Try a Snowstride
- Visit North Central
Snowshoes Open New Paths to Explore
The first snows of winter don’t bring an end to outdoor recreation in Johnny Appleseed Country. Instead, they open up a whole new suite of opportunities — like exploring the region’s many trails and conservation areas by snowshoe! Like the Native Americans and early colonial traders and trappers, today’s outdoor enthusiasts can traverse pristine snow to enjoy the beauty of Johnny Appleseed’s backyard. Snowshoes function simply by widening the distribution of a person’s weight on their feet, which keeps them from breaking through the snow. Today’s snowshoes come in several sizes, ranging from small and light for short walks to large and rugged models for backcountry hikes and mountain climbing. Easy to walk in, they require only a slightly larger stride than normal footwear. Johnny Appleseed Country offers a variety of trails for all abilities.
For a family walk, try the Massachusetts Audubon Society’s Wachusett Meadow Wildlife Sanctuary in Princeton, where well-marked trails lead to ponds, old pastures, forests, and a barn with a resident sheep herd. The sanctuary offers guided snowshoe hikes led by expert naturalists, and snowshoes are available for rent for a nominal fee during staffed hours. Or try a walk through Cook’s Canyon in Barre, an unstaffed Audubon sanctuary with an easy, level mile-long loop trail that follows a brook to an old mill pond and waterfall, and the North Common Meadow and Swift River Reservation in Petersham, where trails lead to meadows, ponds, overlooks, cascading streams, and evergreen hemlock forests. For some great views, head up Leominster’s Pleasant Street to Sholan Farms.
On fall weekends, the orchard is a beehive of harvest activity, but winter offers a serene experience — and a terrific vista of the city at your snow-shoed feet. And while Wachusett Mountain is a winter destination for skiers and snow-boarders, the Wachusett Mountain reservation also offers opportunities for snow-shoeing, and fabulous scenic views from the summit!
More Rugged Adventure
For a more rugged adventure, the trails on Wachusett Mountain in Princeton and Mount Watatic in Ashburnham have some steep, rocky sections, but are relatively short and the outstanding views are well worth the effort – in the clear winter air, you can see from Boston to the Berkshires, Green Mountains, and Mount Monadnock from both summits. In Royalston, Tully Lake and adjacent Long Pond offer long (4.5 and 7.5 miles respectively) but mostly level loops with scenic views. The nearby Jacobs Hill Reservation has a 2.2-mile circuit trail that follows easy to moderate terrain to Spirit Falls and an overlook with a great view.
The Appalachian Mountain Club’s Worcester chapter, the Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust, and the Northfield Mountain Recreation Center all offer group walks. Rentals are available at the Trail Head outdoor store in downtown Orange, where you can enjoy a cup of coffee or snack at the Millers River Café after your outing. While on the trail, keep an eye out for animal tracks — a great way to learn about the lives of secretive creatures such as moose, bobcats, fishers, coyotes, foxes, river otters, and weasels. One of the best places to find tracks are areas where different habitats such as forests, wetlands, and fields meet. Watch and listen, too, for the hardy birds that live here year-round, including owls, chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers, kinglets, cardinals, and waxwings. In some winters, rare northern species such as pine grosbeaks and crossbills venture south from Canada. Check trail edges carefully for snowshoe hares, which turn white in winter to blend with the snow.
While snowshoeing is a low-risk activity, it does require several precautions. Be sure to carry plenty of water, especially when the snow is sticky; even when temperatures are cold, dry air and exertion can rapidly cause dehydration. Watch trail blazes carefully, as footpaths may be obscured by fallen snow, and use caution around streams, brooks, wetlands, and rocky areas. If you get lost, turn around and backtrack along your own snowshoe trail. Finally, be sure to allow plenty of time and get an early start, as the sun sets shortly after 4:00 pm during early winter. In addition to water, other good items to bring on your walk include a waterproof winter jacket and gloves, a map and guide, flashlight, energy bars, and trekking poles, which some walkers find useful. And of course, remember your camera, as winter offers a wealth of photographic opportunities!
— Contributed by John Burk