Skis? Still on the beams in the garage. Sailboat? Still in the water, but weatherbeaten this time of year. Maybe up for one more daysail or two before the haul truck arrives.
Summer gone, winter yet to come. So we are in a shoulder season. But as for hikes, high country or low, easy or strenuous, short or far, this is one of the best times. The heat is gone and the step is quicker.
We start our look with a very public park, in fact, within a 12-mile look at the Boston Skyline, but yet with pristine land and seascapes almost everywhere in this 250-acre park designed, in part, by Francis Law Olmsted.
World’s End in Hingham, Mass., is lucky, indeed, that it did not become a 250-acre residential development or golf course, and it even was inspected by the developers of a nuclear power plant. Plymouth, Mass., won that draw, and World’s End burst into a gorgeous Trustees of Reservation property that no matter how many times you’ve walked it, you never quite get used to.
The topography breaks into two hills, one winding up a farm field that still has its hay mowed to height and looks out onto the Hingham and Weymouth harbor waterfronts dotted with pleasure boats and ferries.
After 100 yards or so along the shore, the next hill carries further north for a full skyline view of Boston Harbor, then winds back up a gravel-packed road about bridal-path width along the east side of the peninsula, with views across the water and marshes to the Hull (Nantasket) shore.
One drawback: This is a very busy park, especially on weekends. I always save this for my weekday walks, and start early in the morning. There is a trustees welcome center, but no food or commercialism of any kind. There is ocean swimming on the beach between the hills. Another thing you notice quickly: Leashed dogs are welcome.
To get there, take Route 3A, which meets Summer Street at the Hingham rotary. Take Summer Street to the first light and turn left.
Another similarly non-challenging but delightful walk is across Hingham to Norwell’s North River walk in Norris Reservation, featuring woods, riverbank and boardwalk experiences. Walkers begin along gravel-packed carriage road through woods to a boathouse on a curve of the North River.
A narrower path walks 20 minutes or so along the river then away from the bank. End here, and the walk is about 30 minutes. But branch off through the wooden gate and a bridge leads you across into a lovely sanctuary — on a boardwalk that rings the pond brimming with wildlife, including frogs, turtles, rabbits and darting birds. All around the boardwalk are benches that invite moments of quiet contemplation.
Around the pond, back over the bridge to the end makes this about an hour of easy walking. There is no commercial development at the park, but restaurants outside.
You’ll find the Norris Reservation along Route 123 just south of the town center.
In Great Barrington, Mass., the Monument Mountain Trail in fall can be a great escape from the usual leaf-peeper hikers. Still, it is in the mountains where the sweet ski hill Butternut Basin once thrived. Here, there’s a 3-mile loop comprising a natural oasis. There are a few steeper pitches on the loop and the trail lifts hikers up to some wonderful vistas of the southern Berkshires and the Housatonic River Valley. This is a fine day hike, even better when combined with an extended trip to the Berkshires (Berkshire East) and to the legendary Quabbin Reservoir.
The summer we lived in Newport, R.I., there were days we just had to get out of the noise and crowds around the harbor. One morning we drove to Saunderstown and walked a nice loop (2.4 miles, as it turns out) called Rome Point Trail. This was a walk that would appeal to every level hiker. Starting in a woodsy interior, the trail lifts, opening the first sweeping views of Narragansett Bay where, even in fall, the horizon is crowded with sails. Of course the onshore breeze gives you need to cover up near the summit, overlooking a cove crowded with seals. Thus this walk is called the “seal hike.”
So far, the theme this fall is about short, uncrowded walks with fresh, even surprising features and an ease of approach. Visiting Devil’s Hopyard State Park in East Haddam, Conn., continues this theme. I found this park quite by accident when I stopped to rest in the middle of an eight-hour drive from Washington, D.C. But instead of resting, I crossed Foxtown Road and went to the info kiosk to gather a brochure or two. This is a different sort of landscape, as walking in, we encountered large natural holes in the terrain, but wandered off anyway under a stone bridge.
Devil’s Hopyard seems like a casual hiking area, but do not be fooled. Some of the trails — Orange Trail, for instance — is steep, glacial and rock-strewn. Some of the ascent to an overlooking cliff requires some rock hopping. Another trail takes you to the 60-foot Chapman Falls on the Eightmile River. This 1,000-acre park also is good for biking, fishing, camping and picnicking. And there’s something here for history buffs.
It seems Samuel Adams’ boys, the Sons of Liberty in 1775, had a run-in with Loyalists at Beebe’s Mills, and the park includes details of this prewar dust-up.
In Nottingham, N.H., Pawtucky State Park is one of those Gainsborough landscapes of about 5,000 acres including a good swimming lake, more than 100 campsites and 15 miles of hiking trails. For views, the best of these is a moderate 2½-mile climb to the fire tower atop South Mountain. For wildlife sightings, the Burnham Marsh walk is fairly easy and pleasant. One trail (a 2½ mild loop) takes hikers to Boulder Field Trail, which, to no one’s surprise, is strewn with ice-age boulders. This trail has a 200-foot elevation gain. As beautiful as most of the walks in Pawtucky are, none will test the skills or endurance of a mountain-hardened hiker.
Aside from the limitless White Mountain hikes and climbs, my favorite region of the state is “north of the notches,” as locals say, including the town of Pittsburg and its forest and river country up to the Canadian border. Here is the rise of the 400-mile Connecticut River, which starts with a few rivulets around the border and runs southward, creating a series of lakes — Second Connecticut, Third Connecticut, etc., and two really spectacular, unspoiled, undeveloped lakes — First Connecticut and Lake Francis.
I found these waters with fly-fishing buddies in the 1980s. We parked at Lake Francis State Park on the north side of the lake. There are many trails in these woods, some better marked than others. You must have topo maps and hiking gear for this dense countryside.
This is not organized hiking, and so there are no info kiosks, and there’s a very good chance that there are way more moose than people in these parts. But for wide-open beauty ready for an adventurous heart, north of the notches is well worth the effort.
Vermont’s Long Trail is not so much a trail as a 272-mile trek up the spine of the Green Mountains with 185 miles of side trails and some 70 backcountry campsites. The Long Trail begins at the Massachusetts state line and follows the highest peaks of the Greens all the way to the Canadian Border.
Despite the description “footpath in the wilderness” used by many aficionados in the Green Mountain Club — which built the Long Trail about a century ago — this can be a challenging, rugged hike over steep summits and through pristine woods and alpine meadows. The ruggedness aside, there is plenty for the near-novice hiker here as well as those in seasoned backpacker form. And if one or many overnights is in the plan, many of the 70 campsites have primitive shelters. Maps of the Long Trail, guidebooks and descriptions are available through the Green Mountain Club website.
If your style is finding hikes near population centers, there is Rattlesnake Mountain overlooking Portland’s beautiful northern region Raymond Lake and the surroundings. The place is not nearly as scary as it’s name suggests, even though the mountain overlooks Panther Pond. This is a very lovely 2⅕ mile trek, not really challenging, though with a few short, steep faces and overlooks. Not an organized park, the trails are nonetheless easy to follow. As a reward for your hike, Portland, one of new England’s best restaurant cities, is but 45 minutes away.