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A Summer Outside in Central Massachusetts

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Maria Connors

Tourists with hiking backpacks on beautiful mountain landscape background. Climbers hike to mounts. Group of hikers walking in mountains.

While boasting the perks of an urban center, the city of Worcester and surrounding towns have no shortage of outdoor spaces and activities to enjoy as summer arrives. Whether you’re looking to hike, swim, boat, or just sit and enjoy the sun, there are an abundance of spots in Central Massachusetts that will let you do just that. We’ll be taking a look at not only some of the best places to get out into nature, but ways to enjoy the art and culture of the area in an outdoor setting.

Hiking

There is no shortage of day hikes available in Central Mass, and all of the ones listed here are under an hour’s drive from Worcester. Pack a lunch, lace up your hiking shoes and hit the trails!

Wachusett Mountain–Princeton, MA

While this mountain is perhaps best known for its ski slopes, it offers ample opportunities for hiking as well. Only a 50 minute drive from Worcester, Wachusett Mountain boasts 17 miles of hiking trails that hikers are easily able to cater to their physical goals or time constraints. Popular routes to the summit are Echo Lake trail, an introductory level 1.5 mile trip, Old Indian trail, a more moderate 3.8 miles, and the shorter Pine Hill trail, only 1.0 mile but a steeper and rockier climb to the summit that makes it a more difficult hike. Most of the trails should take under two hours, making it a perfect excursion that will have you home in time for dinner. 

Moore State Park–Paxton, MA

Step out into nature and back through history at Moore State Park, a 737-acre public recreation area with a myriad of trails, streams and historic mills built as early as 1747. The park is home to stonemill foundations, a retired sawmill, mill chutes, waterfalls and an abundance of gorgeous flowers and foliage in the summer. The wooded trails are shady and well maintained and there are opportunities for canoeing, kayaking, and fishing on Eames Pond. 

Purgatory Chasm–Sutton, MA

Purgatory Chasm offers a unique arrangement of rock formations and shady trails to spend the day exploring. While the trails through the forest are generally flat, climbing through the chasm itself is a more challenging and demanding endeavor. Hikers should wear appropriate shoes and keep in mind their physical ability and health when setting off into the chasm, as scrambling over rocks is a necessary part of this adventure!

Mass Central Rail Trail–Northampton to Boston, MA

The 1938 New England Hurricane destroyed the Massachusetts Central Railroad in 1938, and finally the 104 mile corridor through the state is being repurposed into a rail trail perfect for hiking and bike-riding. Many trail segments are not currently connected, so trail users cannot yet traverse through the length of the trail. There are currently completed sections running through Oakham, Rutland, Princeton, Sterling, Holden and West Boylston, with various parking lots provided along the way for visitors to choose their starting point. Some sections of the trail are paved and the trail will take hikers and bikers through forested areas, across open fields and along wooded riverbanks, showing off all kinds of natural beauty our state has to offer. 

Lookout Rock–Northbridge, MA

Lookout Rock positions hikers off of a country back-road connected to the old Quaker Highway, with many trails looping through the area. Standing atop the rock offers a view of the Blackstone River snaking its way through the woods, often dotted with kayakers, and River Bend Farm and it’s canal, arch bridge, and sprawling farmlands. Rock climbers will find a few desirable crags to scale at this location, giving you the best panoramic views from the top.

Swimming and Boating

Central Mass has no shortage of ponds, lakes, and reservoirs to spend the day at–it’s just a matter of choosing your favorite! 

Shore Park Beach–Worcester, MA

Shore Park Beach is located on the northern shore of Indian Lake, an approximately 7.0 acre park located in a residential neighborhood. Fishing and boating (both motorized and non-motorized) are permitted on the lake, with a roped-in swimming area to keep swimmers safe. With a sandy beach, grassy and shaded picnic bench area, lifeguards on duty and a bathhouse with restrooms and a first-aid room, this beach is well-suited for a day out with the family. 

