We tend to become conditioned to visit the same old parks we’ve known for years. They’re almost like an extension of our own homes where we feel safe taking our kids to run and play. But New England has so many beautiful, spacious outdoor areas to explore and it would be a shame not to open your eyes to them, particularly as you traverse the area on a road trip or two. When you’re in the mood to mix things up, make sure you’re armed with information on the ultimate outdoor destinations. These breathtaking parks each have their own distinct personalities and will provide a gorgeous backdrop while you make lasting family memories. Also an interesting side note – this year celebrates the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service!
Acadia National Park
This is a great park for families. Check out our article on Acadia here.
Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park
Bring a picnic lunch or fire up one of the park’s charcoal grills to have a barbecue in Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park, located in Freeport, Maine (not far from their outlet mall for any of you avid shoppers). The folks who preserve this park have an eye toward nature appreciation, so you’ll find plenty of trail markers with interpretive signs as well as guided programs if your family is itching to learn more about the park’s gorgeous surroundings. The hiking trails are fairly flat, which makes them suitable for families who might have a range of physical abilities. visitmaine.com/things-to-do/outdoors-adventure/parks-recreation-areas/wolfes-neck-woods-state-park.
Adams National Historical Park
Located in Quincy, this isn’t your average park. Rich with history, you can actually visit the Adams homes while enjoying 13 acres of historic landscape. No, you won’t find any playground equipment here, but kids will delight in the trolley that takes you from the visitor’s center to the John Adams and John Quincy Adams Birthplaces. nps.gov/adam/index.htm.
Chandler Hovey Park and Marblehead Light Tower
This is definitely not your typical park but it is an opportunity to get up-close-and-personal with the Marblehead Light Tower, a spectacle in and of itself. With 3.74 acres of park the area offers pavilions, benches, picnic tables, restrooms, parking and even swimming! marblehead.org/index.aspx?NID=1010.
Franklin Newhall Look Memorial Park
Do not, we repeat, do not miss out on what has been commonly known as simply Look Park. Located in Florence, this space holds everything a family could ask for. From playgrounds to mini golf to pedal boats and even a steamer railroad, you’re basically going to want to move in. There’s a grill and sweet shoppe for when you have the munchies, a water spray park and Christensen Zoo. Pack up the car and head here – now! lookpark.org.
Norwottuck Rail Trail
This 11-mile path runs along the old Boston & Maine Railroad right-of-way. It links Northampton, Hadley and Amherst and with its consistent flat road it’s perfect for those looking for a beautiful walk, family bike ride and even cross-country skiers in the winter. It should be noted that it’s also wheelchair-friendly because the terrain is flat. mass.gov/eea/agencies/dcr/massparks/region-west/norwottuck-rail-trail.html.
With approximately 64 acres of land to enjoy, visitors must enter the park using one of its eight footbridges as parking is not allowed on the Esplanade. The state-of-the-art Esplanade Playspace is a child’s dream come true with zip lining, climbing structures and plenty of props for spinning and swinging. Hang out on one of the five docks, picnic or take advantage of the Esplanade’s Exercise Course. esplanadeassociation.org/about-the-park.
Walden Pond State Reservation
When you visit Walden Pond, it’s easy to understand why Henry David Thoreau chose to live here for two years between 1845 and 1847. As tranquil as it is stunning, the Reservation features a 102-foot deep glacial kettle-hole pond and 2680 acres of undeveloped woods. Summertime finds visitors escaping to the Reservation for swimming fun, while hiking trails provide plenty of exercise throughout the rest of the year. Looking for a bit of history? Check out the replica of Thoreau’s one-room cabin housed on site. waldenpondstatereservation.wordpress.com.
Holy nature, Batman – World’s End in Hingham is a stunning sight to see. Don’t let its rolling hills and rocky shoreline fool you, there are plenty of paths that are perfect for stroller-pushing families to walk along to take in all of the scenery. Bring a picnic and let your kiddos frolic while you bask in the 251-acre coastscape (don’t you feel relaxed already?) thetrustees.org/places-to-visit/south-shore/worlds-end.html.
Franconia Notch State Park
This park is what New England is all about. Franklin Notch State Park in New Hampshire offers up camping, hiking, biking and swimming when it’s warm, yet snowmobiling, alpine skiing and snowshoeing when the conditions are wintry. There are also boat rentals available as well as canoeing and kayaking opportunities. And for your little rock lover, there’s even what’s referred to as “scenic geology.” nhstateparks.org/visit/state-parks/franconia-notch-state-park.aspx.
Lincoln Woods State Park
When you’re in Rhode Island, make your way to Lincoln Woods State Park to really feel like you’re getting away from it all. Located in Blackstone Valley, it’s rife with activities like trout fishing, horseback riding, or simply throwing a ball around. The fresh water beach is also ideal for swimming and great for the little ones. riparks.com/locations/locationlincolnwoods.html.
Half Moon State Park
This Hubbardton, Vermont, park is like a little slice of heaven. It’s perfect for families, located in an area of dense woods that surround Half Moon Pond (hence the name). If you’re the kind of clan that likes to camp, you’ll love the sites located here that offer both furnished cabins and waterfront campsites. Hikes, kayaks, rowboats, pedal boats, canoes and sandy beaches for swimming will make you want to return again and again. vtstateparks.com/htm/halfmoon.htm.
Kelly Bryant is associate editor of Boston Parents Paper.
And don’t forget to check out these pools and waterparks here in Massachsuetts.