Did someone say Corona-approved travel?
We all carry this assumption that we know the place we are from. But do we really? How often do you go touristing in your own town? How often, on a day off, have you thought “I could go there any time,” opting to visit a further destination, rather than one close by? When we travel out of state or out of country, we are like sponges; soaking in culture and experience, nature and cityscapes, new foods and stunning vistas. But do you give your home locale the same consideration? Or does familiarity take away some of the appeal of local travel? Do you find yourself skipping over attractions in your area that you “know” but have never actually been to? I’ve been thinking a lot, in the times of Corona, about this question of local travel.
Personally, I am so guilty of this habit.
I’d sooner be found hopping a plane to go hiking in Utah or Colorado for the weekend than looking for a small Massachusetts trail system. Jetting to Puerto Rico for the night to get my fill of sun and surf and mofongo on a whim. I’ve flown to New York City on a Sunday morning to have brunch with friends and flown back that very same evening. It is the unknown, after all, that calls us to travel and explore.
In the times of Corona, with air travel and overnight stays off the table, we’ve had to adjust. We are getting very familiar with the local, seeing our homes and neighborhoods in new, up-close ways. And since distant destinations and far-away adventures are not possible right now, I’ve been making the most of this opportunity: Looking for adventure right here at home.
Get out in that city. Feel the sun on your face.
Go discover some surprises.
I think there’s something about home that we take for granted. We grew up here—we know it, inherently. But even in tiny Massachusetts there are dozens of nature areas I have not only never visited but never heard of. The people of this state tend to be a bit insular. Folks living North of Boston, and I’ll put myself in this group, know virtually nothing about the South Shore. (I only became exposed to the towns south of Boston accidentally when I fell in love with one of the area’s residents.) Likewise, those who grow up on the south shore know little to nothing about their northern neighbors. There are funny stereotypes that each side holds, and there is a quiet food rivalry humming at low frequencies. The South Shore will claim their pizza is best. While the North cries “But chicken kabobs! Roast beef 3-ways!” Left out of the minds of coastal Massachusettsans is any thought at all of the towns in the western part of the state—the largest part. It is as if this more rural stretch, with forests and farm fields, horse stables and small kitschy downtowns, is another state entirely.
Bay Staters will zip up to Maine or New Hampshire for the weekend to get our nature fix. Old Orchard Beach or Lake Winnipesaukee or the White Mountains. We sit in the most horrendous traffic lines for a beach weekend on Cape Cod. But, and not surprisingly, there are so many other places, right here in our in our own backyard, in this tiny state, worth exploring.
I’ve been taking this opportunity of limited travel to check out some of these places, and it has been such a pleasure getting to know home a bit better. I’d encourage you all to do the same. Below are some of the awesome natural areas in Massachusetts we’ve visited that are SO worth exploring for the day if you live nearby. Don’t live in MA? Can’t blame ya there, and I’ve included resources at the bottom to help you find state parks, nature trails, and Corona-approved local travel in your own home state. Happy exploring!
Nature areas we’ve visited & Corona-approved local travel in Massachusetts:
Purgatory Chasm State Reservation, Sutton, MA
This park was really cool. The trail winds through a chasm, likely created by sliding glaciers, and entails crawling up and down a series of giant boulders. Head down into the rocky crease of the land, and then out through milder, tree-lined trails. Each trail is short, so you can make it a quick trip or explore a few different ones. There are some legends and folk tales about the formation of various parts of the chasm, notably the “Devil’s Corn Crib”, which seem a bit puritan-prejudice, but read up on them anyway and think about it for yourself.
Despite it's name Purgatory Chasm is quite peaceful.
Borderland State Park, North Easton, MA
This park offers little in the way of elevation, but is great for running, biking and walking with an open trail system that spans around 1,800 acres. There is a mansion on-site that offers tours in non-Corona times. For now, just take in the quiet, scenery and fresh air.
Strolling through Borderland feels like stepping into a simpler time.
