A Bostonian's Guide to Fall Foliage

For Bostonians, there’s no need to travel far this fall to find the foliage. In fact, whether you’re looking to hike, climb, mountain bike, or paddle, the Greater Boston area has something to satisfy everybody’s cravings for yellows, oranges, and reds. To begin, start with these five great activities, all within an hour of the city, for a quintessentially fall experience.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

Boulder at Hammond Pond

It’s strange to find great bouldering, much less an idyllic fall getaway, behind a mall. But, somehow, Hammond Pond pulls it off. Tucked behind The Shops at Chestnut Hill, just minutes outside of Boston, the puddingstone walls, the pond’s gentle waves, and the rustling of hardwood leaves as they fall to the ground—and the occasional grunt of a boulderer working a problem—combine to make you forget just how close you actually are to civilization.

In addition to the wonderful setting, the season’s cool temperatures are perfect for climbing classic Hammond Pond boulder problems, such as Hammond Eggs (V1), Breakfast of Champions (V3), and Hermit Cave (V4). You’ll find the highest consistency and most classic problems in an area called the Alcove, a steep semi-circle of Roxbury Puddingstone. This type of conglomerate rock resembles pebbles thrown into a still-wet concrete wall and is only found in the Greater Boston area. The Alcove’s orientation protects climbers from cool autumn winds, while the rock receives a lot of sun, keeping it pleasant even on the crispest fall days.

Linking a combination of cobbles and cracks, the Alcove’s most difficult problems are found in the middle of the wall, where the angle is the steepest. The easier problems, meanwhile, are located along the outsides, which are angled more vertically. Because of the Alcove’s short height and limited amount of rock, however, make sure to check out traverses that increase the challenge and volume of climbing. Boulderers beware: Many of the problems here were established decades ago. Thus, given the close proximity to Boston, they possess an ego-deflating blend of old-school grading and slick holds.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

Climb Rattlesnake Rocks

Tucked just down the road from Quincy Quarries’ graffitied walls, Rattlesnake Rocks is a classic destination for fall foliage. Rather than the Quarries’ vibrantly colored walls, however, the forest surrounding Rattlesnake Rocks delivers a canopy of gold, auburn, and crimson, while cool autumn temperatures ensure the area’s short, coarse granite walls are at their best.

Consisting of smaller crags spread out over a cliffline, Rattlesnake is much quieter than its multi-use neighbor, giving you some freedom to make the most of your “Rocktober.” And, while moving from crag to crag may be an inconvenience, the autumn-hued forest is made for ambling amongst Rattlesnake Rocks’ various walls and routes.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Mountain Bike Around Vietnam

No, not that Vietnam.

For Boston-area mountain bikers who prefer to race through colorful fall forests rather than idly admire them, Vietnam—located in Milford, roughly an hour outside the city—is an ideal outing. Infamous in the mountain biking community, Vietnam holds the distinction of being the first land purchased by a bike association. The New England Mountain Bike Association, or NEMBA, bought a 47-acre parcel to protect it in 2003, and today, it contains notorious singletrack, drops, and jumps. Even better, NEMBA’s parcel connects with other conservation land in Milford, Hopkinton, and Holliston to create an approximately 800-acre area. Legendary for its technical riding, Vietnam’s trails are best known for their rock gardens and steep rollers, as well as their natural and manmade drops and jumps.

Fall is the perfect time for a trip to Vietnam. Its often-soggy, low-lying areas are finally dry, and brisk temperatures enhance traction on the area’s steepest lines. While the forest’s changing colors and the rustling of leaves under tires can produce a meditative calm, don’t let your guard down too much. Fallen leaves add another challenge to Vietnam’s already-taxing trails, as they may hide in-trail obstacles.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

Hike the Blue Hills

Hikers in Greater Boston anxious to explore brilliantly tinted fall forests need look no further than the Blue Hills Reservation. Just a short drive from the city, the Blue Hills deliver the perfect place for hiking, as the area’s rocky and once-lush prominences transform from dense grays and greens into a cornucopia of yellow, orange, and red shades.

Although the Blue Hills might not have the elevation found among its northern neighbors—the highest point, Great Blue Hill, stands at just 635 feet tall—the area boasts an impressive 125 miles of hiking trails and 22 named hills. All and all, it’s more than enough to keep even the most enthusiastic fall hikers busy. Proving you needn’t drive north, the various high points offer incredible views of everything from Boston’s skyline to the Atlantic Ocean. Of course, New England’s iconic fall foliage makes these views even more spectacular.

Hikers looking to get a quick foliage fix should head for the summit of Great Blue Hill, a roughly mile-long round-trip hike. On the summit, climb the Eliot Tower for an unrivaled view of the city’s skyline and Boston Harbor. On a clear day, hikers can see as far as New Hampshire’s Mount Monadnock. So, take a minute to reflect on the leaf-peeping madness (and heavy traffic) you’re missing out on by staying close to home. Or, have a picnic on the open summit, or continue touring the park’s expansive network of trails.

Courtesy: LEONARDO DASILVA
Courtesy: LEONARDO DASILVA

Paddle the Charles

For taking in the foliage around Boston, don’t restrict yourself to land. Another option, the Charles River delivers a different perspective for viewing the season’s leafy spectacle. Whether from the comfort of a kayak or balanced on top of an SUP, you’ll find the river’s calm waters offer a multitude of trip options for leaf-peeping. Along with the awe-inspiring autumn colors, expect to encounter everything from old forests to city skylines, as the Charles snakes from Hopkinton to the Atlantic Ocean.

With ample put-ins and numerous places to stop for a picnic or to merely enjoy the scenery, the Charles River has an adventure for every level. And, while an out-and-back trip requires the least amount of logistics, it’s easy to stage a shuttle for a one-way trip with a little planning.

What’s even better than lazily floating on the calm waters to soak up New England’s stunning fall sights? Through the russet-colored forest, the occasional rumble of the highway lets you know others are fighting their way out of, or back into, the city to look for something you’ve already found.

 

Do you have a favorite fall trip around Boston? If so, we want to hear about it! Leave your favorite Boston-area fall trips in the comments.


The Best Outdoor Adventures Near Our New Hyannis Store

74-007-Hyannis-FB-Ad

Big news! Eastern Mountain Sports is reopening its Hyannis, Mass., store, so outdoor enthusiasts on the Cape can be equipped with the right gear for all sorts of coastal adventures. To celebrate, we asked the employee experts at the new Hyannis location about their favorite local spots. So, to plan your next trip, start with their recommendations, and swing through the new shop for all the gear you need and even more expert beta!

