Get outside!

A winter wonderland awaits in Massachusetts

MassTravel (6/10/2002)

Brion's comments:
'This assignment was a rare, and welcomed chance to explore the adventures available in my own backyard, during one of my favorite seasons.'

Feature article:

An invigorating wintry wind kicked up a swirl of snowflakes as my wife and I stepped from the sheltered warmth of our car. I pulled a thick fleece hat snug over my ears, as my wife drew her jacket collar tight against her scarf. With a hearty thumb’s up, we made our way down to Singing Beach in Manchester-by-the-Sea. In summer, this pristine little alcove north of Boston is jam packed with sun-seekers. But on this day, in late January, we had it to ourselves, and we were completely in our element.

Huge, billowing clouds converged over the Atlantic, a stunning backdrop to the churning, dark-green ocean, which looked more like sculpted Connemara marble than saltwater, and the small islands beyond. The bracing sea air tingled our noses, but each breath felt energized. With the snow a respectable distance from the lapping surf, my wife nestled closer as we meandered along the wet, slippery sand that gives the beach its name, giggling the entire time. It was an ideal way to wind down from a day of outdoor adventure. Just that morning, we went romping on the snowy trails of the Massachusetts Audubon Society’s 2,265-acre Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary in Topsfield ( A bright morning sun warmed our faces, sparkled brilliantly off icicles and made the snow shimmer as we left huge footprints with our snowshoes.

That night, my wife and I stoked a log fire in our cozy Hamilton cottage, and reflected on all the natural wonders Massachusetts has to offer during the so-called “off-season.” For years I traveled north after the mercury dipped below freezing, convinced that the road to outdoor enjoyment passed through Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. I couldn’t have been more off base. Shortly after moving to Boston’s North Shore, friends began to break down my regional prejudice. They introduced us to horseback riding on secluded Crane’s Beach in Ipswich, sleigh rides on Salem Common., ice skating on Boston’s Frog Pond, snow tubing at Amesbury Sports Park in Amesbury, peaceful walks around Henry David Thoreau’s favorite retreat, Walden Pond, in Concord, and the Drumlin Farm Education Center and Wildlife Sanctuary in Lincoln, and mid-winter windsurfing off Devereux Beach in Marblehead. We joined the Appalachian Mountain Club's Boston chapter ( and went "questing," a sort of outdoor treasure hunt, on a chilly February day near Hingham Harbor. Next, we competed in a "frostbiting" sailboat race with the Boston Yacht Club (, and went screaming along a frozen Lake Quanapowitt in Wakefield aboard a "freeskate" - a modified windsurfer with skate blades. I quickly discovered that many of the scenic trails I love exploring by mountain bike, such as the extensive Bay Circuit Trail and Greenway ( are just as much fun — if not more — on snowshoes or cross-country skis.

Indeed, conservation-minded citizens have preserved numerous tracks of unspoiled, easily accessible woodland throughout the state. They include a host of Metropolitan District Commission ( and state ( properties, such as the 2,575-acre Middlesex Fells Reservation just north of Boston, Wompatuck State Park in Hingham and the enormous Myles Standish State Forest, on Cape Cod's doorstep in Plymouth. Add to this treasure chest the numerous parcels under the care of the Trustees of Reservations ( and the Massachusetts Audubon Society, and the Bay State appears to suffer from an embarrassment of natural riches. The wonderfully named World’s End Reservation in Hingham, originally envisioned by famed architect Frederick Law Olmsted as the site of a planned suburban community, and the Albert F. Norris Reservation, situated along the North River in Norwell, are just two can’t-miss winter destinations for nature lovers.

Soon, I began opening my eyes to other possibilities. Cycling races and fun rides took me to venues such as Blue Hills in Canton, Nashoba Valley in Westford, Wachusett Mountain in Princeton and Jiminy Peak in Hancock. Now I make it a point to return in the winter, after learning that the snowshoeing and skiing - alpine, nordic and backcountry - here makes for a remarkable experience.

