Hiking With Kids: The Rockery Loop Trail in Ipswich, MA

Mass Audubon sanctuaries are some my family’s favorite places to get outdoors. Of the several dozen parks spread throughout Massachusetts, the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary in Topsfield is our most treasured spot. It’s a special place, and one we visit regularly. Recently, my wife and I brought our boys there to explore one of their beloved outdoorsing spots: The Rockery Loop Trail. It was awesome.

Tucked inside Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary’s 2,000+ acres of diverse conservation land is a lollipop-shaped walking route that crosses meadows, wetlands, stands of birch and maple, and even a bustling pond. Making it perfect for hiking with kids, the trail showcases a fantastic “rock grotto,” that offers up some super kid-sized climbing and exploring.

Hiking with kids is great because they have a tendency to point out things you might otherwise miss–like how these tree branches grow between each other like a fishing net.
Hiking with kids is great because they have a tendency to point out things you might otherwise miss like how these tree branches grow between each other like a fishing net.

We started our trip at the park’s visitor’s center and made our way across an open meadow that was packed with stunningly bright Goldenrod. Still-green milkweed pods lined the mowed trail as dragonflies appeared and disappeared faster than we could point them out to our boys. It was absolutely beautiful and perfectly late-summer.

Nesting Season

From the meadow, we walked through a small stretch of hardwoods and under bright, golden green leaves – the kind that only a late summer’s afternoon sun can dish up. The kids ran happily (and loudly) down the stepped trail and out onto the boardwalk across the wetlands. I love boardwalk trails and this sanctuary has tons.

Pathway Water
Hiking with kids pretty much guarantees fun now…and peace and quiet later!

We stopped along the way to check out painted turtles, super friendly chickadees, and some of the hugest lily pads we had ever seen. There’s something about boardwalks that make walking fun for kids while drawing their attention to some of the smaller stuff they’d otherwise miss. Cattails and Purple Loosestrife were topics of discussion as we neared the loop and the rock grotto: an old arboretum filled with huge, scattered and stacked boulders, and exotic trees.

Rocky Trail

Along the shore of a large pond at the end of the trail, is one of the grandest spots I know of for kids to try their hands at scrambling up boulders and squeezing through small caves; that’s exactly what we did. Running through tunnels, up over boulders and down steep faces, we played the way young boys most enjoy. “Look at this!” and, “Wow! Check this out!” was likely heard a mile away as we climbed up and down every route we could find.


The climbing rocks and cave are perfect mid-loop attractions for hiking with kids while keeping their interest peaked. As we hadn’t visited that trail in nearly eight months, I was shocked to realize how much the boys have grown; they didn’t need my help climbing some of the taller rocks this time.


Leaving the rocks, (after some expert persuasion) we continued on the trail as it circled the pond, offering views of the grotto, sunlit patches of lilies filled with slowly bobbing turtles, and a wonderful stretch of boardwalk that overlooked the pond on one side and a beautiful sea of grasses and cattails on the other. The sun was warm and bright and reminded us that fall is indeed still a month away.

Rock Wall

As we passed the pond and back along the boardwalk toward the meadow near the trailhead, my wife and I were pleased to see the short trip was a success once again. We finished the trip with a snack at the onsite playground where the boys built ladders, made sculptures, and generally played in the inspiring natural-wood area before heading out. The kids had a blast, getting outside to explore and climb a perfectly kid-sized trail through a beautiful park along the Ipswich River. I recommend this trip to any family looking for something different to do this summer or fall. If you live within an hour of the park, the sun sets late enough well into October to make this an excellent after school destination for hiking with kids, bird watching or just enjoying the fresh air.

*To learn more about Mass Audubon, the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary or the Rockery Trail, visit their website here.