Where to Go & What to Do

Hathaway Pond is a small, 20-acre natural kettle hole pond, perfect for paddling around and looking down into the depths. Visibility is excellent, extending to 23 feet. The bottom is composed of rubble and sand, and is also a hot spot for local scuba divers. For those interested in staying dry, an easy walking trail roughly one-mile long loops around the whole pond, and it’s great for families and dogs. Pro tip: Next summer, it will be the location of the shop’s demo days!

Another local favorite is The Trail of Tears, a 1,200-acre parcel of conservation land in the village of West Barnstable. As one of Cape Cod’s treasures and a prime bike riding area, it’s a hot spot for mountain biking, hiking, trail running, and cross-country skiing.

Nickerson State Park is a state-owned, public recreation area of more than 1,900 acres in Brewster, Mass. The sandy soil and scrub pines surround many kettle ponds, the largest of which are Cliff, Flax, Little Cliff, and Higgins Ponds. Ruth, Keeler’s, Eel, and Triangle Ponds provide additional water habitats. This is a great, fun place for people to go in the summer and off-season! We love the easy access to water, hiking, and camping. It’s also amazing in the winter for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

A hub for kayakers who love the shallow bay for its scenery and wildlife, Washburn Island and Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve is a coastal playground. Paddlers can also camp on Washburn Island, a rare untouched tract of land on the Cape. Here, you’ll find hiking trails weaving through oak and pine, as well as beaches and salty ponds. As a note, paddling from the inner harbor takes a couple of hours, and for camping, make reservations in advance.

Do you have another favorite Cape Cod adventure?


Alpha Guide: Mount Greylock's Thunderbolt Trail

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

Steep, short, and scenic—a hike to Mount Greylock’s summit via the Thunderbolt Trail is the most direct way to the highest point in Massachusetts.

Hiking to the summit of Mount Greylock via the Thunderbolt Trail takes you through some of the East Coast’s most hallowed ski terrain and across the rugged Appalachian Trail, and is the steepest and shortest route to the highest point in Massachusetts.

Quick Facts

Distance: 4.8 miles, out-and-back
Time to Complete: Half day for most
Difficulty: ★★
Scenery:★★★★


Season: Year-round. Best from May through October
Fees/Permits: None.
Contact: https://www.mass.gov/locations/mount-greylock-state-reservation

Download

Turn-By-Turn

To access the Thunderbolt trailhead, hikers can park in nearly adjacent lots on Thiel Road and Gould Road in Adams, Massachusetts. To get there from North Adams, the major jumping-off point for anybody heading to Greylock, take Route 8 south for about two miles, and then, make a right onto Friend Street at a rotary. After a mile, Friend Street merges into Notch Road. About 0.5 miles later, turn right onto Gould Street, and then, either continue straight for side-of-the-road parking on Thiel Road or make a quick left into the signed hiker parking lot on Gould Road.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Into the Woods

From either lot, finding the right trail is tricky. There’s a maze of intersecting trails in and around the parking lots, and the way to Thunderbolt is not always clearly marked.

For the easiest route, hike for roughly 10 minutes up the closed (to vehicles) section of Thiel Road, first on pavement and then on a gravel path, until you come to a sign (42.627598, -73.137497) directing hikers to Thunderbolt.

From the sign, navigation is still a bit strenuous, with the narrow trail winding through thick woods and dense ferns. Enjoy this short section, as it easily picks up elevation. You’ll soon approach the ski trail proper, (42.636150, -73.137497) where the trail opens up and the grade intensifies.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Ski Trail

The Thunderbolt foot trail ascends along the side of the Thunderbolt Ski Trail, and it’s easy to know when you’ve reached its base. Here, the dense forest immediately transitions into a wide, open swath of green running straight up the mountain. The Thunderbolt Ski Trail climbs consistently, with few interruptions—among them, the juncture with the Bellows Pipe Trail (42.637295, -73.154152) and the intersection with the Appalachian Trail (42.642410, -73.161797).

That said, the footing is good, the path is easy to follow, and there are a good number of rest spots where the trail briefly levels out. When you need to catch your breath, make sure to turn around and enjoy the view back east, with Adams in the foreground and the Hoosac Range on the horizon.

Pro Tip: Although lots of trails intersect with the Thunderbolt trail and many of the junctions aren’t signed, knowing that you should be hugging the ski trail makes it harder to get off route.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Joining the AT

After one final steep section, Thunderbolt levels out briefly before intersecting with the Appalachian Trail. Before ascending to the junction, make sure to pause to appreciate the spectacular view to the northeast. You’ll know you’re there when you see the first aid cache in the woods to climber’s right.

At the junction, follow the Appalachian Trail’s white blazes south another half-mile to the summit. The going is easy and relaxed, with only a slight incline. After a few minutes, hikers will cross the auto road, and then, spill into one of Greylock’s tourist parking lots.

Upon entering the lot, look to the right for the Thunderbolt shelter (42.638737, -73.0145218), an impressive stone warming hut built by members of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in 1934. Originally intended as a place for ski racers to warm up and prepare for their run—remember, back then, racers had to get to the top of the run via their own power—the hut is dedicated to Rudolph Konieczny, a soldier killed in action while fighting with the 10th Mountain Division’s ski troop in northern Italy in 1945. Although, today, the shelter is primarily a tourist attraction and an emergency shelter for winter travelers, it is one of the summit’s several somber memorials.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Summit

From the hut, the actual summit is only a short jaunt away. Simply rejoin the Appalachian Trail and follow the gravel, and then paved, path a bit farther south. Pretty soon, you’ll be on the summit proper (42.636898, -73.165527), which, in 1898, became the centerpiece of the first state park in Massachusetts.

As you approach the summit, Greylock’s 93-foot granite memorial to the Commonwealth’s war veterans—built by the CCC in the 1930s—looms overhead. If it’s open, make sure to go in to pay your respects. Then, climb the tower’s spiral staircase to a viewing observatory, which offers 360-degree views of the region. To the north, look for North Adams in the foreground and New York’s Adirondacks and Vermont’s Green Mountains in the distance. Looking east, mountains and hills are everywhere; try to pick out Mount Monadnock in southern New Hampshire. Turning south and west, you’ll see the Berkshires, the Catskills, and the Hudson River Valley.

