by Kezia Bacon, Correspondent

Caretakers of young children know that attempting a nature walk with a preschooler has its risks and rewards. On the plus side, you are likely to see things differently through a child’s eyes. That giant rock halfway down the trail? It is now a jungle gym!

On the other hand, you may not even make it to the trailhead because nearly everything has the potential to fascinate. A friend and fellow blogger writes about exploring only the driveway at a local wildlife preserve with his 4-year-old son. A bent stick became a ninja’s weapon, and then a fishing pole, and then an experiment with cause and effect. (Tossed into the water, it floated away. Tears ensued.)

Furthermore, little legs can tire out fast. Even a half mile trail can seem exhaustingly long when the only options for completing it involve whining or a piggyback ride. Pro Tip: a playground nearby serves as a valuable incentive.

The list I’ve compiled here features 11 nature-based places to visit with young children. Each includes at least one of the following criteria:

  • minimal distance from the parking area to “the good stuff”
  • a trail no longer than a half mile
  • the presence of a decent-sized play structure.

Even when it’s cold outside, a short walk can do wonders. Be sure to check out the NSRWA Explore South Shore 2021 Contest. This month we’re featuring child-friendly properties both within and beyond the watershed of the North and South Rivers. Please visit them, and then post a photo from your adventure to Instagram with the hashtag #ExploreSouthShore. Once a month, we’ll randomly select a winner.

Hartsuff Park, Rockland

This diverse woodland property features a playground, a disc golf course, a swimming pond, a picnic area, and athletic fields, all surrounded by a 1-mile nature trail. Pets are not permitted, but since the park is set back far from the main road, it’s a relatively safe place to let your children run free. The land drains to Cushing Brook, a tributary to the Drinkwater River, part of the North River watershed. Ample on-site parking at the 146 Hingham Street entrance.

Veterans Memorial Town Forest, Hanson

This quiet 37 acres of woods and wetlands at the edge of Wampatuck Pond, in the Indian Head River watershed, directly abuts town-owned athletic fields, plus there’s an elementary school across the street. If the pond, streams, and well-trod trails lose their appeal, there are options. Park at the sports complex on Route 58, or at the cul de sac at the end of Indian Trail.

Higgins-MacAllister Preserve, Scituate

This 37-acre property features a 1-mile, boulder-strewn loop trail through the woods. However with little ones, the best part might come sooner. Close to the entrance is a long wooden bridge and a shallow, rocky stream. Not far away is a pine tree with a 17-foot circumference. What more do you need? The stream here is a headwater for Bound Brook and the Aaron River. Park at the end of Holly Crest Road.

Woodbine Island Conservation Area, Weymouth

This diminutive 3-part property on Woodbine Road features a short trail along the edge of Whitman’s Pond, the island itself, and also a sliver of shoreline suitable for fishing or launching kayaks. The 0.16-mile trail offers plenty for the preschool set, and most days you’ll find ducks or geese on the pond (please refrain from feeding them). Whitman’s Pond is a headwater to the Weymouth Back River and a spawning area for herring. Very limited roadside parking near the intersection of Woodbine Road and Island View Road. Additional roadside parking at the end of Woodbine Road.

Herring Run Park, Pembroke

This charming property sits directly on Herring Brook. In the springtime, you can actually see herring swimming by. In some places, the brook is only about six inches deep! There is also a large grassy area with a mammoth boulder. Herring Brook is part of the North River watershed. On-site parking on Barker Street.

Island Grove Park, Abington

This 53-acre forest park features two ponds, plus walking trails and a playground. One pond is actually a dammed section of the Shumatuscacant River, which is part of the Taunton River watershed. Ample parking on Park Street.

Gaffield Park, Norwell

This 8-acre parcel contains multi-activity playground structures, short trails into the woods, and a small sledding hill. Large glacial erratic boulders encourage imaginative play. It is also one of many access points to Norwell’s Pathway, a paved bike and walking trail. It lies within the watershed of Second Herring Brook and the North River. Limited on-site parking on Forest Street.

Ellis Nature Sanctuary, Marshfield

This 27-acre property is a beautiful spot for a quick walk, and the chance to see some wildlife. The half-mile trail leads from the parking area to and around a retired cranberry bog, part of the South River watershed. Limited on-site parking. Look for the small lot down the easy-to-miss access road off Plain Street, near Sandy Hill Drive.

Beaver Brook Playground, Abington

This large, well-shaded playground shares an address with Abington school properties. Go all the way to the back, and you can’t miss it. For an alternative to the play structures, look for the pond, and cross to the other side, where you’ll find a secluded woodland trail along the Shumatuscacant River. On-site parking on Ralph Hamlin Jr. Blvd.

House Rock Park, Weymouth

A small playground with a colossal freestanding boulder is just the start of what this park offers. Behind House Rock you’ll find a 0.34-mile trail into the woods. The property lies on the border between the Weir River and Monatiquot River watersheds. Limited parking at the end of House Rock Road.

Pratt Farm, Marshfield

This 34-acre property is situated on both the South River and Zenas Brook. A 0.35-mile trail leads over a bridge and along the edge of the marsh, then back into the woods and over another bridge. Imagine the possibilities! At the eastern end of the trail, a tall set of stairs leads up to Marshfield’s Rail Trail and Bridle Trail. Limited on-site parking on Willow Street.

Kezia Bacon’s articles appear courtesy of the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, a local non-profit organization devoted to protecting our waters. For membership information and a copy of their latest newsletter, contact NSRWA at (781) 659-8168 or visit You will also find 25+ years of Kezia’s Nature columns there. For more information about the Explore South Shore 2021 Contest, visit

Watch an episode from our Winter Nature Challlenge* here.
Exploring Wonder: A Child’s View of Nature with the SSNSC

*Nature Challenge of the Week:

  • Explore a new place (could be a new trail or perhaps observe life under a
  • Find a Sit Spot and visit it at least 3 times this week.
  • Go on a water hike. Close your eyes and listen.
  • Learn about, observe, or track an animal you don’t know much about.