Still, some of my favorite winter escapes don’t require any vertical at all. Brisk temperatures and seasonal snowfalls can transform choice shopping destinations, such as Inn Street in Newburyport, Newbury Street in Boston, historic old town New Bedford, or the eclectic downtown of Northampton, into gleaming dioramas. From Plum Island Wildlife Refuge near the northeast tip of the state to Nantasket Beach Reservation in Hull, the beaches provide a bracing elixir for cabin fever, as well as some stunning bird-watching opportunities. My family has made it a tradition to visit Cape Cod shortly after New Year’s Day, and swaddle ourselves in the charming tranquility that blankets the tourist mecca like new-fallen snow. Though we’ve always been partial to the great windswept expanses of the Cape Cod National Seashore by Wellfleet and the quiet solitude of Nickerson State Park in Brewster, there are literally hundreds of secluded spots to escape indoor drudgery.

Not to be overlooked are the islands. The Menemsha Hills Reservation on Martha’s Vineyard and Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge on Nantucket offer an almost surreal glimpse of winter magic. Another winner, at the opposite corner of the state near the Vermont border, is Northfield Mountain (, a year-round recreation and environmental center developed by Northeast Utilities. In keeping with federal licensing agreements, Northfield Mountain has developed an extensive trail system, featuring more than 25 miles of fabulous cross-country skiing. It even offers dog-sledding, as does Ashburnham-based Mountain Lynx Outdoor Adventures (800.307.0426;

A snowshoe hike to the top of the winding, two-mile trail at the Mount Greylock State Reservation in Cheshire, the state’s highest peak, is rewarded with jaw-dropping views, on a clear day, of five states. Other friends of mine contend that western Massachusetts is prime snowmobiling country, particularly Brimfield State Forest (413.245.9966) and Chester-Blanford State Forest (413.354.6347).

Of course, abundant natural snow in Massachusetts isn’t always a guaranteed commodity. For that reason, I’ve decided mountain biking is a year-round sport that anyone can enjoy. The Massachusetts-based New England Mountain Bike Association ( has chapters throughout the state, all of which can furnish details on the best local trails to ride for every ability level, and local bike shops for rentals. With the help of studded tires, even ice-covered trails are a snap to ride. You can also find information on ice fishing and winter camping through the Boston-based Appalachian Mountain Club (617.523.0655;

So, come winter in Massachusetts, the question isn’t “What is there to do?” It should be “What’s keeping you inside?”

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Romantic inns and B&Bs

Perhaps the best part of an exhilarating winter adventure is finding a warm, hospitable inn to cherish the day's events. A warm log-fed fire, a bubbling hot tub, perhaps a down comforter, are only enhanced after a day outdoors.

Greater Boston

1) The Garrison Inn, 11 Brown Square, Newburyport; Phone, 978-499-8500; - Few cities can match the charm and history of Newburyport, the state's smallest city and once the site of a bustling international shipping trade. In 1809, Captain Moses Brown, who imported molasses and sold it to rum distilleries, built a mansion. Today, that stately structure is the Garrison Inn (named after one of the city's most famous sons, abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, "The Liberator"). The inn retains original brick walls, hand-hewn wooden beams and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It's a perfect fit in the revitalized downtown of Newburyport, with its myriad shops and restaurants.

2) The Hawthorne Hotel, On The Common, 18 Washington Square West, Salem; Phone: 978-744-4080, or 1-800-729-7829; - Following Salem's crazy season - Halloween - the "Witch City" quiets down for the winter, transforming into an idyllic New England harbor town. The Hawthorne Hotel is a beautifully restored Federal-style hotel, named for one of the city's most famous residents - author Nathaniel Hawthorne. Located in the heart of historic Salem, the hotel is close by The Heritage Walking Trail, which will take you past Salem's historic sites and the waterfront. You can also visit the world-renowned Peabody Essex Museum and The House of the Seven Gables.