There are a lot of other things to do on the summit. In addition to the Thunderbolt Ski Hut, there’s the Bascom Lodge. Perched nearly on Greylock’s summit, the lodge is another minute south on the AT. Made using local schist and red spruce, the lodge was built in the 1930s by the CCC to offer shelter to summit visitors. Today, it features a restaurant and cafe, provides seasonal accommodations, and is even available for weddings and private events. Whether you’re grabbing a meal inside or having a snack at the nearby picnic tables, the Bascom Lodge is the perfect place to linger on the summit.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Return

To return to your car from the summit, simply retrace your steps back down the way you came. Of course, as you pass by signs noting iconic sections of the Thunderbolt Ski Trail, such as Big Bend, Big Schuss, and The Bumps, try not to get too distracted thinking about how much more fun (and faster) it would be on skis.

If you didn’t know, the Thunderbolt Trail was originally built as a ski trail (also by the CCC) and is rich with New England ski history. For example, Dick Durrance, the 17-time national champion ski racer who won the first race held on the Thunderbolt Trail in 1935, descended in just two minutes and 48 seconds—a time that feels especially fast to hikers anxious to get back to their cars.

It’s also worth noting that, while the Thunderbolt Trail is open to hikers all year, winter hikers are encouraged to ascend where others already have to preserve the snow for skiers.

The Cheat Route

If you have someone who would like to experience Mount Greylock’s summit with you but is unable to ascend the approximately 2,200 feet of elevation over roughly 2.5 miles, have them meet you at the top. The Greylock auto road allows cars to drive to the summit from May through October. Just know there’s a small fee to park at the summit.


Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Kit

  • Saying the Thunderbolt Trail is steep feels like an understatement, especially considering that, at its steepest, the trail pitches to 38 degrees. Make ascending and descending a little bit easier by bringing a pair of trekking poles.
  • Plan for your trip up and ensure you stay on track with the Mount Greylock Reservation Map. Mount Greylock State Reservation has over 12,000 acres and is home to roughly 50 miles of trails, so there’s plenty left to do after your successful summit.
  • While the origins of the Greylock name are up for debate, one popular theory is, it refers to the mountain’s appearance. Often, it has a gray cloud—or lock of gray mist—overhead. This has certainly been our experience, so don’t forget to pack a raincoat (men’s/women’s) for the summit.
  • 360-degree views and plenty of places to avoid inclement weather make for an unrushed experience on the summit. Treat yourself by bringing something warm to eat in the winter, or cool for the summer with a Hydro Flask Food Flask.
  • With so many steep pitches ahead of you, having a good-fitting pair of performance socks is critical for avoiding blisters. Pick a pair made from a wicking material, such as merino wool, to keep your feet happy.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Keys to the Trip

  • Before heading to the mountain, get some local knowledge at the staffed Visitors Center in Lanesborough, which is open all year.
  • Spend the night at one of Mount Greylock’s 18 tent sites, or in one of the five lean-tos found on the mountain. Learn more here.
  • Looking to grab a pint and absorb a little culture? Bright Ideas Brewing serves delicious brews and is located in the courtyard of the Mass Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass MoCA).
  • Dogs are welcome to hike Mount Greylock’s trails, as long as they’re leashed and attended. However, if you had to leave Fido home and are missing man’s best friend, stop by the Museum of Dog (M.O.D.). Located just down the street from Mass MoCA, M.O.D. features more than 180 pieces from roughly 50 notable, dog-loving artists. Ironically, dogs are not allowed inside M.O.D.
  • Visit the Thunderbolt Ski Museum in the Adams Visitor Center to learn more about the history of this storied ski run.

Current Conditions

Have you hiked Mount Greylock recently? Post your experience and the conditions (with the date of your climb) in the comments for others!


3 Great Early Season Mountain Bike Rides South of Boston

Spring can be a challenging time for mountain bikers. We’re anxious to resume riding, but unpredictable weather often leaves trails muddy and impassable. Thankfully, some popular destinations dry faster than others. So, if you have the need to ride but your local spot isn’t quite ready yet, check out these locations.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Trail of Tears

With sandy, dry soil and mild winters, Trail of Tears in Cape Cod’s West Barnstable is the perfect place for logging early-season mileage. Offering a 20-plus mile trail network on a large parcel of conservation land, it features fun, mostly fast, and flowing non-technical singletrack, with twists and turns through a classic Cape Cod forest. Riders will also come across occasional boulders to roll over and small rocks to jump off along many of the trails. Just be ready for the occasional short, steep hills, which often leave even the fittest riders gasping for breath at their crests.

As you cruise around Trail of Tears, it’s easy to get lost in the rhythm and forget you’re even on the Cape. The woods are immersive, and stopping at the observation deck at the top of the North Ridge Trail reinforces this, as no beaches, traffic, or roads are in sight. It’s almost as if you’re in the woods of Vermont, New Hampshire, or Maine.

Of course, if you’re worried about getting lost, you shouldn’t be. NEMBA hosts rides on both Wednesday and Friday nights, allowing you to get a free tour. However, if you can’t make it, here’s a map. And, because Trail of Tears is the home turf of many Cape Cod NEMBA members, the trails are impeccably maintained, so you can let it rip.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Otis

Located a short drive over the Bourne Bridge, Otis is one of New England’s best early-season riding destinations. While nicknamed after its proximity to Otis Air National Guard Base, the spot is actually located within the Town of Falmouth’s conservation lands and the Frances A. Crane Wildlife Management Area, rather than on the base itself. And, if it weren’t for the hordes flocking to the Cape between late May and August, Otis could be a bonafide summer biking destination.

While very similar to Trail of Tears, Otis takes everything up a level. The singletrack is slightly rootier, rockier, and more challenging. More so, in riding up, over, and in between a series of drumlins, you’ll encounter a surprising amount of steep climbing that leaves many rethinking the Cape’s supposed flatness. Throughout the trail network, look for rock gardens, drops, and jumps, some of which add an extra layer of fun and may take a few tries to send cleanly. The cherry on the cake is the Gravity Trail, built in a natural half-pipe reminiscent of some of the classic trails found in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. Don’t leave without checking it out.

