For years I’ve been aware of the Blue Hill Reservation, which spans parts of Quincy, Braintree, Milton, Randolph, Canton and Dedham. I’ve written about the Blue Hills Ski Area, but not the reservation itself. Truth is, I’m just beginning to get to know the place. And although I walked sections of it with friends two decades ago, it really hasn’t been on my radar. Until now.
This summer I signed up for a Meet Up group called the Blue Hills Hiking Club. Meet Up is a website devoted to helping like-minded people make connections. So for example, if you like to kayak but don’t want to go alone and have trouble finding friends whose schedules match up with yours, you can join a local kayaking group, and “meet up” with others in the group at designated times/places.
When I stumbled upon it, the Blue Hills Hiking Club sounded like a great idea – an opportunity to explore the Blue Hills with people who already knew their way around. Plus the club offered events nearly every day – hikes on various trails, with differing levels of ability. It took some time, but I finally found one that fit into my schedule.
So on a Sunday at the end of September, I headed up to Milton for the “Easy to Moderate Yellow Triangle Loop,” a hike that would take us up and around Great Blue Hill, and show us the way to the summit (an extension of the hike that we would save for another day).
Pulling off Route 93 onto Blue Hill River Road gave me a “not in Kansas anymore” feeling. One minute I’m on the highway, and the next I’m driving up a road lined with trees and picnic areas. Turning right into the heart of the reservation, I saw trailheads and wooded hills that reminded me of the national parks out west.
Blue Hills Reservation is huge – a 7,000 acre oasis in the middle of an otherwise bustling urban environment. And it’s varied – there are two large ponds (Houghton’s and Ponkapoag); rivers, swamps and bogs; 16 historic structures; and a total of 22 hills. A vast network of trails provides access to nearly every acre. The most popular feature is Great Blue Hill, which stands 635 feet tall and offers an expansive view of the Boston metropolitan area. Plus there is a museum and a weather observatory, both of which I will profile in future columns.
The park dates back to 1893, when the Metropolitan Parks Commission set the land aside for public recreation. These days the state Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) oversees it. Over the years it’s become a popular destination for those seeking a variety of recreational pursuits. Blue Hills offers easy flat trails, as well a steep rocky ones. Some are open to mountain bikes and horseback riders. Houghton’s Pond welcomes swimmers and anglers, and features a snack pavilion. Ponkapoag Pond offers a canoe launch plus rustic cabins for camping. The adjacent Quincy Quarries Reservation, managed by Boston’s Metropolitian District Commission, is open to rock climbers. And of course the downhill ski area is a seasonal favorite.
The hike I attended in September served as an excellent introduction to the reservation itself. We started from the trailhead behind the park headquarters (next to the Milton State Police barracks) and headed up a wide and sometimes rocky road. By “up” I mean “uphill.” It was much steeper than the average walk one enjoys on the South Shore, and I relished the challenge.
From there we turned onto a loop marked by yellow triangles, which went all the way around Great Blue Hill. I was grateful to be with a group, as there were numerous intersections on the 4-mile circuit. The DCR’s map describes the route as “rocky, rugged and hilly,” and indeed it was. I can see why runners and hikers who are preparing for mountain events do some of their training at Blue Hills.
Our hike lasted just under two hours. The 20-or-so attendants, ranging in age from late-20s to mid-60s, formed a loose pack, with a leader at the front and a “sweep” at the back to ensure that no one got lost. We stopped at major intersections for questions and quick breathers, but mostly kept moving at a steady pace. I will definitely be going back for more.
With 125 miles of trails in the Blue Hills Reservation, there is something for everyone. Maps are available online (see below) and also are for sale at the park headquarters. Trails marked with a green dot are gentler woodland loops. Red dots signify the rocky, rugged, more challenging terrain. Yellow dots mark the shorter loop trails.
Follow this link for more information on, and a map of, the Blue Hills Reservation.
Kezia Bacon’s articles appear courtesy of the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, a local non-profit organization devoted to the preservation, restoration, maintenance and conservation of the North and South Rivers and their watershed. For membership information and a copy of their latest newsletter, contact NSRWA at (781) 659-8168 or visit www.nsrwa.org. To browse 15 years of Nature (Human and Otherwise) columns, visit http://keziabaconbernstein.blogspot.com