Trail Running in Arlington’s Great Meadows and Arlington Reservoir

April 9, 2018
Trail Running in Arlington's Great Meadows
Marc ChalufourTrail running in Arlington’s Great Meadows means a mix of boardwalks and single-track.

Sometimes I set out with a specific loop and distance in mind. Other times I plan to wander. And sometimes I stumble from one into the other. A couple weekends ago I decided to take a friend’s recommendation and run through Arlington’s Great Meadow (AGM) over to Whipple Hill and back, making a loop of 6 miles or so. I failed.

Arlington’s Great Meadows (which is neither a meadow nor located in Arlington but is still a great place to start a run) sits adjacent to the Minuteman Bikeway on the Lexington, Mass., side of the Arlington–Lexington border. I turned off Massachusetts Avenue, pulled into the parking lot alongside The Waldorf School of Lexington, and stretched quickly while regretting leaving all my wind-breaking layers at home. I jogged past the school’s athletic fields and onto the bike path. The last person I saw before disappearing into the AGM trail network was a spandexed cyclist, folded into an aero tuck, pedaling toward Bedford.

I’ve cycled past this spot dozens of times myself but had never noticed the trailhead that empties onto the bike path—until now. I turned off the pavement and strode onto AGM’s packed-dirt trail. Once a glacial lake and later the site of a dairy farm, AGA is now more a marsh than anything. A wet mat of grass fills the center of the 183-acre parcel, with most of the trails clustered along the property’s slightly elevated western and northern rims. I ran over a pair of boardwalks, passed through a field, and then I was amid the trees. Ignoring the side trails that lead over small berms above the marsh, I followed the blue-and-white blazes marking the main trail. A few trees, yet to be cleared following the most recent winter storm, created a mini steeplechase. Mossy stone walls hinted at a time when this property was more developed than it is today.

My plan was to head east, cut through a neighborhood on AGM’s far side, and connect with nearby Whipple Hill (downloadable PDF) where another set of trails awaited. Just over a mile into the run, I emerged on a street where the telephone poles held the same blue and white blazes as the trail. Perfect. Zigging and zagging toward the next trailhead, I started to feel like something was wrong. I’d expected to make one or two turns then be at Whipple Hill. Then I saw the next trail and a sign: Arlington Reservoir. I’d missed my target entirely yet still managed to hit some trails, so I kept going. The reservation is about 1 mile around, all smooth packed dirt except for a portion that crosses a sand beach.

From the reservoir, I headed back into the neighborhood along yet another trail. This one followed Mill Brook away from the reservoir before emerging a few strides from the Minuteman Bikeway. I love finding little slivers of trail behind backyards. These weird survivors of urban development and suburban sprawl deserve their own name: Suburbantrack? Burbtrack? These trails rarely last more than a few hundred meters, yet they give me as much joy as striding along a remote stretch of single-track.

The bike path quickly reconnected with AGM at the property’s southeastern corner, where I cut back onto the trails. I’d given up on Whipple Hill for the day—that run will have to wait for another weekend—and decided to make the most of AGM, exploring the side trails, looping around a small pond, and gradually working my way back to the trailhead.

For an easy few trail miles interrupted with short stretches of pavement, this was a nice way to spend a Saturday morning. I’m looking forward to coming back—and finally finding Whipple Hill.


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Marc Chalufour

Marc Chalufour, a former senior editor of AMC Outdoors, writes the trail-running blog Running Wild.