3) The Tuck Inn, 17 High Street, Rockport; Phone: 978-546-7260 or 800-789-7260; - Located on the northern tip of the state's "other" cape - Cape Ann - in the charming seaside village of Rockport, the Tuck Inn is situated on a quiet side street a stone's throw from the village center with its glistening harbor and unique art galleries. Guests can enjoy expansive views from the edge of Bear Ski neck, or walk to three local beaches by way of the scenic Headlands and Old Garden Path. Halibut Point State Park, Kieran Nature Preserve and local woods are also nearby.

4) The Inn at Castle Hill, Argilla Road, Ipswich; Phone: 978-412-2555; - Though closed for January, this inn on the breathtaking grounds of the 3,000-acre Crane Estate is an absolute gem during the rest of the winter. Chicago plumbing magnate Richard Teller Crane Jr. originally purchased 800 acres, including Castle Hill, in 1910, and later added Castle Neck (Crane Beach). Here, visitors might find wildlife ranging from deer, fox, turkey, and a multitude of songbirds. Castle Hill is also part of Massachusetts' Bay Circuit Trail, a public greenway that runs from the North Shore of Boston, around the city's perimeter, to the South Shore.

5) The Hawthorne Inn, 462 Lexington Road, Concord; Phone; 978-369-5610; - Not to be confused with the Hawthorne Hotel in Salem, this intimate inn is a short walk from the commuter rail but a world away from Boston. Nearby are Henry Thoreau's Walden Pond, the Old North Bridge and National Historic Park (the site of the first battle of the American Revolution), historic homes of Louisa May Alcott and Ralph Waldo Emerson, the Concord Museum, the DeCordova Art Museum, Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, and miles of conservation trails. The inn itself is adorned by the works of innkeeper Gregory Burch, a painter and sculptor, and features a wonderful living room, with the ubiquitous fireplace but, perhaps best of all, no television.

Cape Cod and the Islands

6) Sherbourne Inn, 10 Gay Street, Nantucket; Phone: 508-228-4425 or 1-888-577-4425; - Guests will feel as carefree as ocean-bound seals while they stroll along Jettie Beach, admiring the dramatic rock jetties that protect Nantucket Harbor, or explore the old wagon trails that criss-cross the Nantucket Conservation Foundation's Sanford Farm. Situated on a quiet side street, the Sherbourne represents quintessential island elegance, highlighted by two magnificent parlors. The first-floor parlor, with working fireplace, beautiful antiques and original artwork, is a visual showpiece. The second-floor parlor, also with a fireplace, is the perfect spot for curling up with great book, especially on a cold day.

7) Thorncroft Inn, 278 Main St., Vineyard Haven, Martha's Vineyard, Phone: 508-693-3333; - Based on a peninsula, the award-winning Thorncroft specializes in romantic getaways. Guests can expect outstanding personal service, making it a popular honeymoon or anniversary retreat, and a great spot for Valentine's Day. Icing for outdoor enthusiasts are the stunning views west across Vineyard Sound to the Elizabeth Islands from the curiously named Winifred's Pond - which is actually a hidden ocean beach near the inn - and the ferry ride to Chappaquiddick, which offers 13 miles of unspoiled beach and the Wasque Wildlife Refuge. All guest rooms at the Thorncroft have full baths, while three rooms have two-person whirlpool tubs, and two have private 300-gallon hot tubs - perfect following a day on the island's many walking trails. Working wood-burning fireplaces adorn 10 guest rooms.

8) Old Sea Pines Inn, 2553 Main St., Brewster; Phone: 508-896-6114; - This grand inn was built at the center of the 300-acre estate known as the Sea Pines School of Charm and Personality for Young Women, which was founded in 1907 and operated into the 1970s. Rest assured, the inn still exudes charm and personality. Innkeepers Michele and Stephen Rowan have recreated the idealistic and unhurried atmosphere that allowed the school's residents to submerse themselves in Cape Cod's beauty. Nearby, guests can stroll the serene bay beaches and salt marshes on the quiet north shore of the Cape's bay side. For a dramatic change of scenery, visit the piney woods of the nearby 1,900-acre R.C. Nickerson State Park, just off Route 6A, which offers miles of trail for hiking and cross-country skiing. .

