3 Towns, 1 Run: Trail Running in Lynn Woods Reservation

June 4, 2019
lynn woods reservation
Bryan SchnittjerSummer trail running at Lynn Woods Reservation offers routes of varying difficulty, great water views, and the occasional coyote sighting.

While my fellow dads and I had been frequenting the Middlesex Fells for our early Sunday trail runs, we recently rediscovered a trail network further to the northeast, but equidistant from our homes in Boston: Lynn Woods Reservation. Operated by the City of Lynn, the 2,200-acre reservation is said to be the second largest municipal park in the United States, with 30 miles of recreational trails around multiple lakes and spanning three towns. Best of all, the reservation is easily accessible from Route 1 north.

From Route 1, a friend and I take Route 1 north to Walnut Road and park at the Pennybrook Road entrance one recent Sunday. After a brief stretch and a last swig of water, we take the first right off unpaved Pennybrook Road trail—Jackson Path—staying right when it converges with the wider Waycross Road and again at Cornel Path. The weather is perfect: just the slightest chill in the morning air. Our feet feel fast and light on the single-track terrain, which alternates between spongy, rocky, and rooty. Heading north, we hug Breed’s Pond on our right until we reach Great Woods Road. (for a quick climb up the 285-foot Burrill Hill to Stone Tower, where you can see all the way to Boston, take the first left after you see the golf course on your right) A right on Great Woods Road and a quick left on Old Pasture Road brings us around the southern-most tip of Walden Pond—no relation—which is the main course of this delicious trail run. At the first red blaze, we bear left onto Overlook Trail, which traverses the northeast side of Walden Pond. This takes us over boardwalks through Meetinghouse Swamp and past selfie-worthy Overlook Crag and impressively large boulders, all over a semi-technical footpath. Compared to the the marshy, hilly lower and middle section of the reservation, this top section is much more rugged and rocky.

A jarring feature of this route is that if you follow Overlook Trail north to its terminus, you’ve emerged from the forest and run directly into busy Route 1. With the highway on our right, we follow it a short ways until we reach the southward trail (a lefthand turn) that hugs Walden Pond’s western shore for a mile or so. As we emerge from the woods onto a narrow retaining wall section of this trail, I spot something I’ve never seen before in the wild: a lone coyote, no more than 50 yards ahead of us. As the coyote crosses the rocky trail, it peeks back at us before scampering down the hill toward some backyards below the reservoir. Following the trail from the narrow clearing back into the woods, we can’t stop talking about what we’ve just seen. It’s difficult to imagine that such wildlife is accessible just 15 minutes outside of Boston.

The smaller trail eventually runs into the wider, paved Walden Pond Rd., which runs into Pennybrook Road—and back to the car.

In total, the route we’ve chosen has taken us through three towns—Lynn, Lynnfield, and Saugus—totaling just shy of 8 miles. Our 10:09 per mile average pace is reflective of the roughly 750 feet of elevation gain throughout the reservation. As we scampered up boulder-filled hills and along the spines of granite hilltops, we commented that this training will serve us well when we attempt the Presidential Traverse later this summer, the 20-mile White Mountain slog famous for its relentless, above-tree line boulder fields.

It’s anyone’s guess why the crowds at Lynn Woods are usually sparse, given the volume of waterfront running, the great views from the north side of Walden Pond, the overall quiet of the reservation (except when you’re next to the highway)—and the wildlife.

As for other sites not to miss when in the Lynn Woods, there’s the Rose Garden, which is beautiful when in bloom, and Dungeon Rock, which is where ghosts compelled a local family to dig for buried pirate treasure in the mid-19th century. For real.


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Steve Holt

Steve Holt is the associate editor of AMC Outdoors.