- Visit North Central
- Posted on May 9, 2015
When the sunlight sparkles on the surface of fresh snow, when the air is crisp and fresh, when trees are clothed in a mantle of white, it’s time to get out and explore Johnny Appleseed Country.
Opportunities for winter explorations abound in this land of accessible—and scenic—open space. You can snowshoe pretty much anywhere there’s a trailhead with available parking. The challenge, though, is knowing where to park in the winter. Many trailheads are a simple pull-off by the side of the road and some may become inaccessible after a snowfall.
Here are some tips to get you started on your winter exploration.
At Wachusett Mountain in Princeton (Exit 25 south off Rt. 2), state park staff clear the entry gates around the reservation soon after major snowfalls. This means that the wide cart roads meandering through the park are available for cross-country skis or snowshoes all winter.
There are easy-to-access gates at North Road or West Road along West Princeton Road in Westminster. Park near the gate, but don’t block it. Also, parking can be had by the side of Bolton Road, just past the ski area’s lower driveway, at the trailhead for the Bolton Pond Trail. The roadway by this trailhead has a wide shoulder that accommodates several vehicles and is popular year-round.
On Mountain Road in Princeton, there’s a cleared roadside shoulder for entry into Echo Lake Road, which offers a slight uphill grade into the park that becomes the perfect downhill pitch—even for novice X-C skiers —on the return trip.
At the south end of the park, on Westminster Road, the gate is cleared at Administration Road. From this gate you can snowshoe, hike or ski up a choice of trails and cart roads, making it all the way to the summit in a couple of scenic miles, if you choose.
Leominster State Forest
At Leominster State Forest, snowmobiles often cruise on several miles of cart roads, creating “groomed trails” for X-C skiers. Park staff keep some gates cleared and consistently plow a sizable parking lot on Route 31 next to Crow Hill Pond (the beach area). From here, trails lead over a causeway and then around—or over—Ball Hill.
Across the street from this parking lot is the trail leading to the base of Crow Hill Ledges. The more adventurous can snowshoe with crampons from here, and make it to the top in less than an hour.
Just south along Route 31, the Rocky Pond Road gate is plowed for parking. Ski or hike through the gate and up Rocky Pond Road and discover several marked side trails, or follow the road straight through for almost three miles to the opposite gate, in Leominster, at Elm Street. The network of trails in the park are wide with gentle grades that are never steep, making them perfect for X-C skiing.
The Finnish people who settled in Fitchburg brought with them their love of the outdoors and winter sports. So it’s not surprising that Saima Park, the center of Finnish culture here, boasts well-groomed cross-country trails. The trails are open to the public on the first Saturday in February — but members can ski anytime during daylight hours, and the membership fee is modest. To learn more about Saima Park, visit www.saima-park.org.
Dunn State Park
Dunn Park in Gardner (Exit 24 off Rt. 2), a popular summer recreation spot, is lively in winter, too! There’s ample parking, the walking trails are open for X-C skiing and snowshoeing, and the pond is open for skating. You’ll often find a wood fire burning in the visitor center when you’re ready for a break.
Snow season is no reason to stay indoors! Pack up your skis or snowshoes and head out to Johnny’s backyard!
— Marie N. Auger