Outdoor Adventures Close To Home
Residents of the Northeast's major cities need not limit their outdoor excursions to walks around the block. The region has a wealth of parks, preserves, and forests within a short drive or train ride of every urban center.
Five miles of trails wind through the dunes of Castle Neck, the finger of land wrapped by Crane Beach. Hikes beginning at the beach parking area vary from trail to elevated walkway, and some are rerouted from one season to the next to minimize damage from foot traffic. The roots of plants hold together this environmentally fragile area where endangered piping plovers nest. The area boasts extensive pitch pine forests, carnivorous plants, cranberry bogs, and ocean swimming. A shuttle runs to Crane Beach from the Ipswich commuter rail station.
Distance: 5 miles
Upper Paugussett State Forest
For a roller coaster of a hike through Upper Paugussett’s diverse forest, follow the blue blazes clockwise from the parking lot on Echo Valley Road. Beech, birch, maple, and oak trees surround the winding, diving, and climbing trail. Connecticut has actively logged areas adjacent to the trail, and educational signs explain how the work helps the forest’s long-term health. A longer 6.5-mile loop can also be hiked from the same spot, and intersecting orange and yellow-blazed trails offer variations.
Distance: 2.4 miles
From the small lot located near the Massapequa train station (located on the Long Island Rail Road’s Babylon Branch), follow the white blazes to Massapequa Preserve’s southern section. A multi-use path popular with joggers, cyclists, and hikers alike leads to Massapequa Lake’s southwestern corner. Follow the Greenbelt Trail, marked with three blazes, back toward the lot for a more tranquil experience. Along the lake’s edge you may see some of the 200 bird species known to visit the preserve.
Distance: 2 miles
The name says it all: High Point is New Jersey’s highest mountain (1,803 ft). From the parking area on Route 23, the Appalachian Trail climbs almost to the summit. Just 0.2 miles from the top, the AT branches off to the right; follow the red and green-blazed Monument Trail to the peak. A 220-foot granite monument marks the top, where a 360-degree view stretches deep into New Jersey and New York, down the Kittatinny Ridge to the south and to the Highlands in the east. New York City’s skyline may even be visible on clear days.
Distance: 2.8 miles
Ridley Creek State Park
Newtown Square, Pa.
A hidden gem on the outskirts of Philadelphia, Ridley Creek State Park boasts miles of forested hills and rocky creeks. Follow the Yellow Trail from the park office parking lot off Gradyville Road. This trail cuts across the park west to east. Just before the trail ends (about 2.5 miles in), follow the White Trail and loop back around to the Yellow Trail (about 2 miles). A left turn will take you back to the lot in 1 mile.
Distance: 5.5 miles
The Pinnacle and the Pulpit
For the best view from the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania, climb The Pinnacle. From the parking area on Reservoir Road, a counter-clockwise loop along the Appalachian, Valley Rim, Pinnacle, and Blue trails covers more than 9 miles. This hike features thick, lush forest, steep climbs, and more than one lookout. The Pulpit, located about halfway to The Pinnacle, offers a view from 1,582 feet. The Pinnacle is located about 250 feet off the AT, about halfway into this loop.
Distance: 9.25 miles
Alapocas Run State Park
Located within Wilmington’s city limits, Alapocas Run follows Brandywine Creek and is part of the Northern Delaware Greenway, which connects several Wilmington parks. From the park office parking lot, follow Alapocas Run west. After crossing Alapocas Drive, complete a figure-eight that includes the Alapocas Woods Trail and Pawpaw Loop Trail, which winds through a forest of pawpaws—native trees with large, teardrop-shaped leaves. The Blue Ball Barn at the parking lot houses a folk art collection, and Bancroft Mills and an old quarry are remnants of the city’s industrial past.
Distance: 4.5 miles