This is the final post in a series on great fall hikes with children around the Northeast. In most years, the change in the season arrives last along New England’s southern coastline, so with this post I am paying special attention to walks with a salt-water view, although I also include some inland highlights. The hikes described here also take advantage of another important sign of fall, the migrations of birds and butterflies, as well as other wildlife.
Remember that as the season progresses, even sunny days may feel cool, especially early and late when the sun is low in the sky. The temperature drops quickly in the shade, and ocean breezes have an extra bite to them. It’s a good idea to pack extra layers and windbreakers, especially for the coastal hikes mentioned here. Children being carried in backpacks or front-packs may need additional clothes, even hats and mittens, at this time of year.
Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, Plum Island, Newburyport. Close to 300 species of migratory and local birds have been spotted at the Plum Island refuge, making it one of the Northeast’s premier birding spots. The 3.0-mile trail to Sandy Point travels through scrub oak and freshwater marsh to reach a panoramic view of the dunes and the Atlantic Ocean. In September, look for monarch butterflies here: Many migrate through the refuge. For the chance to observe migrating birds from behind an observation blind, stay on the delightfully named Hellcat Swamp Nature Trail, a boardwalk trail. From the blind at the end of this 2.0-mile trail or from the observation tower next to the parking lot, look for green-winged teal and great blue herons, migrating rough-legged hawks and falcons. Later in the year, you may even catch a glimpse of a snowy owl.
Halibut Point State Park, Rockport. The Cape Ann coastline is more reminiscent of Maine than Massachusetts. A trip to the rocky headland of Halibut Point can feel just like a visit to the Maine coast. An easy 1.5-mile roundtrip walk brings you to a high overlook. Bring binoculars to scan the shoreline for seals or the water for lobster boats. On a clear fall day, you may be able to see all the way to Mount Agamenticus in Maine. Lower down (but not on the Grout Pile), children will find great exploring opportunities. Halibut Point is also a great place to find overwintering loons. The distinctive black-and-white bird of New England’s northern lakes loses its patterned plumage after breeding season and doesn’t make its haunting call. But you may be able to watch small flocks diving for fish, getting ready for another summer season.
Great Island, Cape Cod National Seashore, Wellfleet. A 4.0-mile roundtrip walk along a knob of glacial debris connected to the mainland by a narrow hill of sand is a living testament to the phrase, “the changing sands of time.” When European sailors first explored Cape Cod, Great Island was, in fact, an island, and stayed so into the mid-1800s. Now, tidal marshes have filled in, giving hikers an additional opportunity to visit a bit of Colonial history: the old Smith Tavern site, where mariners came ashore to eat, drink, and be merry. Exploring this tidal flat with children in the fall can be an extended nature walk: Look for oyster shells and both water and migratory birds; also keep a “weather eye” (as sailors would say) out for seals, which sometimes visit these areas. If you walk all the way out to Jeremy Point, at the end of Great Island, look southwest for Billingsgate Island at low tide. It’s the “disappearing island” memorialized in the children’s book of the same name.
We now leave the seacoast for several inland hikes and rambles.
Mt. Pisgah, Northborough. An easy 2.0-mile hike gives you the feel of northern New England, especially on a cool fall day. The trail follows old stone walls — perfect places to look for chipmunks and squirrels scampering about in their preparations for winter — and through new red maple, oaks, and pines in autumnal glory. The summit of Mt. Pisgah (715 feet) does not give the best views; for expansive views, follow a spur trail to an exposed rock ridge. Trails are maintained by the town of Northborough.
Lincoln Conservation Land (Sandy Pond)and Audubon’s Drumlin Farm, Lincoln. Combine a walk through diverse habitats along a freshwater pond with a visit to a farm with wildlife exhibits. The walk around Sandy Pond follows in the footsteps of Thoreau. It’s also a good place to look for migrating wood ducks and hawks. Nearby Drumlin Farm has trails, as well as farm animals, hay rides, wildlife exhibits, and regular events, including an evening Halloween-themed walk and ride on October 29.
Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary, Natick. There are 9 miles of trails in this popular hiking spot. A 0.25-mile accessible trail and boardwalk along the bank of Indian Brook and over the marsh offers opportunities to look for wood ducks, kingfishers, great blue herons, kestrels, and other migrating birds. Beavers have recently returned to Indian Brook, which flows into the Charles River at the sanctuary. If you’re lucky, you’ll see one from the 110-foot-long bridge as it prepares for the cold weather to come.
You can find detailed descriptions of these hikes in AMC’s Best Day Hikes Near Boston by Michael Tougias.
Previous posts in this series:
• Peak Bagging of a Different Kind
• 8 Classic Fall Hikes and Rambles with Kids in the White Mountains
• 5 Great Fall Hikes and Rambles with Kids in the Berkshires
• 4 Nature-filled Fall Hikes and Rambles with Kids in Connecticut
• 6 Fall Hikes and Rambles with Kids in the Hudson Valley and Catskills
“Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.