If you’re into the great outdoors, then Massachusetts is a great place to be. Everybody knows about the “always-on-vacation” Cape Cod, the crazy foliage in the Berkshires, and the photo-friendly coastline along Cape Ann. But here are 13 equally jaw-dropping places in the Commonwealth you probably didn’t know existed.
Alan E. Rich Environmental Park
Peppered with birds, dragonflies, and wildflowers, Alan E. Rich Environmental Park is a feast for the senses. First off, there’s car-top access to Millers River, a tranquil “blue” waterway perfect for canoeing, kayaking, and fishing. Pack a lunch, relax in the landscaped park with picnic tables, and take the short loop hike to see all the native plants. Even though it’s right in the heart of Athol, the secluded Alan E. Rich Environmental Park makes you forget you’re anywhere near civilization.
Halibut Point State Park
Cozied up to the Atlantic on Cape Ann, Rockport’s seaside gem provides views all the way to Mount Agamenticus in Maine and the Isles of Shoals off the NH coast. The park’s granite-heavy topography flaunts dramatic formations perfect for Instagram, and the clear blue water in the old quarry reflects the surrounding landscape. Wildflowers and tall grasses sprout everywhere, and sea birds like loons and ducks hang out in the tidal pools and along the shore. Be sure to stop by the old WWII fire tower (at the visitor’s center) and check out the scene from the 60ft-high observation deck.
At Bartholomew’s Cobble, a picturesque agricultural preserve, it’s all about geology. The 329-acre park boasts grassy meadows, shady forests, freshwater marshes, a natural history museum, beaver ponds, a hiking trail, and two small caves for easy exploring. However, the money shot is from atop Hurlburt’s Hill. Maxing out at 1,000ft, the reservation’s highest point provides sweet vistas of the Housatonic River Valley.
Bash Bish Falls
Nestled in the Taconic Mountains, Bash Bish State Park features dense hemlock/hardwood forests, impressive gorges, quiet fishing spots, and tons of critters like peregrine falcons, bobcats, and black bears. Bash Bish Falls is the highest waterfall in the Commonwealth. Composed of multiple cascades, the waters descend through a rocky ravine before being split by a boulder and taking a thunderous 80ft plunge. The lower access point showcases the falls, while the upper spot shows off sweeping views that stretch all the way to NY State. Be careful though, twenty-five people have died there, and it’s been dubbed one of America’s “Most Dangerous Tourist Attractions.”
Flax Pond (Nickerson State Park)
The Cape’s scenic Nickerson State Park is home to eight glacial kettle-hole ponds, and Flax is the crown jewel of the collection. The water is crystal clear all the way to the sandy bottom and is ideal for fishing, canoeing, and swimming. The 1.1-mile shoreline is hugged by dense forest that supplies quiet seclusion to this 48-acre beauty. If you’re looking for 100% relaxation, Flax Pond is where you should go. Go at daybreak to see sunrise reflections on the water, tons of wildlife (rabbits, birds, etc.), and not many other people. It feels like you have the whole place to yourself.
Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary
The tiny vineyard packs a lot of surprises, and Felix Neck is definitely one of them. The 194-acre wildlife sanctuary has four miles of trails through quiet meadows, woodlands, and salt marshes, as well as along the shoreline. (With killer views, of course.) The wildlife takes center stage at the insanely beautiful butterfly and bird gardens, and you might get to meet the resident barn owls. Definitely take the kayak tour around Sengekontacket Pond for maximum appreciation of the wilderness.
Garden in the Woods
A mere 20 miles from Boston, Framingham’s Garden in the Woods is a veritable paradise hiding in plain sight. This wooded botanical garden is carefully curated by the New England Wild Flower Society and hosts more than 1,500 varieties of plants, some of which are rare and/or endangered. Contained within 45 compact acres, the park also has two miles of paths, two small ponds, scenic valleys, a rock garden, bogs, natural springs and brooks, and dynamic glacial ridge rock formations.
For starters, Shelburne Falls is New England-postcard-perfect with old-school small-town architecture set in the foliage-rich Berkshires. And then you add some quirky/cool geology for some equally quirky/cool visuals. About 14,000 years ago, the glacier that created nearby Lake Hitchcock also started eroding “glacial potholes” through the bedrock in the Deerfield River. As you stroll through town and along the riverbanks, you’ll catch glimpses of these geometric wonders made by Mother Nature herself. Complementing the slate-tinted scenery is the colorful Bridge of Flowers in bloom from April through October.
Natural Bridge State Park
The 48-acre Natural Bridge State Park has the ONLY naturally formed white marble arch IN NORTH AMERICA. 13,000 years ago, glacial melt carved through bedrock marble to form a colossal bridge spanning Hudson Brook as it splashes through a 60ft-deep gorge. As if that weren’t enough, you can also visit the only man-made white marble dam in North America and tour the abandoned marble quarry.
Poet’s Seat Tower (at Rocky Mountain Park)
Dubbed the “Poet’s Seat” in 1850 by local rhymester Frederick Goddard Tuckerman, it’s easy to see how this tower and its views inspired many traveling bards. Located at the highest point in Rocky Mountain Park, the “even Smaug would be jealous” sandstone tower hovers above Greenfield and showcases breathtaking panoramas of the surrounding countryside. Once you’ve taken infinity pictures, enjoy three different hiking trails through the forested ridge with connections to the Sugarloaf Mountains and other nearby parks such as Abercrombie Field and Temple Woods.
Quabbin Reservoir is easy on the eyes from any vantage point, but none is more awe-inspiring than the view from New Salem. Head up the road from the fire station to find a small park high on a ridge along the DCR watershed lands. From here you can take in the scenery including the massive reservoir, quaint New Salem, and plenty of birds such as scarlet tanagers, toons, hermit thrushes, ravens, and the occasional bald eagle. For best results, pack a picnic (there are tables) and catch the sunset from this quiet, out-of-the-way spot.
Waterfalls are just plain beautiful, and Royalston Falls does not disappoint, at all. The sometimes challenging one-mile hike is worth the payoff as the granite gorge suddenly reveals the semi-hidden cascade. The water plunges nearly 50ft into an icy pool creating a thick mist that hangs in the nearby forest, you know… for extra coolness (both literally and figuratively.) The surrounding park also features multiple trails and hosts tons of outdoorsy activities like fishing, mountain biking, horseback riding, and cross-country skiing.
As a perfect final entry, the World’s End provides THE ideal setting for chillaxing by the water. Situated between the Weir River and Hingham Harbor, this 251-acre park/conservation area has a whole lot of everything: views of the Boston skyline, tidal marshes, lazy meadows, shady trees, rolling hills, and meandering carriage paths designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. And it’s just as spectacular in the winter as it is in the summer. Fun fact: at the end of WWII, World’s End was considered as a site for the United Nations. Yeah, the one that’s now in NYC.