9) Lands End Inn, 22 Commercial St., Provincetown; Phone: (800) 276-7088 or (508) 487-0706; - If location is everything, then the Land's End Inn has it all. Built atop Gull Hill, the inn offers a panoramic view of Cape Cod Bay, inspiring vistas of Provincetown and its harbor, the upper and lower bay, salt-marshes and the dunes. Built at the turn of the century, the inn was originally a summer bungalow for Charles Higgins, a Boston merchant, and it still houses part of the Higgins' collection of oriental wood carvings, stained glass and antiques. Located at the West End of Provincetown, Land's End Inn is close to the National Seashore beaches and within a 10-minute walk of local shops and galleries.

10) The Captain's House, Old Harbor Road, Chatham; Phone: 508-945-0127 or 800-315-0728; - Considered one of the Cape’s finest small inn, this elegant sea captain’s estate on Cape Cod's "elbow" is an ideal choice for a romantic getaway, and a superb spot to launch outings to Massachusetts Audubon Society's Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, or the Monomy National Wildlife Refuge on Monomy Island. The inn's common room is beautifully appointed with antiques and furnishings reminiscent of Williamsburg, and the requisite wood-burning fireplace. The main inn, an 1839 Greek Revival-style sea captain’s home, the attached carriage house, the 200-year-old captain’s cottage and the luxurious "Stables" provide 16 guest quarters.

Western Massachusetts

11) Blackinton Manor, 1391 Massachusetts Avenue, North Adams; Phone: 413-663-5795, or 1-800-795-8613. In many ways, Blackinton Manor reflects the rebirth of this proud city. Built in 1849 as the home of a wealthy textile manufacturer, Blackinton Manor has been fully restored as a year-round refuge of peace and quiet. Each room is filled with period antiques, and guests can luxuriate in the inn's gracious living room, complete with a large fireplace and grand piano. Want culture? Blackinton Manor is close to MASS MoCA (a remarkable multi-disciplinary center for visual, media and performing arts housed in an old mill complex) and Williams College, the Williamstown Theater Festival, the Williams College Museum of Art, and the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute.

12) The Apple Tree Inn & Restaurant, 10 Richmond Mountain Road, Lenox; Phone: 413-637-1477; - Baby-boomers with a sense of history will appreciate the Apple Tree Inn, perched on a lovely 22-acre hilltop estate in the Berkshire Mountains. The main house dates from 1885, but is perhaps best known as Alice's Restaurant, immortalized in an Arlo Guthrie ballad. Alice Brock and Guthrie owned the inn from 1976-79, but in 1983 it was christened The Apple Tree Inn. The circular dining room affords exceptional year-round panoramic views of the mountains, enough to fire the imagination of any winter enthusiast.

13) Deerfield Inn, 81 Old Main St., Deerfield; Phone: 413-774-5587 or 800-926-3865; - Step back in time here. The inn, owned by Historic Deerfield, an educational foundation set up in 1952 and composed of 14 museum homes, first opened its doors in July 1884. Today the 23-room Deerfield Inn remains the centerpiece of Old Deerfield, an unspoiled 350 year-old village and National Historic Landmark. The inn is also rumored to house a couple of inquisitive ghosts who, no doubt, stay to enjoy the warm hospitality. For cold weather fun, choose from cross-country skiing, hiking, or snowshoing on local trails, or downhill skiing at Berkshire East 20 minutes away.

14) Windflower Inn, 684 South Egremont Road, Great Barrington; Phone: 800-992-1993, 413-528-2720; - Situated nicely between Butternut Basin and Catamount ski areas (five miles in either direction), the Windflower Inn is a gracious country inn located on 10 acres. Just across the street, the Egremont Country Club offers cross country skiing. More adventurous winter hikers and snowshoers can explore the Appalachian Trail as it runs through nearby Bear Town State Forest. All the rooms have private bath, air conditioning, and many have a working fireplace.

