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Massachusetts is an underrated outdoor destination in the U.S., yet it is also one of the most beautiful places to hike, fish, and set up camp. The state is filled with wooded areas, beaches, lakes, and natural places that will take your breath away and leave you feeling refreshed from your daily routine. Here are the best state and national parks to visit in Massachusetts to experience nature and learn something new.
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This National Park System destination features 40 miles of sandy beaches, marshes, ponds, and uplands. There are also lighthouses, cranberry bogs, and historic sites to check out at Cape Cod National Seashore. You can enjoy swimming beaches, biking trails, and to learn about the region, or join a ranger program to do snorkeling, hiking, canoeing, yoga, and more. Hunting and fishing are also popular pastimes. Overland beach driving is possible when you apply for a permit. Self-contained beach camping spaces are available on a first-come, first-served basis when you obtain a permit from the off-road vehicle office.
Blackstone River and Canal Heritage State Park spans about 1,000 acres and has both trails and historical sites. Popular things to do are fishing, hunting, picnicking, canoeing, horseback riding, and biking. Cross-country skiing and hiking are also fun seasonal activities. It’s fun to walk along the historic canal that was once used for trading purposes in the 1800s. The park also has a boat ramp, picnic areas, educational programs, and a visitor center where you can learn more about the area. This is a day-use park that’s open from sunrise to sunset, but it is not a park to camp overnight.
Bash Bish Falls State Park is home to the tallest single-drop waterfall in Massachusetts and is a great place to take a picnic or go for a hike. It is also fun to explore the nearby Mt. Washington State Park and Taconic State Park over the border in New York while here. This is a day-use park that is open from sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset. Plan to start a hike at the Upper Falls parking lot and go down along the falls for awesome views. Fishing and hunting are other activities to do; however, rock climbing and swimming are not allowed.
Boston Harbor Islands National & State Park is close to Boston’s city center and made up of 34 islands and peninsulas. It’s fun to explore this area by hopping on board a ferry, which is operated seasonally. Come for a family-friendly, rustic retreat, a quiet vibe, and stunning views on a summer day. Enjoy a picnic, explore a historic fort, and stay overnight at a rustic campsite. Hiking and birdwatching are popular activities. The islands accessible by ferry are Georges, Peddocks, Grape, Little Brewster, Spectacle, Lovells, Bumpkin, and Thompson. To learn about history, check out Fort Warren, Boston Light, Fort Andrews, and Deer Island.
To visit the highest point in Massachusetts, check out Mount Greylock State Reservation that stands at 3,491 feet. You can see up to 90 miles from the peak and enjoy the park from dawn to dusk. You can drive your car to the summit, check out the visitor center, and set out on a hiking trail based on your skill level. Unlike some other parks on this list, there is a parking fee for state residents and non-residents. Overnight camping is available in the 18 tent sites and nine group sites. Alternatively, the Bascom Lodge is privately operated and offers cozy accommodations. Snowmobiling in the winter and hunting are also popular activities to do here.
You can see the Mount Agamenticus Mountains on a clear day from Halibut Point State Park and also explore the trails and tide pools on a trip. It’s also interesting to learn about the history of the Cape Ann granite industry. The park is open from 8am to sunset and charges a parking fee from Memorial Day through October 31st. Hiking, fishing, educational programs, and cross-country skiing are all popular activities. There is a visitor center and picnic area onsite; however, swimming is not allowed at this park.
Mount Holyoke Range State Park is a 3,000-acre park that has a seven-mile mountain ridge, streams, woods, and wetlands. Come to explore the over 30 miles of blazed trails. Plan to do the popular Seven Sisters trail, which is an eight-mile hike with great lookouts. There are also miles of mountain biking trails and opportunities for hunting, snowmobiling, and horseback riding. Dogs are allowed but must remain on a leash at all times.
Salem Maritime National Historic Site was the first national historic site established in the U.S. and has been a local destination since 1938. Here you’ll find nine acres of land that has 12 historic structures along the waterfront and also a visitor center. It’s in an urban area of Salem and tells the story of New England’s maritime history. Waite & Peirce is a unique museum store, the Friendship of Salem is a replica tall ship, and the Pedrick Store House was a warehouse moved from a neighboring town that was once filled with goods from around the world. Other sites to see are the Derby Light Station, Derby Wharf, Narbonne House, and Scale House. There is no fee to enter the park, take a tour, or join a park program.
The New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park is another top NPS site in Massachusetts and one that tells a story about local history. Kids can join a free story hour on Friday mornings, and there’s a fun Junior Ranger New Bedford e-book for young explorers too. The Nathan & Polly Johnson House is a popular attraction for tours. The park is in downtown New Bedford and covers whaling history, as well as the topics of the Underground Railroad, women’s history, art, architecture, and cultural diversity.
Nickerson State Park is a Cape Cod-area park that spans 1,900 acres and has trails and ponds to explore. This is an awesome place to stay overnight too since there are over 400 campsites. There is a daily parking fee for residents and non-residents between Memorial Day and October 31st. People also come here to fish in the eight freshwater ponds, hike on the miles of trails, and bike on the eight-mile path that connects you to the 22-mile Cape Cod Rail Trail. Swimming, cross-country skiing, basketball, canoeing, and kayaking are other popular activities here.
The Minute Man National Historical Park teaches visitors about the opening battle of the American Revolution. There is a famous statue there, the April 19, 1775 Witness Houses, living history events to watch, and literature to learn about too. Dogs are welcome to walk around this park with you.
Spanning over 3,526 acres of forests, ponds, and streams, this state park is a wonderful place to hike on the 40 miles of trails and 12 miles of non-motorized roads. There are over 250 campsites here for your overnight stays, a visitor center, and great biking along the Whitney Spur Rail Trail. There’s also a boat launch and picnic areas here.
Come to Lowell National Park to learn about the water-powered textile mills that influenced the industrial era and the shifting global economy. At this park, you can take a guided boat tour, trolley tour, or walking tour. There are numerous themed tours that highlight engineering innovations, the building of the canals, and more. You can also explore this park on foot by checking out the Riverwalk Ramble, Heritage Hike, Redevelopment Rove, and Waterpower Walk. Start your day at the visitor center to make a tour reservation, watch the introductory video, and browse the park store.