The trail along the Indian Head River in Hanover.

Imagine hiking through dense woods, following a well-marked trail that occasionally leads you past the remnants of old stone walls or on stepping stones across a bubbling brook. Moving steadily uphill, you catch a glimpse of a river to your right. All is still – you hear no noise, no traffic, only the sounds of nature and your own breath. When you reach the top of a steep cliff, you look down to see a swiftly moving stream far below.

You could be in New Hampshire or western Massachusetts, in the foothills of a small New England mountain range. But Pembroke? It’s hard to believe such scenery exists right here on the South Shore.

The Indian Head River flows east through Hanover, Pembroke and Hanson, and joins with Herring Brook in a freshwater marsh just west of Route 53 to form the North River. The confluence of the three waterways is accessible only by small boat, however a significant portion of the Indian Head, further upstream, can be explored on foot. There are trails on both sides of the river, from the fish ladder at Luddam’s Ford to the Hanover/Hanson line near Myette’s General Store.

The best way to explore the trails along the Indian Head River is to begin at the fish ladder on West Elm Street, on the Hanover/Pembroke line. If the circumstances are right – you have good weather, are moderately fit, and have the energy to dedicate to a two to three hour walk – I recommend a round-trip. Otherwise, you might consider exploring smaller sections of the route, starting from any of the four access points (see below).

There is ample parking both at Luddam’s Ford, on the Hanover side, and on the Pembroke side, at the fish ladder. Begin on the Pembroke side, staying close to the river, heading upstream from the fish ladder. The trail will be evident immediately as you enter the woods.
Much of this land is under the jurisdiction of Pembroke’s Conservation Commission, and thus the trails are well marked with blue blazes. However you will find plenty of detours to consider. To remain on track, I recommend staying as close to the river as you can, choosing the paths that seem to lead toward – and not away from — the water. You will find at times however that you have no choice but to go in what feels like the wrong direction. Take heart that even these trails will eventually bring you back on course.

Staying close to the water, you will discover a wide array of scenic vistas. At times you will find yourself down in the lowlands of the river valley, while minutes later you will be high atop a wooded cliff. You will see vestiges of the Indian Head’s industrial history – the remains of dams and sluiceways from the mills and factories that once lined the river banks. Depending on the time of year, the water may be slow-moving or quite rapid. There are plenty of riverside boulders on which to rest or even picnic, many overlooking scenes of undisturbed beauty.

The trail on the Pembroke side of the river will lead you out to State Street in Hanson. To continue back in the other direction, cross the bridge and head uphill toward Myette’s General Store. Turn right on Broadway. Within a short distance you will see the trailhead for the Hanover side of the river.

On the Hanover side, the first half of the route is much more scenic than the second, so take your time, and again, remember to stay close to the water for the best views. Eventually the trail will open out onto Water Street, along which you will walk for several yards. Before long, it goes back into the woods, at which point it will have widened into an old railroad bed. This route will eventually lead you to the park at Luddam’s Ford.

It’s a long walk, but well worth the trip if you feel up to it. Be sure to wear sturdy shoes, and bring a snack and some drinking water to sustain yourself.

For a shorter excursion, begin at any of the four access points – the Indian Head River Fish Ladder on West Elm Street in Pembroke; Luddam’s Ford on Elm Street in Hanover; the trailhead on the Hanson side of the State Street Bridge, or the trailhead off Broadway in Hanover. You can walk as far up the trail as you like, turning back when you’ve had enough for that day.

by Kezia Bacon Bernstein, Correspondent
January 2002

Kezia Bacon Bernstein’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.