Since space is tight, Otis has a well-deserved reputation as a difficult place to navigate. Indeed, the trails twist and turn, almost on top of each other at times. Fortunately, Otis hugs Route 28, providing an easy landmark and a bailout back to the car. If you ever doubt your location, just head toward the sound of traffic or pedal west, and then, take Route 28 South. Of course, this is easier said than done. Did we mention these trails are twisty?

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

Wompatuck

Wompatuck State Park in Hingham, Massachusetts, is another great location. Built on land formerly occupied by the Hingham Naval Ammunition Depot Annex, it’s a bit closer to Greater Boston than the other two options and home to miles of fantastic mountain biking on single- and double-track.

Wompy has trails for riders of any ability. Ones around Prospect Hill are a must-do for those seeking out singletrack. From the park’s lower left quadrant, riders can take either a moderate (but steep) doubletrack or one of the four singletrack trails to the top. There, they can swoop back down the same fast and flowy terrain as it winds down the hill. Definitely worth checking out, the section between the S4 junction at the top of the hill and the S2 at the bottom offers some of the state’s longest switchback singletrack. Also, consider the descent between the S5, S7, and S10 junctions.

Wompatuck is full of surprises. As such, think about exploring the rest of the park’s trails. Around some corners, you’ll find abandoned military buildings dating back to the 1950s, many of which aspiring artists have spray-painted. Off to the sides, you may spot training sites, with ramps, jumps, and logs to play around on. And, near Wompy’s Visitor Center, you’ll find the Pump Track, an all-ages training course packed with berms, bumps, and jumps.

Although many of Wompatuck’s trail junctions are marked, the many intersecting trails make it easy to get disoriented. To plan a ride that sticks to the area’s singletrack, check out the Friends of Wompatuck’s interactive trail map. Then, keep it open as you ride to ensure you don’t get lost.

Do you have a favorite place to ride early in the season? If so, we’d love to hear about it! Leave your favorite early-season riding destination in the comments, so others can explore.


Three Crags for Early Spring Rock Climbing

With spring’s mild weather arriving early this year, it’s time to venture outside, and remember what it feels like to be on rock. If you’ve spent the winter pulling plastic or you’re simply excited to get outdoors, check out one of these excellent early-season climbing destinations.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Lincoln Woods, Rhode Island

Just minutes outside Providence sits Lincoln Woods State Park. Home to some of New England’s best bouldering, it’s a frequent first stop for many of the region’s climbers. Thanks to its southerly location, it’s rarely exposed to as brutal of a winter, often making the problems dry and climbable, while snow still buries other popular areas.

With various boulders scattered throughout, “The Woods” almost always has something to climb, no matter the conditions. In fact, it’s possible to do everything from chasing the sun to hiding from the wind or even avoiding an unexpected spring shower. Even better, because most of the park’s classic boulders are in close proximity, it’s easy to move between them in search of better conditions or a different grade. Just use the park’s loop road and a handful of well-developed climber paths.

In March and April, cool mornings and evenings provide the perfect temperatures for finding friction on the area’s granite boulders. Later, cool nights keep the bugs at bay. Further making The Woods a great early-season destination, the wide variety of problems, in terms of both style and grade, allows climbers to acquaint themselves with crimps, cracks, and slabs while gradually increasing the difficulty.

While bouldering might be the primary attraction here, Goat Rock has a small amount of top-roping. This roughly 30-foot tall cliff offers some easy slab climbing on its flank and some truly hard climbing on its steep, overhung face. If you are planning on top-roping here, either bring some trad gear or a long static line for anchor building, and beware of broken glass.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Quincy Quarries, Massachusetts

Quincy Quarries is another fantastic early-season destination. Located just seconds from I-93 near Boston, it offers great single-pitch routes on solid granite, as well as a smattering of fun, moderate bouldering. And, just like Lincoln Woods, it is often dry and climbable well before the region’s other areas.

While the heartiest among us come here year round, the season really picks up in early March, when area climbers begin longing for “real rock.” During warm weeknights and weekends, you’ll often find locals sending the most popular routes on C Wall, K Wall, M Wall, and Knight Face. Most parties seem to top-rope a variety of routes during their sessions, moving around the crag from one easy-anchor setup to another. You’ll also encounter some solid trad climbing and even a few sport routes. Whichever style you choose, be forewarned. The grades are old-school, and the layers of graffiti covering the first 10 feet off the ground only make the routes harder.

As long as it’s sunny, the Quarries can deliver a great outing even on the coldest of spring days. The walls of Little Granite Railway Quarry, noted in the Boston Rocks guidebook as A-F walls, form a natural reflector oven, heating the surrounding area as much as 10 degrees above the ambient temperature. If you end up there on one of those days, definitely check out C Wall’s many top-ropeable routes.

Of course, because the Quarries is a multi-use urban park, the climbers tend to head elsewhere once areas to the north and west “open up.” But, this shouldn’t deter you from checking out the early-season scene. Moreover, once you’ve spent a day or two placing your feet on spray-painted nubbins, the friction everywhere else will feel fantastic.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Pawtuckaway State Park, New Hampshire

Pawtuckaway State Park, or P-Way, in southern New Hampshire is best known for its bouldering. But, it’s also home to some fun top-roping and short-but-challenging trad climbing. Because of this, Pawtuckaway has become a popular destination. Generally, it’s the perfect place for getting in early-season pitches and problems while you wait for winter to leave and before the bugs arrive.

Top-ropers will want to visit P-Way’s Lower Slab for its selection of easy-to-set-up moderate climbs and the large open space at the bottom of the cliff. These factors also make this a popular area for large groups.

While the Lower Slab is ideal for rediscovering technique and working noodley winter arms back into shape, the Upper Cliff—located a short walk uphill—offers some stellar crack climbing that can either be top-roped or lead on traditional gear. Before you tape up, don your hand jammies, or go au naturel, however, be aware that what the cracks lack in height, they make up for in difficulty, and the ratings are old school.

Tim-P-Way

No trip to P-Way is complete without trying at least one of the area’s renowned boulder problems. A short walk from the cliffs, the Round Pond area receives a lot of sun, and is home to a diverse group of problems. Thus, it’s an ideal place to visit early in the season. Also a short walk from the cliffs, the Boulder Natural area is home to many of Pawtuckaway’s classic problems.

Don’t forget to visit Pawtuckaway’s Blair Woods bouldering area. Separate from most of P-Way’s other climbing areas, Blair Woods delivers a large amount of easily accessible and moderately rated problems without the crowds. Like everywhere else in Pawtuckaway, bring the bug spray just in case, and be prepared for the park’s skin-eating coarse granite.

