Hiking all year is a great way not to feel like garbage, but many potential adventurers fear ice, snow, and impending doom during New England's winter months. New Hampshire's 48 4,000 footers are targets for those with goal fetishes or strong desires to take epic photos for their friends. However, some skill, gear, and awareness is needed for those peaks, which is why we've provided a list of ten places that offer accessible hiking to adventurers who don't want to drive more than one hour, carry around an ice ax, or remain frozen as not-so-living time capsules.
To read about what winter hiking gear you would need, check out Ridj-it user Michael's top five suggestions for winter gear here.
Hikes South of Boston
Whitney & Thayer Woods is only 45 minutes south of Boston and provides five+ miles of beautiful forested trail.
1. Whitney & Thayer Woods/Weir River Farm
This property hosts winding trails with gentle levels of elevation that can still net you a great workout. Park towards the intersection of Route 3A and Sohier St where you will see the Trustees welcome sign (right side of the map below), and plan on taking the loop to to the parking lot of Weir River Farm (left side of the map). On the way back, take the southern trails to loop towards the original parking lot where your group started.
During windy days the forest provides great protection from the gusts of the South Shore, and once emerging from the woods great, rolling hills with overlooks to the ocean will greet hikers with howling winds. This hike can include a stop further into the actual Weir River Farm during the spring, summer, and fall for maximum enjoyment in seeing the various goats, chickens, cows, cats, pigs, and many more.
Throughout the hike there will be wetlands to cross with bridges that are fairly well maintained, and the joy of these trails during the winter is the complete lack of bugs that might otherwise join you as temporary companions.
2. Burrage Pond Wildlife Management Area
The Burrage Pond Wildlife Management Area was created in 2002, when the MA Dept. of Fisheries and Wildlife purchased it from an operating cranberry bog location. Some of the cranberry bogs in the area are still in use and are visible from the trail. The old cedar bog is also still there, and the trail runs between it and the pond for some time. This trail is mostly flat, and covered in compounded dirt most of the way, and gravel in some places.
The route we recommend is a 2.2 mile loop from the parking lot along the southeast side of the pond. When the trail splits, go left along a quiet, flat area for about a mile. The trail will make a sharp right and then a sharp left, and then another sharp right as you head towards the pond. When you reach the pond, go right and follow the trail back to the parking lot. Many smaller trails intersect the main trail, so be careful to not get lost.
3. Myles Standish State Forest
Myles Standish State Forest offers lots of activity opportunities: 35 miles of equestrian trails, 15 miles of mountain biking trails, and 13 miles of hiking trails all together. However, in winter, some of these activities might be less appealing, so we recommend the East Head Pond trail. It’s 2.6 miles around the pond (impossible to get lost), and it’s almost entirely flat. In the warmer months, this trail is open for cycling as well. Starting from Parking Lot 1, just off of Cranberry Road, follow the trail around the pond heading northwest, and simply keep the pond to your right at all times. From there, just enjoy the quaint, serene scenery: it will be relatively quiet in winter, and all the more beautiful for it.
4. Douglas State Forest
Depending on how ambitious you’re feeling, we have three trail options to recommend in Douglas State Forest. The most leisurely route, which includes many opportunities to observe nature and learn some new things, is Cedar Swamp Trail just off the north tip of Wallum Lake. It’s only half a mile long, and it takes you via boardwalk through part of the swamp. There you can observe the fragile, beautiful ecosystem where cedar trees--or more specifically cedar tree sprouts, due to blight--grow. The loop takes you out through the swamp and right back to the parking lot, which is located next to the small nature center.
The second and third options are located along the same route of the Douglas Forest Wallis Pond Loop Trail. If you’re not feeling up to a 5.6 mile hike in the dead of winter, we don’t blame you. You can take the shortened version of this trail, which takes you to the southern edge of Wallis Pond and back. This 2.4 mile trail is mostly flat, and runs entirely through beautiful natural landscape. From the small parking area just off Wallis Street, head straight into the woods along the well-marked trail. At the 0.8 mile mark, you will have the option of continuing on or turning right. If you wish to only do the 2.5 mile loop, turn right. This will take you directly to Wallis Pond, and then back towards the parking area. If you go straight, you’ll go on a 5.6 mile double-loop hike that will circle back to Wallis Pond on the way back from an exploration around Douglas State Forest and past the Whitin Reservoir, following the same route back to the parking lot as the shorter loop.
5. Townsend State Forest
The Townsend Quarries Loop is a 3 mile loop with a moderate amount of incline, that is still totally do-able in winter. From the parking area off Old Turnpike Road, head northwest. At the .2 mile mark, the trail forks three ways: take the middle fork, and then take the left fork when it splits again .1 miles later. At the .9 mile mark, carry on straight (left fork) to the end of the trail--about half a mile. Enjoy views of the old quarry, and relax and enjoy the scenery in this mixed landscape. When you’re ready, turn around, and go back the way you came until you reach the first split, and this time go left. Follow the trail to the 2.2 mile mark, where you will reach the highest point of the trail and the next split. Go right (southeast) here, otherwise you will be led deeper into the woods and away from the parking lot. Continue straight for the next three-quarters of a mile, keeping left at every split, until you reach the parking lot.
