If you disregard the long drive and lack of phone service, Western Mass can be full of great places for a hike. Last month, my parents and I took Cooper for a walk Royalston, MA by the Doane’s Falls and around Tully Lake.
The trail long Doane’s Falls was a very half-mile trail that dumps you off onto the road. If you take a left and continue down the street for another quarter-mile you get to a Tully Lake Campground beginning the trail around Tully Lake.
Very Dog Friendly: Because the trail is not too strenuous, it can be very easy to bring around your pet. Also, because the trail surrounds a lake, there is plenty of spots for your pet to cool off and get a drink in the lake.
Various Activities: The area offers lots of things to do. In some parts, there were disk golf courses and places to put in boats- making it not exclusive to hiking. There were also volleyball nets, grills and public bathrooms-all the necessities for a perfect picnic.
Family-Friendly: The hike was relatively flat the whole way except for one big hill before returning to Doane’s Falls. The trail was also very well kept and well marked, making it hard to get lost.
Overall, it’s a great place to try somewhere new outside of the Groton-Dunstable area.
What’s better than going for a hike? Only bringing your favorite furry friend along with you! My sister, Mary, and I brought Cooper up Mount Watatic in Ashburnham, MA and I made note of some aspects of hiking with a dog that I think are important to keep in mind:
#1 Food and Water: Regardless of the dog or the hike, it’s important to pack lots of water, food and a bowl for them to eat/drink out of. They’re burning lots of calories (especially under a fur coat) and because they can’t tell you verbally when they’re thirsty, you have to frequently offer them water.
#2 Pay attention: Aside from watching where your footing is and checking if you will stumble on roots, it’s important to make sure your dog won’t be cutting its paw on a sharp rock, and make sure that they are comfortable with the hike and its intensity. Don’t be afraid to slow your pace down or turn around if it’s too much for them!
#3 Stay in Control: For the eager-hiking-dog owners, I suggest bringing a rope leash and not a retractable leash. As much as I love to let Cooper explore, it’s no fun having to go 25 feet into the forest off trails because he chased a chipmunk and got tangled. Also, be sure to pace them (especially on the downhills), any dog can get overwhelmed with the momentum and suddenly you’re running down the mountain using all your strength to hold back your dog.
#4 Be Respectful: This means being mindful to other hikers on the trails as well as the ecosystem around you. Clean up your dogs poop, and dispose it in a trash bin (don’t just leave the bag on the side of the trails). That also includes not letting them off leash unless the trail indicates that it is permitted.
If you do decide to try hiking with your dog, Watatic is a great mountain that is simple enough for medium- big size dogs. Also if you decide to stop at Cherry Hill Ice Cream Too to treat yourself after a hike, they offer a “puppy-cup” so your hiking partner can enjoy some ice cream too!
If you’re looking for a simple hike on a beautiful day, I will always suggest Mount Watatic. It is one of the closest mountains to Groton. It offers two routes to the summit; at the first fork you could either go straight which ends up being the longer flatter hike, or the Wapack trail which is a quick steep route. Preferably, I like to take the longer route up the mountain and the short route down.
Regardless of what route you take, once you get to the first peak, it is important to go the extra distance traveling just a little bit more East moving to the second peak. The views of North, Eastern and Southern Massachusetts are insane (and on a clear day you might even be lucky enough to see Boston).
The trail is very dog friendly, which was very lucky for me as my friend Danielle and I stopped to say hello to every furry friend that we passed. We often didn’t mind the company, but if you are looking for a secluded trail, this is not the path for you. Because Watatic is one of the simpler hikes and is very well taken care of, it is a very populated hike. This also means that on a good day, parking will be hard to come by, most end up parking on 119.
As my final adventure of the semester I decided to go white water rafting with my friend Emma. Zoar Outdoor organizes trips mainly out of Western Massachusetts but in weekend of April and May they offer rafting trips down the Concord River in Lowell, MA. It’s a scenic river with 3 big rapids and the trip includes going down the River twice totaling 6 rapids.
What I hadn’t remembered from my family white water rafting trip in 2004, was that white water rafting is not continuous hard work. You only really need to paddle through the rapids and the guides do the rest of the work making it really beginner friendly. The current always takes you in the direction you’re headed. Except when surfing. Surfing is turning the raft around after going over a rapid and riding the rapid against the current. The raft floats on top of the waves and then dips down covering everyone in the raft in water (it’s a lot of fun). Luckily, my group was small enough that we got the opportunity to do this a couple times!
The day we went was a beautiful day and was luckily not too cold! They do provide wet suits and spray jackets but it is also important to wear clothes that can get wet. Also, if I were to go again, I would pack a warm change of clothes to change into after to get out of the cold wet clothes.