15) Ivory Creek Bed and Breakfast, 31 Chmura Road, Hadley; Phone; (413) 587-3115 or 1-866-331-3115; - With gourmet breakfasts, served in the spacious dining room with fireplace, that include such items as Mimi's puffed French toast, fresh herb and garlic cheese eggs, lemon soufflé pancakes, you won't leave Ivory Creek hungry. Good thing. The inn, nestled along the water on eighteen wooded acres on the Mount Holyoke Range, is a cornucopia of outdoor activities. The Metacomet Monadnock Trail (part of the Appalachian Trail that courses from Georgia to Maine) runs across the top section of the property. Hiking, snowshoe and cross-country ski trails abound. Skinner State Park is close by and affords a spectacular view of the Connecticut River Valley. A hot tub awaits those tired muscles when you return.

16) The Lord Jeffery Inn, 30 Boltwood Avenue, Amherst; Phone: 413-253-2576 or 1-800-742-0358; - Situated on the historic Common in Amherst, The Lord Jeffrey Inn has garnered a well-deserved reputation for superb service offered in a warm, unassuming manner. That reputation is only enhanced by the inn's two exceptional restaurants, The Windowed Hearth and Elijah Boltwood's Tavern. Winter sports enthusiasts visiting the Pioneer Valley have the enviable task of choosing between skating, cross-country or downhill skiing. With five colleges only minutes from the inn and a rich literary history highlighted by the nearby the Emily Dickinson Homestead, the cultural atmosphere surrounding the Lord Jeffrey is an invigorating as the winter temperatures.


Arboretums and flower shows

Even the most diehard winter fan gets nostalgic for spring.


1) New England Spring Flower Show, "Shades of Spring," March 16-24, at the Bayside Expo and Conference Center, Boston. With almost six acres of exhibits, the show has become the largest indoor event in New England and the third largest of its kind in the world. 2002 marks the 131th anniversary of the show. Phone: 617-933-4900;

2) Cape and Islands Orchid Society Show, Jan. 18-20, at the Sea Crest Resort and Conference Center, 350 Quaker Road, N. Falmouth. Phone; 508-457-0669 or 508-548-1617. 508-477-1394


1) Massachusetts Horticulture at Elm Bank, Elm Bank Reservation, 900 Washington Street , Wellesley, MA 02482; Phone; 617-933-4900;

2) Botanic Garden of Smith College, Smith College, Northampton MA 01063; Phone: 413-585-2740;

3) The Arnold Arboretum, 125 Arborway, Jamaica Plain MA 02130; Phone: 617-524-1718;

4) Tower Hill Botanic Gardens, 11 French Drive, Boylston, MA 01505; Operated by the Worcester County Horticultural Society; Phone: 508-869-6111;

5) Berkshire Botantical Gardens, Intersection Routes 102 and 183, Stockbridge, MA 01262; Phone: 413-298-3926;

6) The Margaret C. Ferguson Greenhouses, Wellesley College, Wellesley; Phone: 781-235-0320.


Alpine and nordic ski areas

It's easy to be seduced by the larger ski resorts to the north, but Massachusetts ski areas, with state-of-the-art snowmaking, modern grooming techniques and top-notch family programs don't need to take a back seat to any resort. In fact, many Bay State areas have capitalized on their "small can be beautiful" approach and succeeded in creating a more intimate skiing and snowboarding experience loved by locals and visitors alike.


1) Wachusett Mountain, Princeton, MA 01541; Phone: 978-464-2300 or 800-SKI-1234; E-mail:;

2) Nashoba Valley, Westford, MA; Phone: 978-692-3033 or 800-400-SNOW;

3) Blue Hills, Canton, MA; Phone: 781-828-81714)

5) Bradford, Haverill, MA; Phone: 978-373-0071;

6) Ski Ward, Shrewsbury, MA; Phone: 508-842-6346;


7) Jiminy Peak, Hancock, MA; Phone: 413-738-5500; E-mail:;

8) Brodie Mountain, New Ashford, MA; Phone: 413-443-4752;

9) Butternut Basin, Great Barrington, MA; Phone: 413-528-2000 or 800-438-SNOW; E-mail:;