What’s your favorite early season crag? Tell us about it in the comments!


New England's Top 3 Manmade Ice Crags

Anybody who’s slipped on black ice knows that it can form in the most unexpected places. When that ice starts to freeze vertically, we, as ice climbers, typically want to climb it. How that desire manifests is sometimes quite ironic, however. In the Northeast, you’re equally likely to find climbers swinging their way up a roadside culvert, an abandoned quarry, or the walls of an old railroad cut as you are an alpine classic, like Shoestring Gully.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Auburn Ice Canyon

When most people think of ice climbing, their minds turn to frozen waterfalls, alpine cliffs, and remote gullies. What they don’t think of is shopping plazas, busy roads, and concrete, much less Worcester, Massachusetts. However, that’s where they’ll discover one of Massachusetts’ most popular ice climbing destinations: Auburn Ice Canyon.

Located at the corner of Worcester, Millbury, and Auburn—just minutes from the Mass Pike and Route 290—Auburn Ice Canyon started as a flood diversion channel for the greater Worcester area. Later, some discovered that the channel’s steep walls and melting snow above consistently icing over created steep ice climbs. Although the entrance can be seen from the busy local road, Route 20, you’ll find the best climbing and longest routes by following the culvert to its end. Here, the rock walls turn to concrete and the channel into a tunnel.

Because Auburn Ice Canyon is a drainage, its floor may consist of varying levels of water. Thus, the best time to visit is after a long-enough cold stretch, which then freezes the canyon’s floor. Popular with beginners and experts alike, Auburn Ice Canyon delivers routes steep enough for strong climbers to get a workout, and top-rope friendly attitude that newbies will appreciate. Leaders, beware: Suspect rock and interesting top-outs may make straightforward-looking climbs spicier than anticipated.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Quincy Quarries

Although most people associate Quincy Quarries with rock climbing and graffiti, you’ll also find solid ice climbing at this close-to-Boston locale. Operating as a quarry from 1825 to 1963, Quincy Quarry earned the nickname “The Birthplace of the Granite Industry,” as places and businesses across the nation used its stone. More prominently, the Bunker Hill Monument features it to some degree.

For the best ice climbing at QQ, start with “A Wall,” the first wall on the left after you make the five-minute approach from the parking lot. Depending on conditions, QQ has as many as five distinct ice flows, each providing 35-foot vertical climbs with multiple variations. The climbing itself is Scottish-like, mixing sometimes quite-thin ice with rock moves and turf sticks. This is especially true at the starts of the routes, with the best ice usually found higher up.

Of course, the ice here can be ephemeral. As a good rule of thumb, hold off on visiting until after a heavy rain or snow followed by two to three nights of colder temperatures. Although the ice usually hangs around once it comes in, it doesn’t survive every thaw. So, before you set up your top-rope, it’s a good idea to scope out A Wall from across the “Cove.” And, if the ice has unexpectedly come down, you’ll find fantastic dry tooling on Layback Corner and M Crack on M Wall (both 5.8) and on Finger Flux (5.11) in the nearby Swingle’s Quarry.

As you work your way around QQ, you’ll easily notice remnants of the historic operation. Climbers regularly use the old “staples” for anchors, and even some “feathers”—shims used to help split the granite—are still in the rock. Particularly, you’ll see one at the base of a route on A Wall. And, if history is your thing, make sure to check out the Granite Railway on the Quarry’s backside. Established in 1826, it was the country’s first railroad and is now a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. Find it by walking down the path between J and K walls.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Keene Railroad Cut

Keene is known as a quiet college town located on the New Hampshire-Vermont border. However, long before Keene State was founded, the city, like many in New Hampshire, was based around manufacturing. In part, the Cheshire Railroad spurred this development, carrying goods to market and outdoor enthusiasts (including Henry David Thoreau) to Mount Monadnock and the surrounding region. Although the railroad hasn’t run since the 1960s, the send train runs all winter on the Keene Railroad Cut’s walls, provided it’s cold enough.

Approaching the climbing is easy, as it’s a short walk from an obvious pullout on Route 12 near the city limits. Even better, the approach is almost always packed down, thanks to the snowmobiles that frequent the Cheshire Rail Trail. This 42-mile long trail begins near the the Massachusetts border in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire and ends in North Walpole, New Hampshire.

You’ll know you’ve made it to the Keene Railroad Cut, or simply the Railroad Cut, when you get there. Here, the walls sharply rise above the old railroad bed, and numerous ice flows line its sides. Most routes stand between 20 and 30 feet tall, and while short in stature, they deliver steep climbing. And, convenience isn’t only found in the location and approach here. As well, sturdy trees, fixed anchors, and straightforward walk-arounds make top-roping a simple affair. Thus, it’s a popular destination for newer climbers and locals looking for a workout.

Pro Tip: Play nice with the snowmobilers, and keep your kit out of the middle of the trail. Their cooperation is key for access.

 

Although these three spots are not natural treasures, their local outdoor communities appreciate them for their easily accessible, close-to-home ice climbing. Have a manmade spot you’d like to share? Leave it in the comments, so we can check it out!


Mountain Biking Boston’s South Shore

Mountain bikers rely on their local trail systems to keep their legs fit, skills sharp, and the need for fat-tire fun satiated. From mid-week training sessions to giving an out-of-towner a tour, the local trail provides a reliable place to ride. As well, a “oneness” with the terrain comes after having logged countless miles on it. So, for those south of Boston looking to join the mountain bike scene or just ride somewhere new, these three destinations offer something for everyone, from first-timers to seasoned riders.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Blue Hills Reservation

Located just outside of Boston, Blue Hills Reservation delivers everything from moderate fire roads and double-track to long climbs and gnarly rock gardens, making it easy to tailor rides to almost anyone’s ability. The trails are user friendly and well marked, and the easy-to-read map makes navigating the 7,000-acre park a piece of cake. Because of this, you’ll find everyone from serious racers in training to casual riders enjoying Blue Hills’ trails.

White and Yellow Trails

The main jumping-off point is the parking lot at Houghton’s Pond (840 Hillside St., Milton). From here, two color-coded trails designated for mountain biking depart: the White Trail and the Yellow Trail. The easier of the two, the six-mile White Trail is a loop marked with white triangles. Running in a counterclockwise direction, the White Trail is mostly comprised of gentle fire roads and easy double-track. The 4.5-mile Yellow Trail loop, on the other hand, is the more advanced of the two. Much like the White Trail, the Yellow Trail mostly follows fire roads and double-track but involves more climbing.