Hikes North of Boston
Okay, so one thing that might kill you is getting in the way of bullet practice on one of the trails at Bear Brook State Park.
6. Willard Brook State Forest
Willard Brook State Forest is a small area directly adjacent to the Townsend State Forest. The Willard Brook Trail is a 2.2 mile there-and-back hike along the Willard Brook, on the opposite side of the bank from Townsend Road. From the start of the trail just off Hosmer Road, opposite Damon Pond, head northeast for 1.1 miles. The trail runs slightly downhill, and veers slightly southeast after the one mile mark, thus the return is slightly more strenuous. Pay attention to the lush wildlife living here, safe out of harm’s way, away from the Townsend Road.
7. Great Brook Farm State Park
Just as it says in the title, this is a great hike with a ponds, wetlands, winding small trails, and a tiny amount of road trails. Some of the distance requires short walks through residential neighborhoods, but they don't ruin the feeling of being immersed into beautiful nature. The following hike is suggested to get at least four miles of activity.
Park in the main lot at the Barn Hart and Ski Center. There is a minimal fee for parking, and they take cards. After arriving, take the Lantern Loop heading south to Maple Ridge. Head towards Pine Point Loop to and follow to Heartbreak Ridge. Take Heartbreak all the way south to Woodbine and then too East St. Go north on Trophet Loop East to Pine Point Loop, and follow North Rd. back to the parking lot.
Great Brook Farm has a variety of trails appropriate for families, those starting their hiking hobbies, and for people wishing to bang out a beautiful and quick jaunt in the woods. On weekends where time is sparse but the desire is strong to head to the forest, Great Brook Farm State Park is a choice that complements urban dwellers' lifestyles.
8. Horse Hill Nature Preserve
Dozens of beaver dens populate the marsh and wetlands of this beautiful preservation, and although the flooding these critters make is abysmal for neighbors, hikers will enjoy the semi-underwater and frozen world these animals have created.
Park at 184 Amherst Rd, and use the link below for the most optimal trail directions. Expect close to four miles of hiking with the trail directions outlined in red.
There are no massive inclines in this land, but the smaller-grade hills provide excellent exercise to complement the still and wonderful beauty to be found at this park. Small bridges keep visitors from falling into ice, and once in a while fat tire bikers will barrel through the forest. Stop at LaBelle Winery to sample some great regional wine after this gorgeous traverse.
9. Bear Brook State Park
This state park is massive and not marked clearly in certain areas. Park at the end of Podunk Rd (type in Podunk Rd. and Currier Rd. in GPS and follow Podunk to the end). Miles and miles of trails can be traversed, and some light planning involving which trails to take. A loop heading left on Hall Mountain Trail and continuing north to to Bear Hill (take Ferret if you're looking to really extend the distance) is a good half that lasts three miles. Take Spruce Pond Rd. to Spruce and Beaver Ponds, and finally the Lynx trail to end back at Podunk Rd. This loops is about 6 -7 miles.
Make sure to have waterproof boots, especially on a warm day when trails and roads get incredibly muddy from melting snow and ice. The map does not capture how large this park actually is, and there is a fair amount of elevation that will provide a heck of a workout.
10. Pawtuckaway State Park
Pawtuckaway is great because there are so many recreational opportunities in addition to hiking, such as fishing, canoeing and kayaking, camping (and cabin-renting), rock-climbing, and it even swimming in the small beach on premise. Located one hour north of Boston and midway between Manchester and Portsmouth (NH), the park boasts mid-level hills ranging from 800 feet to 1,000 feet above sea level. Nested along and around these hills, there are about 15 miles of hiking trails that vary from a pleasant stroll among the tall trees and by the tranquil ponds and streams, to surprisingly steep (and rocky) inclines that last for short spans.
There are multiple entrances to the park, but for a first trip, it's a good idea to take the Reservation Rd entrance from Route 107 and park at the trial head of North Mountain trail. Take the North Mountain trail up to North Mountain, which is the highest peak in the park at 1,000 feet high. The trail starts as an easy jaunt in the woods and is a nice warm-up before the incline to the top. The incline is steep and will get your heart racing, but the distance of the incline is only about half a mile, so with some breaks it is quite manageable and a great workout to boot! The top offers terrific views of the lakes and streams that dot the landscape, so you are in for a treat.
The trails are well marked but the paths are worn down a bit, so be mindful and make sure you have a map. On your way down, be sure to stop by Round Pound for a break. It is well-shaded and cooler, and is a great spot to relax and reminisce. The North Mountain trail loops back to the trail head.