10) Berkshire East Charlemont, MA; Phone: 413-339-6617; E-mail:;

11) Bousquet, Pittsfield, MA; Phone: 413-442-8316 or 413-4442-2436; E-mail:;

12) Otis Ridge, Otis, MA; Phone: 413-269-4444;

13) Blandford, Blandford, MA; Phone: 413-848-2860; E-mail:;

14) Mt. Greylock Ski Club, Williamstown, MA; Phone: 413-445-7887;


1) Weston Ski Track, Weston, MA; Phone: 781-891-6575;

2) Stump Sprouts XC Center, West Hawley, MA; Phone: 413-339-4265;

3) Wachusett Mountain, Princeton, MA 01541; Phone: 978-464-2300 or 800-SKI-1234; E-mail:;

4) Canterbury Farm Cross-Country Ski Center, Becket, MA; Phone: 413-623-0100

5) Northfield Mountain Cross-Country Center, Northfield, MA; Phone: 413-659-3715;

6) Ski Butternut Cross-Country, Great Barrington, MA; Phone: 413-528-0610;

7) Great Brook Farm, Carlisle, MA; Phone: 978-369-7486

8) Maple Corner Farm, Granville, MA; Phone: 413-357-8829

9) Shaker Farms, Westfield, MA; Phone: 413-562-2770

10) Mt. Greylock Ski Club, Williamstown, MA; Phone: 413-445-7887;


The ultimate weekend


Barrier island topography

Pack up the outdoor gear and start with a visit to Plum Island in the northeast corner of Essex County. With a cup of hot cocoa, binoculars, or camera with telephoto lens in hand, try to catch a glimpse of a snowy owl or other migratory birds that find temporary homes in the high dune grass and rolling topography of the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge and Plum Island State Park, at the southern tip of this barrier island. Next, head south to The Hub, and skate under the stars and city lights at the Frog Pond ice rink at the Boston Common. Then pamper yourself with a night of sheer decadence at nearby 15 Beacon (617-670-1500; on Boston's historic Beacon Hill starting with sumptuous dinner of hot and cold oysters or froie gras duet followed by roasted Colorado lamb rack, complemented by a superb wine selection at the hotel's restaurant, The Federalist (known as The Fed by locals). Don't count calories - you'll burn them off later.


An early wake-up call and espresso-to-go puts you on the road to Wellesley, and the Elm Bank Reservation, one of the most recent Metropolitan District Commission acquisitions. Explore the 182 acres of woodlands that fill this old estate property, which also houses a 36-acre Massachusetts Horticultural Society education center. Once you've got your motor running, head just a few miles north and stop by the Weston Ski Track for a heart-pumping afternoon of cross-country skiing (with 15 km of trail, and snowmaking!). Afterwards, relax as you head west to Princeton. Saturday night, feed your appetite with a coconut-crusted tuna sashimi followed by lobster Savannah en croute at Sonoma, and soothe your weary bones at the Fernside Inn (1-800-545-2741; Recently renovated top to bottom, this historic 1835 Federal mansion, offers outstanding views, including Boston, 55 miles to the east.


After taking in a breathtaking sunrise and a hearty breakfast at the Fernside, prepare for a day chock-full of downhill jollies at Wachusett Mountain ski area. Wachusett, an Algonquin Indian word meaning "the Great Hill," has come to mean "the Great Escape" for Boston-area skiers. Though a relatively small mountain at 2,006 feet high, Wachusett skis big. Each of the 20 trails have their own personality. With exceptional snowmaking (100 percent coverage) and groomers running twice a day, conditions are superb day and night (until 10 p.m.). The facilities and ski school are also consistently rated among the best in New England. If your tastes run more toward nordic, the the surrounding Wachusett Mountain State Reservation (978-464-2987; offers roughly 17 miles of trail, including four miles of the Midstate Trail, and the Wachusett Village Inn in nearby Westminster boasts 11 km of cross-country skiing. For a break from physical exertion, and a chance to appreciate a unique piece of New England history, visit the state reservation's rare old-growth forest.

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