Whitehall Pond–Rutland, MA

Nestled in the forest of Rutland State Park, Whitehall Pond is the perfect place to end a hike or spend the day swimming. Visitors are welcome to swim, boat, and picnic along the shore, with charcoal grills available for public use. Aside from the sandy beach much of the waterfront is wooded, offering visitors a shadier swimming experience. 

Lake Quinsigamond–Worcester, MA

Regatta Point at Lake Quinsigamond offers facilities for swimming, boating, picnicking, and fishing, as well as tennis and basketball courts and a baseball field across the street at Lake Park. While you’re in the area don’t forget to stop for ice cream at Madulka’s, a staple of the Lake Quinsigamond shoreline. 

Hopkinton State Park–Hopkinton, MA

It’s easy to spend a full day outdoors at Hopkinton State Park, with 1500 acres of forest to explore via hiking trails and Hopkinton Reservoir to swim, boat and fish in. Boating in Boston provides seasonal boat rentals for visitors, so you can enjoy the water from a kayak or paddleboard. The reservoir also boasts stocked fishing, two lifeguarded beaches, first-come-first-served picnic sites and two reservable pavilions for larger events.

Arts & Culture

Fellow artists Lena McCarthy (left) and Lukas Therien (right) at Tower Hill Botanic Garden Show featuring Worcester’s own, 
“Croc Paints”, Dave O’Connor in February 2020. Photo by Kevin La

Outdoor entertainment is an essential part of any summer, and Central Mass has no shortage of spots to enjoy. Day or night, you’re sure to find the perfect place to enjoy a favorite pastime and the warm weather. 

Tower Hill Botanic Garden–Boylston, MA

Tower Hill Botanic Garden operates on 171 acres of beautifully cultivated trails, gardens, and orchards for visitors to enjoy. Tower Hill contains 17 distinct gardens, with much of the original woodland and open fields preserved in the current layout. Stroll through the gardens, watch the critters in the Wildlife Refuge Pond, and grab a bite at the Farmer and the Fork cafe. Towerhillbg.org.

deCordova Sculpture Park–Lincoln, MA

Indulge us while we stretch the boundaries of Central Massachusetts for just a moment–deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum is the largest park of its kind in New England, located 20 miles west of Boston. The park hosts rotating modern and contemporary outdoor sculpture exhibits across 30 acres of landscaped lawns, forests, gardens, and terraces along the shores of Flint’s Pond. A hands-on learning lab on the campus provides an interactive gallery where visitors can experience immersive installations and build and sculpt with loose parts. After exploring the outdoor park and learning environments, cool off at the indoor exhibits and grab a snack at the cafe. Thetrustees.org/place/decordova.

Farmers Markets

What’s summer without an abundance of fresh produce? Central Mass is home to countless farmer’s markets that provide an array of delicious, locally sourced fruits and vegetables from the region’s many farms. There’s no better feeling than knowing where your food comes from, so make sure to include a trip to the farmer’s market on your weekly errand run. 

REC Mobile Market

The Regional Environmental Council purchases produce in bulk from local farms and sets up shop in central locations for shopper’s convenience. Founded in 2012, this mobile market is the first successful endeavor of its kind in New England. Keep an eye on their website for updated schedules: Recworcester.org/market-schedule

Timberyard Brewing Co.–East Brookfield, MA

Timberyard Brewing Co. hosts “The Market” on their back patio every Saturday, offering fresh produce, baked treats, and other artisanal goods. With a brewery, taproom, full kitchen, and frequent live music to boot, Timberyard has something for everyone. 

Grafton Farmers Market–Grafton, MA

An entirely volunteer-managed market, the Grafton Farmers Market aims to serve their community through fresh produce, baked goods, artisanal foods, and hand-crafted items. With vendors coming from across the region to sell their products, the Grafton Farmer’s Market offers an expansive array of locally-sourced goods to take home this summer. 

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