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.

Cutout

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.

Bridge2

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.

 


Hiking Mount Equinox

I admit, I don’t get to Vermont nearly enough. So, when it came time for the family to choose a location to spend Thanksgiving I lobbied hard for a place somewhere in Vermont. The Green Mountains have been calling my name and I needed to listen. My intentions were purely selfish, I wanted to do one of the 4000footers. As luck would have it the family picked a house in West Dover, near Mount Snow. This means I wasn’t going to be near any of the 4kers. I had already spent time running up and down Mount Snow at two Tough Mudders (Conquering the Tough Mudder and Teamwork and Tough Mudder) so I wanted somewhere else to go. After soliciting advice from friends on Facebook it became clear that Mount Equinox would be a great alternative.

Blue Summit Trail

While scouring the internet for any information I could get on Mount Equinox I came across the website for the Equinox Preservation Trust. They had a great interactive trail map on their website along with some history about the Preserve. Another important piece of information I came across was that hunting was allowed over 1,300feet. Being that it was still rifle hunting season I knew I needed to wear my bright colors just to be on the safe side. My trusty orange Buff would be coming with me. I also found out in my searching that there is a road that leads up the mountain for visitors to go up during the warmer months. Hey, if there is a road to the top there must be some great views.

Trail signs

My 3 hour drive from Connecticut to the parking lot on West Union Street in Manchester, VT was uneventful. My plan was to take the Blue Summit Trail up and back. Given more time I would have extended my hike to include a loop around Equinox Pond before heading up to the summit. At the parking lot there is a nice little information kiosk. Here they have trail maps for you to take. Even though I was planning a direct up and back route I decided to take a map to use as a reference. I also liked that the map had the ecology of the mountain and pictures of some plants that you may come across on your hike.

The first thing that came to mind when I started up the trail was that it seemed perfect for cross country skiing. Well, not at that moment, because there wasn’t any snow at the lower levels, but later on when there was snow. The trail is nice and wide and in my mind I could easily picture it covered in snow with skiers gliding along. Then my mind wandered to snowshoeing. Clearly it was stuck in the nonexistent snow hoping that when I got higher I would see some of that lovely white stuff. Sure enough once the trail became more single track hiking, more snow started to appear. There were some slippery, icy spots but nothing that couldn’t be handled barebooting. I knew I was getting closer to the summit when I started to be surrounded by more and more spruce and fir trees. I picked up my pace in anticipation of the views that were waiting. The day was turning out to be clearer than expected and I couldn’t wait to look back down into Manchester.

Higher up on the Blue Summit Trail

I blew past the spur trail to Lookout Rock and went straight to the viewing center at the apex of the skyline drive. Being that the road is closed for the season so was the viewing center. Outside though they have on their deck views to the north and south. Located on the lower level are pictures of the views with labels so that you can tell what you are looking at in the distance. As someone who hasn’t spent a lot of time in Vermont this was nice to get a baring of where I was in relationship to other locations. I ate my lunch at the south facing viewing area while chatting with a couple and their Dalmatian. The Dalmatian really wanted to get my Pop Tarts so I had to scarf those down. The wind started to pick up and I was cooling down so I decided to head off to Lookout Rock.

Looking north from the summit building

For some reason I thought that Lookout Rock was going to be a nice big clearing. This was defiantly an incorrect assumption. Lucky for me I was hiking in the middle of the week and had the bench at the small clearing to myself. Although the size of the clearing was not big, the view looking down into Manchester was. The thing that stuck out the most was the white steeple of a church on the valley floor. This, paired with mountains in the background, was spectacular.

Looking down into Manchester from Lookout Rock

I decided to run back down the mountain. I figured this would give me more time to stop at the Eastern Mountain Sports in Manchester Center before meeting up with my family. Higher up I was able to do some boot sliding on the snow, which I love. Lower down though I was slowed by all the leaves on the trail. The leaves were hiding rocks so I had to be more careful. I descended around 2,800feet in just under an hour. My legs wouldn’t let me forget this the following two days, as my quads felt like I had done a squat workout. Maybe I should admit that I was carrying 10lbs of bricks in my bag as training so the pain was totally self induced.

Even though Mount Equinox isn’t a 4ker I am very pleased by the suggestions my friends gave me to hike her instead. She is 3840feet which isn’t too shabby. Looking forward I would love to spend more time hiking and/or snowshoeing in Vermont. If you have suggestions of trails for me to visit please comment below.