Buck Hill

Just because the White and Yellow Trails offer little in the way of technical challenges doesn’t mean advanced riders won’t find anything. In fact, they offer a great way to log mileage in between sampling some of the reservation’s more challenging terrain.

For more serious riders, the White Trail connects with some of the rocky trails that border Chickatawbut Road between Tucker and Buck Hill, before heading up toward Buck Hill’s summit, one of the reservation’s signature climbs. The near mile-long climb up starts moderately, but the technical challenges grow on the last third, just as your legs begin to tire. A fantastic 360-degree view, including Boston’s skyline and the harbor islands, serves as the reward for your efforts. Then, a fast and fun descent takes you back the way you came.

Those visiting should know that the reservation is closed to mountain biking in March, there is no night riding, and some trails are off-limits to bikes. Also, be aware that most trails are multi-use, which means you’ll be sharing them with hikers and horseback riders. For more information, check out the Blue Hills Mountain Bike Map and Brochure.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Borderland

One of the best-kept secrets for New England mountain biking is North Easton’s Borderland State Park. Why don’t more people talk about it? Simply put, for all of the great riding found there, very little of it suits intermediate riders. But, with ample easy and plenty of challenging terrain, Borderland is the place for scenic, smooth cruising, testing your skills in some of the state’s most difficult rock gardens, and answering the question of “Just how rocky can a mountain bike trail get?” The answer: Very!

Pond Walk Trail

Leaving from the park’s entrance at 259 Massapoag Ave. in Easton, beginner riders will love the mellow double-track found on the Pond Walk Trail. More than merely pleasant riding, the Pond Walk Trail takes you past many of the park’s most notable attractions. You’ll ride by Ames Mansion, built using granite quarried within Borderland; the Wilbur Farmhouse, dating back to 1786; and both Leach Pond and Upper Leach Pond. As a tip, advanced riders can loop Ames Mansion in with the Quarry Trail, which circumnavigates the old quarry.

Bob’s and NEMBA Trails

Advanced riders will want to challenge themselves on many of the park’s rougher and more technical trails. Two have been specifically designed for mountain bikes: Bob’s Trail and the NEMBA Trail. A great place for new-to-Borderland riders to get a feel for what’s to come, Bob’s Trail serves as a popular warm-up for fit locals. Specifically, it packs rock gardens, baby head-laden singletrack, and a bridge, all in less than a mile.

Riders looking for even more of a challenge should head to the NEMBA Trail. Featuring open rock slabs, steep rollovers, and tight twists and turns, the NEMBA Trail is perfect for advanced riders looking to test their technical abilities.

Borderland does have a $10/day use fee ($5 for residents), available from a machine at the main parking area. While Borderland is very mountain-bike friendly, mountain bikes are prohibited along a few trails, including the Pond Edge, Swamp, and Quiet Woods.

Also, the park asks that bikers avoid the trails on wet and muddy days to help keep them usable for years to come. As well, the park can get busy, especially around the main entrance and the mansion, so help keep the trails open for bikers by paying attention to and being respectful of other users. This map will help you get your bearings.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

F. Gilbert Hills State Forest

F. Gilbert Hills State Forest delivers some of the best mountain biking south of Boston. Comprising over 1,000 acres in Foxborough and Wrentham, its 23 miles of trails are well marked and easy to navigate, especially with the maps found at most major junctions. From beginner-friendly double-track to narrow, technical singletrack, Gilbert offers something for everyone. But, be forewarned. Everything here is a bit more challenging due to loose rock and numerous rock gardens.

Moderate Trails

Parking along High Rock Road in Wrentham is the best way to access Gilbert’s mountain biking. Understand, though, that you may want avoid the trails on Patriots game days, when nobody in their right mind should be attempting to recreate anywhere near Foxborough.

Riders looking for moderate terrain from High Rock Rd. should continue on the unpaved road of the same name into the forest. Noticeably different from double-track found elsewhere in the state, many of Gilbert Hills’ easier trails are wide and less technical. But, they’re also a bit loose, so pay attention while ascending and descending the park’s short and steep hills. From High Rock Road, riders can access a significant portion of the park’s more moderate riding, including along Messenger Road and the Megley Trail.

More Technical Trails

The area’s designated mountain biking trail makes for a much more challenging ride. Bikers can join it where it bisects High Rock Road at the halfway point or from the main parking lot at the end of the road. Riders should expect technical terrain throughout, with small sections of flowing singletrack interrupted by regular rock gardens and other advanced features. Although you can go in either direction, riding it counterclockwise means you’ll get the (comparatively) easier terrain first.

In addition, you can access a slew of other trails for both dirt and mountain bikes from the High Rock Road parking lot. Consisting of rough, rocky terrain that tests even the most skilled riders, these trails feature small to large drops, rollovers, and even a little bit of pure rock riding not typically associated with the Northeast. And, the unique geography, with three interconnected drumlins, provides lots of short, steep up-and-down riding.

 

Whether you’re looking for a reliable place to ride south of Boston or just interested in mixing up your regular destination, consider checking out these three locations. Each offers plenty of opportunities to log miles, tackle challenging terrain, and get in a solid training session. So, go out for a ride at one or all, and tell us about it in the comments.

Credit: Tim Peck
[/media-credit] Credit: Tim Peck

9 Tips for Rock Climbing With Kids

Rock climbing is great for children. It gets them outside, it teaches problem solving, communication, and trust, and most importantly, it offers them an outlet to expend their infinite energy reserves. For all these reasons, you should consider taking them with you the next time you head off to climb outdoors.

At the same time, a trip to the local crag becomes a bit more complicated when you add child-climbers into the mix. So, to prepare, here are nine tips to keep cragging with the kiddos fun and safe for everyone.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

1. Choose the Right Crag

Kid-friendly, top-roping crags typically have three things in common. First, there is an easy and short approach with no objective hazards. Second, the staging area at the base of the climb—where you’ll be spending the next couple of hours belaying and hanging out—is flat and safe. Third, the routes should be easy (between 5.0 to 5.5) and less than vertical, and should have smooth landings, in case they have trouble with the first few moves.

