I always expected that hikes and posts would drop off once work started up again, but I guess I didn't realize how precipitously. I promised myself to do a "big hike" every week or so and post regularly on various topics. Instead life caught up. Ministry is an emotional business sometimes. The various arenas of parish life require commitment in multiple ways. Essentially, there are things that must be done to aid a changing church and changing lives of church members. I haven't been able to get away for extended periods of time.
Man...I would love to though...
That said, I have been able to take a few smaller walks and hikes. The most challenging one involved a treadmill and an elliptical at the YMCA. The most meaningful one for me was Wolfe's Neck Woods State Park, just outside of downtown Freeport in Maine. This is one of those places I went often as a young person. It was relatively close to where I grew up. We would have picnics here regularly. Later, when I went to a private high school, the park was on my way home. Back then I would sometimes go running here to stay in shape for the worst cross-country team in the state.
Then, when I, my siblings, and our significant others worked in the "outlet heck" of Freeport, we would sometimes take our picnic breaks here. Family members who worked at a sandwich shop would bring the food. Then we would drive home...to the same house, because we lived with our parents. In that group a number of our "first dates" happened here. Oh yes, there was camping involved, too...
Through the trees you can see the innocent-looking island where the ospreys nest. One of the first lessons I ever got about the power of nature was a warning not to go over there because the ospreys would attack you. There have been plenty of stories about people--sometimes arrogant, sometimes drunk and arrogant--doing just that and ending up in the hospital.
The path, itself, is not all that difficult. It winds from the picnic area along the coastline. There isn't a beach (thank God) so it is a hiker's park, mostly. The range of the tides is pretty extreme, so the view constantly changes. Also, there are many spots where one can turn back to the parking lot if necessary. It can be a pretty convenient feature if schedules or abilities differ. During this most recent trip on an unseasonably warm day, my niece had to head home after a while to get ready for school, so she just turned off and we continued on.
There isn't much to say about the walk we took. It wasn't very technical. I nabbed a geocache. We spent time with family, like we always have here. Then we went back the way we came. However, it does bring up a subject that I have been reminded of frequently in this project. That, my friends, would be accessibility.
Many of the hikes I list on Sabbath Walks can be challenging for some people. I forget that. Probably that is because the hikes are also challenging for me and I do not think of myself as much of an athlete. As a slow hiker, there are plenty of people to remind me on every trip large or small that it is harder for me than it is for them. That is how people roll; one-upping each other with abandon.
It turns out that there is a degree of difficulty in what I do--even on Mount Cube or Hedgehog--that is worth recognizing. It might be that for some people the challenge makes those hikes less relaxing than they should be for a sabbath walk.
The big accidental secret is that I take a lot of shorter or easier walks. It's not just Wolfe's Neck! I just didn't know anyone would be interested. With that in mind--and to reveal where I go when I am not climbing a mountain--here are some of my other favorite easy (or easier) hikes, some of which I have done more times than I can count...
OK...one further note. No walk is really "easy." There is always a challenge. The trick is knowing what you are up for and what you think you can manage on any given day. When I injured my back all the hikes on this "easy" list were off the table for a while. For some people they may always be just manageable or not manageable. Know thyself, thy interests, and thy ability. If these seem a bit too easy, I recommend my Easyish Hikes list.
Also...again...know you are hiking your own hike. Sometimes someone else thinks you are a loser for accomplishing something they think is beneath them. I have been on the receiving end of hiker toxicity more than once, myself. That is on them. You don't need their insecurities to harsh your vibe.
Ridge Hill Reservation, Needham, MA
I credit this trail with much of the progress I made rehabbing my back. However, my relationship with it starts way before my injury. When I need to think and then get right back to work, this is where I go. The trails here can sustain a hike of anywhere between 1/4 mile to 3 miles. It is dog-friendly and--unlike some parks not on this list--the dog walkers keep their furry friends relatively under control.
There are no epic views here. However, there is a lovely boardwalk through a wetland. Most importantly: do not miss the area across Charles River Street from the parking areas! It is oft-forgotten so there are fewer people. Also, it takes you down to the Charles River, which is always pretty.
Oliverian Brook Trail, WMNF, NH
I hiked this one in the rain, but I have to say that the river was very pretty and--in an area of relatively tough climbs--it was a good cool-down. I sat by the brook for a while. On a pretty day I could see spending even more time there quite happily. If you are stuck in the White Mountain National Forest and don't want one of the many riskier hikes available, just tell your friends you are doing this and will meet up with them after.
Note that this is an out-and-back. The same trail leads to some relatively easy--but more challenging than this list--ledges. Also, if you make the wrong turn you could end up on the butt-kicking slopes of Mount Passaconaway. Turn around when you are ready. You really call the shots.
By the way, it gets a mention on my Mount Hedgehog post. Hedgehog, itself, is "easyish" and these trails could make a nice two-day combo.
Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary, Natick, MA
In the Covid era this extremely popular sanctuary required a reservation. It may still. Also, if you are not a member the Audubon Society, it will cost a you a tiny bit. That said, I love this place! I have hiked/snowshoed here in all kinds of weather. There are trails that make cute 1/4 mile loops and longer arrangements as well.
This also borders the Charles River. I have passed the farthest flung trails from time to time in my canoe. If you like turtles do check out the various observation areas in the wetlands near the parking area. Finally, be warned, since the plague this place has been packed on the weekends.
Cochituate Rail Trail, Natick/Framingham, MA
One warning about this one...it is paved. This is a multi-use trail that is probably best on a bike but walkers can enjoy it too. It serves as a pedestrian/bike path for commuters. You can hit the mall. It leads to the back gate of Cochituate State Park. I made a loop of it from my house--which came to around 9 miles--in order to train up for the Great Glen Way road walk portions. Worked great.
Be warned that the hard surface can do a number on your feet if you go the whole way.
Mount Agamenticus, York, ME
This is the "hardest" of these easy hikes and it is the only one that has its own entry on this blog. I will refer you there for details. Still, it was very accessible and there were plenty of trails that skirt the mountain, itself if that feels like too much.
Long Pond Loop (Tully Lake Reservation) Athol, MA
This loop is also on the challenging end of easy. There is an optional tiny mountain to consider. That said, it is one of my absolute favorites of all time. It follows Long Pond just north of the much-busier Tully Lake. There are views both over the pond and up on the tiny mountain. It is also the longest on this list at about 7 miles. Unlike the rail trail, you cannot really bail out, which is a consideration. That said. it is very doable if you give yourself enough time.
Bradbury Mountain State Park, Pownal, ME
I have mentioned this one before as well. I spent a huge amount of time here growing up. One of my brothers worked as a summer ranger here as well. This tiny "mountain" has a great view of the towns and villages where I grew up. Trust me, though, you will like it even if you are from away. Also, yes, my high school cross-country team ran here from time-to-time as well.
As with Wolfe's Neck and Broadmoor, there is a fee to get in. The shortest trail to the top is about .4 miles. However, I usually take the perimeter trail that makes the whole experience closer to 3 miles.
That is all for now! It was nice getting to think about these special places. I have already been to Ridge Hill once this week. Maybe I will head over again soon...
I am a full-time pastor in a small, progressive church in Massachusetts. This blog is about the non-church things I do to find spiritual sustenance.