This year, think big: When it comes to outdoor-inspired New Year’s resolutions, there are countless possibilities. Here are a few worthy quests and—should you choose to tackle them—top spots across the Northeast where you might begin your journey.
It’s difficult to think back to a good hike or a beautiful view and remember all of the details like you’re still there. To help, we suggest keeping a nature journal, where you can record your favorite sights and sounds from a hike. For a first outing, try one of these three trails. Need help getting over writer’s block? Follow our nature journal prompt.
1. Pulaski State Park | Chepachet, R.I.
Located on the border of Connecticut and Rhode Island, Pulaski State Park feels as if you’re miles from any city or town. With approximately 100 acres of woods, trails, picnic areas, and ponds, it’s easy for visitors to find peace and serenity as they stroll through the forest. Take a leisurely walk around Peck Pond; find a seat on one of the small rock outcroppings near the water; and record everything you see and hear.
DISTANCE: 2-MILE LOOP
2. Talcott Mountain State Park | Simsbury, Conn.
When searching for natural inspiration, it’s hard to beat a summit with an 80-mile view. The Tower Trail peaks at Heublein Tower, a Bavarian-inspired building designed to withstand 100 mph winds. From its top, enjoy the 360-degree view while trying to spot the Farmington River, Mount Monadnock, the Berkshires, and even Long Island Sound. The state park is home to wildlife including foxes, bald eagles, turkey vultures, staghorn sumacs, sugar maples, and more.
DISTANCE: 3.8-MILE LOOP
3. Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge | Concord, Mass.
Great Meadows provides a symphony for the senses and plenty of material for your journal. An assortment of flora and fauna populates the sanctuary, including more than 220 species of birds, turtles, river otters, beavers, foxes, deer, screech owls, and wild turkeys. The refuge’s Edge and Dike Trail leads between two ponds, upper and lower, to the banks of the Concord River. The path itself offers plenty of places to pause, and an observation tower provides a bird’s-eye view of the surrounding area.
DISTANCE: 1.7- TO 2.7-MILE LOOP
Take your stargazing to the next level and catch one of the year’s big meteor showers. The perfect spot to watch one may only be a short hike away. Check out the American Meteor Society’s website to learn more about 2020’s upcoming meteor showers. (For more stargazing locations, revisit this story from the archives.)
1. AMC’s Gorman Chairback Lodge & Cabins | Greenville, Maine
For a front-row seat to nature’s own laser-light show, make tracks to AMC’s Gorman Chairback. The lodge is accessible by a 3.6-mile snowshoe or cross-country ski in winter (they don’t call it the 100-Mile Wilderness for nothing), but that seclusion has benefits. After you settle in and have some dinner, head outside to the shores of Long Pond. On clear nights, the view will be extra vivid, thanks to Maine’s “dark sky” efforts, cutting back on light pollution.
DISTANCE: 7.2-MILE ROUND TRIP (gear shuttle available)
2. New Jersey High Point Monument | Sussex, N.J.
What better place to watch a meteor shower than from a state’s highest point? High Point Monument, a 220-foot addition to New Jersey’s 1,803-foot summit on Kittatinny Mountain, offers stunning views of the Catskills, Poconos, Wallkill River, and, most importantly, the expansive night sky above. You can hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail until you veer onto the red- and green- blazed Monument Trail to reach the mountain’s peak.
DISTANCE: 7.9-MILE LOOP
ELEVATION GAIN: 1,250 FEET
3. Chatham Lighthouse | Cape Cod, Mass.
Lighthouse Beach, located on the “elbow” of Cape Cod, boasts a vast stretch of night sky above its sand bar, popular lighthouse, and resident seals (a frequent sighting on Cape Cod!). Although it’s a mile walk from the center of Chatham, you also have the option to drive right up to the beach, where you can enjoy the view from the sand dunes or stroll down the miles of Atlantic coastline for a panoramic view.
INFO: NEW ENGLAND LIGHTHOUSES
Kickstart your new year by waking up a few hours earlier, climbing a mountain, and watching a new day begin. A colorful sunrise makes the alarm worth it.
1. Overlook Mountain Wild Forest and Fire Tower | Woodstock, N.Y.
Overlook Fire Tower reaches 60 feet above Overlook Mountain’s peak, roughly 3,100-foot elevation, meaning you’ll have an extra leg up on sun spotting. Although steep, Overlook Spur Trail offers multiple places to catch your breath on the way up, including the castle-like ruins of the never-completed Overlook Mountain House at 1.6 miles. From the top, you’ll have impressive views of the Hudson River Valley and the central Catskills, in addition to seeing how a sunrise changes a naturally beautiful landscape into a jawdropper.
DISTANCE: 5 MILES OUT-AND-BACK
ELEVATION GAIN: 1,440 FEET
2. McAfee Knob, Jefferson National Forest | Catawba, Va.
Katahdin, in Maine, talks a big game, but you’d be hardpressed to find a more rewarding view of the rising sun than from McAfee Knob, a rock outcropping that cantilevers straight out over Catawba Valley. Hikers describe feeling as though they’re standing on top of the world, floating over the stunning valley. With bonus views including North Mountain and Tinker Cliffs, it’s no wonder McAfee Knob is the most photographed spot on the Appalachian Trail.
DISTANCE: 8.8 MILES OUT-AND-BACK
ELEVATION GAIN: 2,460 FEET
3. Wachusett Mountain State Reservation | Princeton, Mass.
Henry David Thoreau waxed poetic about the views from this mountain in his aptly titled “A Walk to Wachusett,” describing the 2,006-foot summit as “the observatory of the State.” On your way up the mountain via Harrington Trail, you’ll pass a farm with dozens of wind turbines, picturesque meadows, and small ponds and streams. In addition to the sunrise, on clear days you can spot Boston’s skyline on the horizon.
DISTANCE: 2.8 MILES OUT-AND-BACK
ELEVATION GAIN: 750 FEET
While it’s never a bad time to volunteer, the new year puts some momentum behind good intentions, whether that’s carving out time to help others, to protect the environment, or whatever you’re passionate about.
1. Bay Circuit Trail & Greenway | Plum Island to Kingston Bay, Mass.
Bay Circuit Trail & Greenway stretches from Plum Island down to Kingston Bay, with over 230 miles of multi-use recreational trails maintained by the the AMC-led Bay Circuit Alliance (BCA). Because the trail winds through so many towns, the BCA relies on the help of volunteers, who help with a variety of tasks, including clearing trails, leading nature hikes, and trail marking. Contact your local Bay Circuit Trail maintainer to find out how you can help.
INFO: BAY CIRCUIT TRAIL
2. New Hampshire Chapter Trail Crew | White Mountain National Forest, N.H.
Have you ever wondered how the trails you hike stay in good condition? If you live near or are visiting AMC’s lodges and trails in New Hampshire, you could be part of the answer. Like all AMC affiliates, AMC’s New Hampshire Chapter seeks out volunteers to help clean, clear, and build trails. Each project is unique and helps volunteers learn new skills, meet new people, and give back to the environments they love.
3. Pennsylvania Highlands Trail Stewards | Delaware Valley, Penn.
As AMC continues to help extend the PA Highlands Trail, anyone is welcome to volunteer their time as a trail steward. Trail stewards join other volunteers to clear the way and work on any problems that crop up as the trail, which already crosses through New York and New Jersey, expands through Pennsylvania. AMC provides protective clothing and tools for trail building and maintenance, so pack a lunch, dress warmly, and prepare to get dirty.
INFO: AMC PA TRAIL VOLUNTEERS