If you’re in the Boston area, the most concentrated selection of beginner climbs is on the Main Wall at Chestnut Hill’s Hammond Pond. The best route, an alcove at the far-left end, is a fun, easy climb that everybody can do.

2. Get Them the Right Gear

Kids need two pieces of equipment to climb safely: a harness and a climbing-specific helmet. Climbing shoes are not essential, but their sticky rubber soles do make things easier.

For children younger than 6 or 7, a full-body harness is recommended. These harnesses have a tie-in point at chest-level and are designed to prevent kids from falling out if they flip upside down.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

3. Help Them Through the Hard Moves

Climbing does not come easily for every kid. If your kiddo is struggling at a specific move low on the route, one simple technique that helps build confidence is the “foot-spot.” Just use your hand to stabilize her foot on the hold, so that she can climb through the difficulty to easier terrain.

If her crux is out of your reach, consider having the belayer take a little extra weight as the climber attempts the move. This extra “pull” is often enough to assist a child through the move and allows him or her to finish the climb.

4. What Goes Up Must Come Down

First-time climbers often struggle with transitioning to being lowered after they get to the top of the climb. So, before your kid leaves the ground, rehearse what will happen once she reaches the top. Kids are much more likely to “trust the rope” if you’ve had them climb up about six to seven feet and then do a practice lower. Moreover, it’s much easier to correct their body position for lowering when they are within arm’s reach than when they are swinging nervously at the top!

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

5. Bring Snacks and Toys

Bring a variety of small snacks for the kids after their “sends.” They help keep the energy levels high and usually provide enough distraction for the break between climbs.

If you are planning on climbing with a couple of kids, consider bringing toys and games to keep them busy and engaged throughout the outing. For example, we always bring my younger son’s toy trucks when we go climbing as a family. He’s only three, so his attention span for climbing can be quite short. But, he’s always happy to hang around and fill his dump truck with dirt while the rest of us get in a couple more top-rope laps.

6. Set Clear Expectations

Kids, especially young ones, require a lot of attention when climbing. Set expectations by articulating clear rules, particularly about edge safety. And, when climbing with several kids, having a second adult, who supervises the non-climbing children so the belayer can avoid distractions, keeps the focus solely on the climber’s safety.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

7. Manage Your Own Ambitions

When you head out to climb with your family, try not to get carried away with your own “sending” ambitions. Your project is probably too hard for your kids, and they’ll get bored—and want to go home—if they have to watch you work it for too long. Try instead to get your climbing fix either on the route they’re climbing or on an adjacent one.

8. Not Every Climbing Session Ends Perfectly

Despite your best efforts, sometimes the climbing is too crowded, the route is too hard, or your little climber just isn’t into it. To avoid a total loss, have a backup plan. Scrambling on a nearby easy boulder problem is often a good alternative. A quick hike or nature walk is another option.

9. Consider Taking a Lesson

Climbing is dangerous. If you are interested in climbing with your family, but don’t feel confident doing it yourself, sign up for a lesson with the Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing School.

Can you think of any other tips for rock climbing with kids? Share them here in the comments section!


Top 3 Boston Area Hikes for Mother's Day

Looking for a family-friendly hike in the Greater Boston area, but don’t know where to start? Well, for a Mother’s Day activity, here are three of our favorites, all close to the city. So, get the family together, hit the trail, and enjoy some of the best scenery and recreation Greater Boston has to offer. And, to top it off, we even suggest a way to treat Mom on the way home!

Credit: Douglas Martland
Credit: Douglas Martland

1. World’s End

World’s End is a 250-acre Trustees of Reservations property in Hingham, Mass., comprised of four drumlins created by a retreating glacier. Over four miles of carriage roads originally designed by Frederick Law Olmsted link these together. The hiking is moderate and offers incredible views of the Boston skyline, Hingham and Boston Harbors, and the surrounding South Shore communities.

Credit: Douglas Martland
Credit: Douglas Martland

Hiking the Park

Navigating around the park is easy, especially if you print a copy of the trail map ahead of time. While you’re there, prioritize hiking the mile over Planter’s Hill, across the “Bar” (an isthmus connecting the property to the outermost drumlins), and then up onto World’s End proper. That route traverses the property’s open fields, regularly looks out over the skyline and harbor, and has numerous benches for picnicking or sitting and enjoying the scenery. It will also take you by A New End, a kid-friendly spiral mirror-sculpture that is part of the Trustees’ “Art and the Landscape” initiative.

When you travel at a leisurely pace, this out-and-back loop takes between 1.5 to two hours, and can be adjusted to suit your schedule and interests.

If you are thinking of visiting World’s End on Mother’s Day, note that the Trustees do charge a $6 fee for non-member adults. As well, make sure to go early, as the parking lot fills up quickly, especially on bluebird days.

If you don’t end up bringing a picnic, Hingham Center is just a few miles away. Stars, located on Hingham Harbor, is a great place to take Mom for lunch on the way home.

Credit: Douglas Martland
Credit: Douglas Martland

2. Great Blue Hill

If you are seeking something a little more strenuous, consider climbing Great Blue Hill in the Blue Hills Reservation. Standing 635 feet tall, Great Blue Hill is the tallest point within 10 miles of the Atlantic Coast, south of Maine. From Eliot Tower on the summit, you can see a panoramic view of the Blue Hills Reservation, Boston Harbor, and the city’s skyline.

Hiking Up

The most straightforward way up Big Blue is the Red Dot Trail, which starts from the Trailside Museum parking lot, just off Route 138 on the Milton-Canton town border. Signs and red circular blazes clearly mark the trail, which climbs over rocks and slabs as it meanders first up to the Summit Road and then to Eliot Tower. The ascent is family friendly, is less than a mile in length, and takes between 25 and 40 minutes at a casual pace.

The courtyard at Eliot Tower has several picnic tables—the perfect place for lunch or a snack before you continue. Next, hike the Eliot Circle Loop, a short, flat trail that circles Big Blue’s summit. It takes hikers across the Eliot Memorial Bridge, past the Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory, and then back to Eliot Tower. If you have time, consider taking a tour of the observatory, the oldest continuously operating one in the country.

Credit: Douglas Martland
Credit: Douglas Martland

Descending Big Blue

You have several options for getting off Big Blue. The easiest is heading back down the Red Dot Trail—the same way you came up. For a slightly longer route, however, continue on the other half of the Red Dot Trail as it heads north, before it eventually loops back to the Trailside Museum. Both of these descent routes are well-marked and also clearly shown on the Blue Hills Reservation trail map.