The company overall is very reliable. Originally, I had accidentally reserve spots on 2 separate days instead of 2 guests on the same day and when I called up, the person I spoke to was very friendly and did not charge me any fees to rearrange the mistake I had made. Also, they offered a helmet that already had a GoPro mount on it, making my life a whole lot easier.
Overall, I loved white water rafting. It was exciting but still simple enough to understand the first time. Although it was $100, it was well worth it because I had a lot of fun doing it.
On Thursday, my friends Bridget and Aidan and I decided to visit a local trail in Ashby, MA. At first, we only planned to check out the Trap Falls, but our day ended in a small hike down the road at the Willard Brook State Forest.
Trap Falls is a small stop just after the Townsend-Ashby border on Route 119. It is a really small campground with a waterfall running through the middle of it. It is really peaceful but also very simple. It didn’t take us as much time as we planned so we decided that we might as well utilize the trails around us for the rest of the time.
The Willard Brook State Forest is pretty confusing because there are lots of places along Route 119 to park and hike. It’s also difficult to understand which trail is which and what ones are actually part of the Park. We parked across the street from the Visitor Center and headed up a hill into the woods. Whatever path we had taken was marked partially, and the markings were confusing. Also, the trail had looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in a while (lots of overgrown branches in the way).
It was further from the water than I had expected but if you took a trail off to the side called “Brook Trail” it would bring you closer to the river. We continued up the main path until we reached a fork in the road. It lead us further up the trail (and further from the river) to what was called the “Friends Loop”. We attempted the path for about a half mile until we figured that it would be much longer until we came full circle (and it was getting dark). We turned around headed back to the car, making the hike total about an hour.
Both Trap Falls and the walking trails were very dog friendly and they seemed very family friendly too, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to go again. I would’ve liked for it to be marked clearer and have the brush cleared a bit more for easier walking.
New England took a timeout from the cold-frigid weather and blessed us with some warm summer-like days so naturally I took advantage of that and tested out mountain biking. Except, I am no where near being experienced enough to bike down a mountain, so I settled for biking on trails. I’m glad I did because even that was difficult, so I can’t even imagine doing that on a slope.
My best friend, Bridget and I biked along the Nashua River Rail Trail for a bit, but then took a path that led into the woods. That’s where it became more difficult. Every root and rock knocked me unbalanced, and bumped me up and down (which hurt my back after a while!) And the overgrown bushes and branches scraping my legs as well as the various ticks and bugs that came along for the ride, made me wish that I’d worn longer pants.
Other than the pain it comes with, mountain biking is still a really great outdoor exercise. It doesn’t take much to set up (all you really need is a bike) and it can take as long or as short as you want- for Bridget and I, it took us about 30 minutes (excluding when we stopped for a break to look into the river).
(Feel It Still by Portugal. The Man)
I think that it can be more exciting than hiking because the bumps and turns making it feel like a roller coaster. It can be even more fun if you have a beautiful scenery to admire. And even though it was a lot more work than we had anticipated, it was well worth the effort.
In the middle of a wildlife sanctuary in Groton, hang six chimes, with their strings waiting to be rung. The conservation is tucked in the corner of Groton and Ayer, and the hike is relatively easy. There are a couple hills but none too big or steep making it easy for anyone with knee or back problems. Because of it’s wildlife, it is not encouraged to bring dogs, but I did see one on the trail- I’m sure if you keep an extra eye on it and clean up after it, it should be alright. The trail was more trafficked than I had expected because it was my first time being in this area and had no idea what to expect of it. However, it wasn’t too busy because of the variety of trails available there making it very peaceful to venture through.
By the time I made it to the bells, no one was around and I felt like a child running from chime to chime hearing them ring. They sound as you pull a string and its ring complimented the whistling wind at the time. I had never seen or heard of these before, making them that much more enchanting.
The chimes were put up in 1995 by an artist by the name of Paul Matisse. For more information on the bells or the artist go to www.paulmatisse.com.
Directions to Forest Bells:
Drive to the end of Indian Hill Road in Groton and park on the side of the road where it’s indicated by the Groton Conservation Trust sign
Continue walking to the end of the road toward the yellow house
Right before the house you will see a dirt path on the left, continue down this path
After crossing under some telephone lines, and seeing a body of water to your right, a bunch of rocks will be in front of you and there will be a very distinct fork. Take a left here and continue until the next fork.
At the next fork, you will take a right up the hill
Continuing down this path you will see the Hemlock forest ahead of you, you can tell by its darkness. As you continue into the forest, look up and you will see the bells hanging from trees.
If you pass the tee pee, wig wam or whatever you call a house made out of sticks, you’ve gone too far.
It only took me 30 minutes total, making them a simple exploration with a really unique experience. The forest bells were really magical and I can’t wait to go again!