Forget the 20-mile treks and long, interstate drives — the hardest part of writing a guidebook to New England hiking was whittling down which places to include. I could have devoted an entire chapter to my favorite spots on Martha’s Vineyard, but I had a page count, and an editor who insisted that I travel (against my will) to the state of Connecticut. The final contender for the book’s sole Martha’s Vineyard hike was a loop around Menemsha Hills Reservation, a property that highlights the Island’s most flattering features.
I could bore you with a bracket of other Vineyard locations I would have included, but most Times readers already know the treasured sites. (If you don’t, check out the extensive list of trails at VineyardVisitor.com.) Instead, I’d like to invite you on a tour of other easy-to-reach spots in Southern New England — places that are reminiscent of Island properties and the qualities that make them special. I even included one in Connecticut (which redeemed itself in the end with bridges and beer).
If you only want the Island experience:
Sanford Farm, Ram Pasture, and the Woods, Nantucket
This hike was my first-ever trip to Nantucket, and I had a great time comparing and contrasting ACK with MVY. The adventure even came complete with a traumatic Steamship Authority experience, which made me feel right at home. The scenery on Nantucket is both familiar and foreign, like wandering through a parallel universe. Thanks to a Land Bank system not dissimilar from the Vineyard’s, Nantucket has amassed a respectable sum of green space. One of the largest properties is actually three contiguous holdings: Sanford Farm, Ram Pasture, and tThe Woods. A hike across the space takes you from open fields through thick inland bramble, culminating in great views of the Atlantic oceanfront.
If you think no scenery can hold a candle to the Cliffs:
Clay Head Preserve, Block Island, R.I.
The Cliffs of Aquinnah are unrivaled in their beauty. I had never seen anything quite like them on the East Coast … that is, until I saw Block Island. Similar to Nantucket, visiting Block Island feels like meeting a twin separated at birth, except this one turned out humbler, less ostentatious. If there’s anything peacocky about Block Island, it’s the remarkable bluffs of clay towering over the shoreline. The most popular place to view the cliffs is Mohegan Bluffs, but as far as hiking goes, Clay Head Preserve on the northeast coast of the island is the best bet. The main trail across the top of the bluffs delivers soaring vistas, and you can end your hike with a swim at the pristine beach.
If you’re “board” by regular dirt trails:
Little Pond Boardwalk, White Memorial Conservation Center, Litchfield, Conn.
I just can’t resist a good wooden bridge, like the ones at Duarte’s Pond and Fulling Mill Brook. I love that somebody took the time to protect the trail from my feet, and my feet from the mud. Bridges are quite possibly the ultimate confluence of humans and nature … but mostly they are just fun to bounce across. I found a lot of great bridges and boardwalks while researching this book, but one of my favorites is the Little Pond Boardwalk trail, in the Litchfield Hills of (sigh) Connecticut. More than a MILE of this trail is a continuous boardwalk, circling through the wildflower-dotted marshland of the Bantam River.
If you just want to sit down with a great view:
World’s End Reservation, Hingham
Sometimes the best part of walking anywhere at all is just sitting down on a good bench. I’m frequently nostalgic for places like Tiasquam Reservation and Peaked Hill, with their peaceful, tucked-away benches and mind-blowing views. If you’re done with this hiking business and sitting is more your speed, check out World’s End Reservation on your next trip to Boston. This peninsula park in the Hingham Bay was originally designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, and is now immaculately maintained by The Trustees of Reservations. The highlight is the bench atop grassy Planters Hill, which faces directly toward the Boston skyline sparkling over the bay.
If you’re looking for something “boulder”:
George B. Parker Woodlands Wildlife Refuge, Coventry, R.I.
Islands like Martha’s Vineyard tend to draw a lot of attention for their coastal features, and some of the best inland hikes (I’m saluting you, Waskosim’s Rock) fall to the wayside. Can we get a little appreciation for brooks, rolling fields, and … erratic boulders? After all, these boulders traveled hundreds of miles on glaciers just to be here with us today. They give us the chance to channel our inner Alex Honnold, without the fear of freefalling 3,000 feet. Anyway, there’s some pretty neat big hunks of rock at the intersection of the Foster and Coventry trails at the George B. Parker Woodlands. And the rest of the trail is cool too.
Please keep the current COVID-19 pandemic in mind if choosing to hike and travel this summer. Wear a mask, give others plenty of space, stick to the easy trails, and hydrate so you don’t die-drate.
“New England Hiking” from Moon Travel Guides, by Kelsey Perrett and Miles Howard, is now available for order at most friendly neighborhood bookstores.