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No doubt that we had quite the winter. Now that spring has arrived in earnest, it’s high time for us all to get out and take advantage of some wonderful (and free!) outdoor activities and Central Massachusetts has plenty of them.
Spending time together is what makes Mother’s Day special, so why not enjoy it with some fresh air? Taking in the beauty of local nature, strolling through cute Central Massachusetts towns and getting a little exercise makes for a wonderful way to spend the day with Mom! Here’s where you can do it.
Wachusett State Mountain Reservation
Not only for skiing, Mount Wachusett State Reservation is a popular spot for hiking and sightseeing in the off-season. Easy to access from all points, and located only five minutes off Route 2, Wachusett’s scenery is well worth the hike up.
When visiting the area, you can park at the Mt. Wachusett Visitor Center, where you can ask questions about the trails and anything else you may want to know about the park. Once you get to the summit, if it’s a clear day, you can see Mt. Monadanock, the Boston skyline to the east and the Berkshires to the west.
So, bring a picnic with you to the top of the mountain and enjoy the views, nature and the summit pond. This hike is doable for all ages and can take anywhere from a half hour to an hour to hike, depending on your speed.
You can also check the hours of operation for the Wachusett Ski Area chair lift. You just might be able to also take a scenic ride if your legs get too tired!
Photo: Wachusett Mountain Ski Lift
Nashua River Trail
Drive to downtown Ayer and hop on a scenic natural Bike Trail that will bring you all the way through the towns of Ayer, Groton, Pepperell and Dunstable.
The Nashua River Rail Trail is a former railroad right of way that travels 11 miles in total. Great for biking, inline skating and walkers, the trail offers a 10-foot wide paved surface for the entire length, and a five-foot wide gravel equestrian path for seven miles of the trail from Groton Center to the New Hampshire border in Dunstable.
Along the way, stop in Ayer, Groton, Pepperell or Dunstable and stroll the many area cafes and stores each of those areas has to offer.
Assabet River Trail
The Assabet River Rail Trail provides a forested escape from the surrounding urban bustle. Traveling 5.6 miles (with plans to expand it), the trail connects the towns of Hudson and Marlborough and parallels the scenic Assabet River.
The trail crosses the Assabet River five times, the last crossing on a refurbished, historical wrought-iron railroad bridge. The 12-foot-wide corridor makes an excellent cycling route—just take care maneuvering between bollards located at the intersection of trails and roads; they are closer together than most. The trail begins along State Route 62 in Hudson, marked by a restored 1921 blue caboose across the road from Dairy Joy Ice Cream Bar.
For all things biking, before or after you hop on the trail, make a stop at the Assabet River Bike Shop. Across the street, you will also find the Harvard Sweet Boutique, a new bakery café well worth visiting.
The “Rail Trail” Flatbread Co. is also located near the center of town. Named after the trail itself, the Rail Trail is best known for its Pies and Pints.
Photo: A little Canoe time on the Concord River
Why not rent a canoe or kayak and explore miles of peaceful waterways on the Assabet, Sudbury and Concord Rivers? Most of the Assabet River is classified as flatwater / quietwater, which means it’s easy to paddle. Some highlights of the river include paddling the headwaters at Assabet Reservoir in Westborough, traveling from the The Gleasondale to Ben Smith Dams and floating from Damon Hill (Concord section) to Egg Rock.
There are plenty of locations along the Rivers to rent Kayaks or Canoes, along with various launch sites, so you can hop on or off the river just about wherever you please.
Bring your lunch along the way and stop off on the side of the River for a lunch and a break from paddling. Or, if you would prefer to sit down somewhere, head into downtown Concord for lots of small store shopping and great dining.
The Wachusett Dam isn’t just impressive dam that holds the Wachusett Reservoir. It’s a nice spot to spend the day outdoors, too! As you pass the water supply shed on Route 62, you will be awed by the enormous stone dam that boasts a beautiful park below it. You can explore the park and take in the height of the dam wall, along with hiking the various trails from the Park, some of which run up to five miles in distance.
Photo: Wachusett Dam
When you are done exploring the great Dam, head to downtown to Clinton’s Museum of Russian Icons or grab lunch at one of the many local establishments.
Blackstone Canal Farmers’ Market/Canal Stroll
The Canal District Farmers Market provides local fresh food and goods from farms and handcrafters in the region. There is a selection of seasonal fruits and vegetables and free-range meats, as well as a whole host of other goods.
During the market, you can also enjoy special events, such as live music, DIY classes, gardening workshops, cooking demonstrations, and maybe even a visit from some alpacas! The market is a great way to make your shopping more of an experience than a chore, as well as a nice way to support the local community.
Photo: Some of the selection at the Canal Farmers Market
After the Canal District farmers’ market, you can easily walk to other attractions, including antique stores and some great restaurants. The Worcester Common Oval, which is only a few minutes walk away, also features special summer events in the form of music and movie nights in the summer.
Lysa Miller is a Massachusetts-based writer whose work covers notable local businesses around the state. Follow her on Twitter @ladybugzinc.