Best Bets: North of Boston Daycations at the Park

By Keith Spencer

NORTH OF BOSTON – Growing up in the North of Boston region means hopping into the care with the family to explore the many wonderous places and magnificent natural resources available at our doorstep. Whether you’re going to the beach, taking a hike, or riding your bike, it is important to teach the youngest of our generations to appreciate the rich beauty of the region.

Visitors from around the world flood the communities north of Boston each summer to experience the many parks, reservations, and beaches across the region, however, the growing demands of life and a recovering economy has afforded little opportunity for many middle class and low-income families to take vacations.

The remedy to this problem is departing with your family to one of these five locations we’ve deemed our Best Bets for a Daycation at the Park. These selections won’t take you to the depths of the region or some outrageous adventure, however, you will have the opportunity to explore and get in touch with the natural beauty across the region.


Halibut Point State Park

Gott Avenue

Rockport, Massachusetts

Open sunrise to sunset

Visit this unique 12-acre state park situated in the former Babson Farm Granite Quarry. Take in some of the most beautiful views of not only the north shore seascape of Massachusetts, but also the Isle of Shoals in New Hampshire as well as Mount Agamenticus in Maine.

The park’s 2.5 miles of moderate walking trails allow visitors access to magnificent scenic vistas and picnic sites as well as spots perfect for bird watching or fishing.

For more information, visit the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s website. Park rangers will host a “wild weekend” at Halibut Point on August 6 and 7 where visitors will be able to take part in live animal and astronomy demonstrations.


Breakheart Reservation

177 Forest Street

Saugus, Massachusetts

Open sunrise to sunset

With more than 600 acres of preserved of hardwood forest, rocky trailheads, and fresh-water lakes, Breakheart is open year-round, but draws large crowds each summer who come to walk, bike, fish, or swim. Pearce Lake is one of the few fresh-water, supervised swimming spots north of Boston.

For those interested in taking a hike, the Saugus River, Ridge, and both the Inner and Outer Loop trails provide scenic vistas of Boston, the North Shore, and even Southern New Hampshire. The DCR also offers year-round programs about the parks plants and animals as well as its rich cultural history.

For more information, visit the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s website. Click here to download information about weekly hikes at the park. To help preserve the park and its natural resources, visit the Friends of Breakheart Reservation website.


Middlesex Fells Reservation

4 Woodland Road

Stoneham, Massachusetts

Open sunrise to sunset

A longtime haven for city dwellers, the Middlesex Fells Reservation offers more than 2,500 acres with terrain accessible to hikers and bikers, riders and climbers, boaters and rowers, walkers and picknickers. From Sheepfold Meadow to Spot Pond, the reservation is quite picturesque, despite its location just eat of Routes 28 and 93, and offers more than 100 miles of trails.

The well-loved urban reservation has ample parking in various areas, which allow visitors access to a variety of activities. While dogs are welcome, their owners should practice proper etiquette as outlined by the FellsDog Group.

The Middlesex Fells Reservation offers weekly hikes as well as a number of other special programs. For more information or to download a map, please visit the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s website.


Parker River Wildlife Refuge

6 Plum Island Turnpike

Newburyport, Massachusetts

Open sunrise to sunset

Located along the Atlantic Flyway, the Parker River Wildlife Refuge offers visitors the chance to experience a significant habitat for many bird species. With more than 4,500 acres of wetlands, the refuge’s landscape includes sandy beaches and dunes, thickets, bogs, swamps, and both freshwater and salt marshes.

With more than 300 species of birds alone, the refuge’s six-mile long beach provides federally protected nesting sites for the threatened piping plovers. Additional species of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and plants also draw nature-lovers and photography buffs.

An affordable, daily entrance fee of $5 per car or $2 per walker/biker is in effect year-round. In our opinion, this is the best bargain for one of the most beautiful beaches in the state, however, we must also issue a warning. During warmer months, several species of biting insects flood the refuge, including blood-thirsty, aggressive horseflies commonly known as greenheads.

Be sure to visit the refuge’s new visitors center, providing naturalists with many opportunities to learn about wildlife, habitats, and the interplay between people and nature. For more information, visit the Parker River Wildlife Refuge website. For up-to-date information about recent bird sightings at the refuge, click here.


Crane Wildlife Refuge on the Crane Estate

Argilla Road

Ipswich, Massachusetts

Open 8:00AM to Sunset

For those looking for a more remote experience, visit the Crane Wildlife Refuge, a patchwork of coastal and island habitats. Once part of the summer estate of Chicago industrialist Richard T. Crane, Jr., the refuge is part of the Great Marsh, the largest contiguous salt marsh in New England.

Accessible only by private watercraft, the refuge is located in the Essex River Estuary, a perfect spot for kayaking, canoeing, bird watching, swimming, and much more. While dogs are not allowed, camping is prohibited as well as limited hunting.

With 3.5 miles of gravel roads and mown foot trails, stop by the landmark barn on Long Island, the 250-year old Choate House, and the Crane burial site on Choate Island. While meandering through the picturesque landscape of salt marshes and sand dunes, be sure to take a few hours to relax on one of the most spectacular beaches in Massachusetts, Crane Beach.

To learn more about the Crane Wildlife Refuge, visit the Trustees of Reservations website, an organization determined to preserve landscapes across Massachusetts. For information about upcoming events, visit the trustees’ calendar page.



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