Because Big Blue is a popular weekend destination, try to time your hike before the mid-morning rush or after the afternoon crowds have dwindled. If you have kids, combine it with a trip to the Trailside Museum, an interpretative center with free outdoor wildlife exhibits. In the warmer months, their river otter exhibit is the main attraction! And, if all the hiking has built up your appetite, stop by Amber Road Café in Canton Center for breakfast or lunch on the way home.

Credit: Douglas Martland
Credit: Douglas Martland

3. Borderland State Park

Another option worth checking out, Borderland State Park, located along the borders of Sharon and Easton, has over 20 miles of hiking. The trails offer something for everybody, ranging in difficulty from moderate strolls on old farm roads to more strenuous and rocky single-track hiking paths.

What to Do

A must-see in Borderland is the Ames Mansion, a three-story stone home built in the early 1900s. A great way to visit the park and the mansion is to hike Borderland’s Pond Walk Trail. When done clockwise from Borderland’s two main parking lots, the trail makes a three-mile loop on dirt carriage roads around Leach Pond and finishes close to the mansion.

For those looking to increase the mileage, consider adding one of the several loops off Pond Walk Trail on the northwest side of Leach Pond or one of the other options described on the Borderland trail map.

If you are looking to treat Mom to dessert after your hike, stop by Crescent Ridge Dairy Bar in Sharon. Although the lines are sometimes long, the ice cream is worth the wait.

Credit: Douglas Martland
Credit: Douglas Martland

A Guide to Running Boston's Blue Hills Skyline Trail

Located just outside of Boston, the Blue Hills Skyline Trail takes runners on a nine-mile traverse across the heart of the Blue Hills Reservation and offers metropolitan New Englanders a classic trail run. With approximately 2,000 feet of elevation gain and some of the region’s most technical up-and-down terrain, it’s a great test-piece that’s well worth checking out.

If you are running the full traverse for the first time, it’s best to begin from the parking lot at Shea Rink in Quincy. From that trailhead, it’s easy to follow the Skyline’s rectangular blue-blazes, especially if you print a copy of the map ahead of time. Road crossings segment the Skyline into the six distinct sections, letting you break it up into bite-sized chunks:

Credit: John Dill
Credit: John Dill

The Opening Salvo

The first section—between Shea Rink and Wampatuck Road—is so short that I consider it my warm up. Through its flat single and double track, you’ll have breezed by St. Moritz Pond after just a few minutes and be preparing to cross Wampatuck Road.

The second section begins as the Skyline makes a sharp, well-marked southwest turn just after the road crossing. From there, the trail climbs gradually on rocky but runnable terrain, going past an old quarry and then to the summit of Rattlesnake Hill. After, the trail then quickly descends over some technical terrain, which usually has me regretting bypassing the easier way down on the runner’s right, before ascending up and over Wampatuck Hill to Chickatawbut Road.

Credit: John Dill
Credit: John Dill

The Crux

To Chickatawbut Hill

The next three sections put the meat on the Skyline’s bones. The first, easy to underestimate, traverses Nahanton, Kitchamkin, Fenno, and Chickatawbut Hills. Up to Chickatawbut Hill, a current Mass Audubon facility and former Nike missile base, the trail flows well and is runnable. Be mentally prepared, however, for the section’s up-and-down nature. Here, you’ll almost immediately be giving back (and then re-earning) all that hard-won elevation.

After Chickatawbut Hill, the Skyline has a lengthy descent to the Route 28 road crossing. A short portion goes down a rocky outcropping and requires careful route-finding, until you can escape to easier terrain in the woods on the runner’s right.

Credit: Bill Iliot
Credit: Bill Iliot

Fourth Section

Once you’ve made it across Route 28, the fourth section begins with one of the traverse’s steepest climbs. But, the ascent is well worth it, and I often find myself pausing momentarily on Buck Hill’s open summit to appreciate the fantastic 360-degree view.

Before you get too far, make sure to look back northeast at Boston Harbor and the city skyline. Then, run off Buck Hill, across North Boyce Hill, and up steep Tucker Hill, the final climb, before heading downhill to Hillside Street and Reservation Headquarters.

As the Skyline’s only facility beyond the halfway point, Reservation Headquarters has a seasonal outdoor water fountain and, during business hours, an indoor public bathroom.

Credit: John Dill
Credit: John Dill

North and South Skyline

From Headquarters, the Skyline temporarily splits into the North Skyline and the South Skyline, eventually rejoining near the summit of Great Blue Hill. Standing 635 feet tall, Great Blue Hill is the tallest point within 10 miles of the Atlantic Coast, south of Maine.

Of the two options, the North Skyline, with its traverse of Hancock, Hemingway, and Wolcott Hills, is a more aesthetically pleasing east-to-west route. It is also the more technical of the two, with a few short but steeper-than-you’d-expect-for-Greater-Boston descents.

Taking the North Skyline also allows you to run by the two most well-known attractions on Big Blue, the Eliot Tower and the Eliot Memorial Bridge, before the trail meets up with the South Skyline near the Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory. Both are named after Charles Eliot, the landscape architect who helped design many of Greater Boston’s parks. The Skyline then loops around the Observatory, the oldest continuously operating one in the country, before making a comparatively lengthy descent to the Route 28 road crossing.

The Final Sprint

Assuming you have some energy left, the Skyline’s final section is a good place to push it and try to surpass a personal record. In no time, you’ll dispatch Little Blue Hill, the section’s only climb, cross a side street, and be nearing the trail’s western-terminus. And, then, it’s over, ending anticlimactically at an unmarked finish line near an Interstate 95 on-ramp.

Credit: John Dill
Credit: John Dill

Skyline Loop

If you don’t have time for the full traverse or only have one car, the Skyline Loop (3.5 miles, with 800 feet of elevation gain) is a great alternative. It starts on the North Skyline at the Reservation Headquarters on Hillside Street, traverses west across Hancock, Hemingway, and Wolcott Hills as described above, and then meets with the South Skyline on Great Blue Hill.

The South Skyline brings you back east, eventually climbing Houghton Hill before dropping down to Hillside Street and then requiring a short jog back to Reservation Headquarters. And, with the multiplicity of trails leaving from this location, it’s easy to tack on extra mileage at the end if you are still feeling fresh.