Blue Hills Reservation, Norfolk County, MA
An old favorite of South-Shore-ites, and admittedly not a new spot for me. In fact, this was one of my go tos when I lived in South-of-Boston suburb, Quincy. Blue Hills can be overlooked because of its proximity to Boston and its accessibility to residents of Norfolk county, with entrances in SIX different towns. But don’t be quick to pass over this 6,000 acre gem. There are steep, quick elevations gains, flat trail sections, some impressive vistas of Boston and surrounding areas, and enough change in the landscape to keep you interested, working, but not too exhausted.
Doane’s Falls/Tully Lake, Royalston, MA
Okay so techhhhhnically the Falls are closed due to Covid-19. While I would NOT recommend anyone break the rules, there are connecting trails that are not closed. The Tully Lake trail connects to a parking lot for a canoe/kayak launch that is directly across the street from the Doane’s Falls trailhead. We took a quick peek at the falls, which was very cool since don’t see waterfalls every day in Massachusetts. But I’d actually say the Tully Lake portion of our day-hike was more impressive. (Note: I’m being a bit generous calling it a “hike”. There are portions with incline, in fact in the mid-section of the trail there are a series of ups and downs, but they are more like small rolling hills, and not the elevation you might think of in a “hike”.) Also, we started the trail from the parking lot mentioned above, and not from the Tully Lake Trailhead. We walked along for the beginning portion on a wide, flat trail, meant for bikes. We came to a couple of very pretty clearings that looked almost like a camp area. Then continued on and found ourselves in forest. Another clearing and a beautiful view of the lake, complete with fallen-log bench for sitting. We sat at the edge of the water and watched tadpoles swimming around. We talked about the pros and cons of ocean vs. lake-side living, soft splashes from kayakers the only background noise. The moss padding the ground surrounding the path looked like an emerald carpet rolled out before us, and you couldn’t help but feel a slight tinge of enchantment. It was truly a special place.
one of my favorite views of Tully Lake
But this one's not so bad either.
Not in Massachusetts? Corona-approved local travel in every state:
Cool. Check out the America’s State Parks website. Click your state to find a state park near you. Why visit the same old parks and trails you already know? I can almost guarantee there are at least a few places right in your proverbial backyard that you have never heard of or thought to visit. There is no time like the present, with Corona, to fit in some local travel. I’ll also include this list from Insider of the most breathtaking natural wonders of each state for inspiration.
City Dwellers- You’re not exempt.
Get outside. Take a long walk. Read those plaques you’d normally just walk by. Examine the statues of historical figures, admire them if you think it warranted. Take the long way. Zig-zag through neighborhood streets. New ones you’ve never walked down. The ones you’ve seen a million times, too, but look at them with fresh eyes. Be a tourist at home. Examine the doors of apartments, the lighting choices of their residents, make note of the different architectural styles. The old and the new, existing side by side. Find hidden green spaces. Talk to the birds. Appreciate the blooms on the flowers and the trees. Bask in the small pleasure of being outside at all.
We’ve walked miles and miles around the city of Boston over the course of the month. Boston is one of the coolest cities in America to stroll through because of its rich history and small stature. There are little surprises around every corner, and it’s been fun discovering them. I’ve made friends with outdoor cats, given granola bars to our less fortunate neighbors, daydreamt about living in dozens of historic brownstones and modern lofts. I’ve wondered aloud “what type of flower is that?”, read about Harriet Tubman and the diversity of the South End neighborhood, been witness to striking sunsets off glistening buildings and, maybe best of all, have gotten to exercise my “dog voice” to my fill of pups passing by.
Get out in that city. Feel the sun on your face. Go discover some surprises.
Look with fresh eyes
You may be surprised at what beauty is hidden right in your own backyard.
Besides feeling so amazing to be outside during quarantine and able to stretch out and move my limbs, getting to know my home state has been an unexpected, wonderful side-effect. As a frequent traveler, taking advantage of these Corona-approved local travel opportunities has been SO beneficial to my mental health. Checking out these local nature areas has also given me a bit more appreciation. And in days like these, finding small pleasures—things to feel impressed by and things to be grateful for—can make all the difference in the world.
Let me know your favorite local nature spot. Or other local travel gems, in Massachusetts or your home state.
Thanks for reading and happy Quarentena!