can actually ski the whole day, until 5, and then cruise back just in time to see the Patriots win. And the state forest around Wachusett is great for hikes. They have hawk hikes in the wintertime.


Q.What would you recommend for the adventure-seeker?

A. Boston Sailing Center runs a series called Frostbite Racing. You can actually go sailing on a fleet of J-24s in the harbor, from November through March. Go in with your $50, sign up, and get put on a team. You don’t have to be an avid sailor. You just have to be willing to go out there and have fun.

There are also great opportunities indoors. The Bay State Speedskating Club in Walpole is a world-class, Olympic-size speed-skating rink. Bring your skates, a bike helmet, gloves, kneepads, a long-sleeve shirt, and sign up for the Intro to Speedskating program.

Q. Do you have any family-friendly recommendations?

A. There are so many options, like the Trustees of Reservations properties. I love taking the kids out on beach walks, Crane Beach in Ipswich, and World’s End. There’s another called the Westport Town Farm that a lot of people don’t know about. It’s a nice rambling walk along the Westport River. I often find great bird life there, even in the wintertime. I also love bringing my kids to go tubing at Nashoba [Valley Ski Area, in Westford]. It’s open until 10 p.m. The tubing hill is great.


Q.Have you seen any changes in travel trends in this area in the last decade?

A. Absolutely. Most of it regards clothing. When I was a kid, growing up in upstate New York by the Adirondacks, my mother would dress me up in long johns and plaid flannel shirts and a big thick jacket. There was no maneuverability whatsoever. Now, with all these synthetic materials — Capilene, polypropylene, Gore-Tex — it really leads to so many opportunities. I haven’t been cold outdoors in years, even on frigid days.

Q.What’s on the horizon?

A. Winter biking. There’s also extreme sledding. There are all these new toys that are coming out, and they help make the outdoors far more manageable and far more exciting for people who don’t want to just take a walk. But I wish there were more dog-sledding opportunities.

Brion O’Connor can be reached at brionoc@verizon.net.