It’s most exciting to discover a magical place that’s basically in your backyard. As a child, it might actually be in your backyard—a new hole, a corner of the property, a slit in the fence. Imagine the excitement when you realize you can peer into your neighbor’s yard or when you find a litter of bunnies under your grass.
That’s sort of how I felt when I discovered Hale Reservation in Westwood, Ma.
I had literally never heard of Hale Reservation even though it’s located only miles away and boasts over 1,000 acres and 20 miles of hiking. It also hosts 2,000 children every weekday in the summer as part of their enormous camp program. I spent a couple of years driving within half a mile of the reservation to tutor at a private home. 2,000 children? How do you miss that?
When the reservation first appeared on my radar, I was eager to check it out. Luckily my fearless friend and neighbor was interested in checking it out with me. Funny thing—she grew up very close to the reservation and also had never been there!
You can find Hale off exit 16B of route 128 (95) in Westwood, MA. We visited on a summer Saturday, late morning. It was very quiet. The offices are only open during the week and the camp programs were not running. Those 2,000 kids were at home or exploring with their families elsewhere.
Not knowing much about the reservation, we parked in the first lot near the offices and set out to explore with my friend’s almost 3 year old on foot and Wike Baby in my Ergo carrier (faced outward, like a big girl). We consulted the large posted trail map, which I also carried in my internet browser on my phone. You can pick up a paper copy in a box by the large map for a small donation if you’re interested.
With little feet, we knew our wike couldn’t be too long. I thought the butterfly garden might be interesting, so we set off on the blue Storrow Pond trail and took a detour to see the butterfly garden. The first thing we noticed was that the map makes the distance between locations seem very far, but in reality, things are quite close together. That’s good news when you have someone with tiny feet along for the adventure.
The trail was wide with some interesting little bridges, boardwalks, and other features. The wide trails were supposedly colonial era oxen paths. The paths were desolate when we visited, but I could just imagine the huge animals being driven by folks in colonial garb doing important business, likely dragging granite from quarries to building sites.
We arrived at the butterfly garden quickly. It was very small, but we did see a few butterflies, bees, and dragonflies. Enough to hold the interest of an almost 3 year old for a solid 5 minutes! Eternity in a 3 year old’s life.
I found hiking with a 3 year old to be a lot of fun. We basically had to make everything a game to keep his interest… and I love games! First we were mountain climbers, climbing over rocks and dirt piles. Then we were searching for signs of life—people and birds! We watched a chipmunk for a solid three minutes. We could even hear it eating! For a while, he searched for his favorite color blue, the color of our trail markers, as he led us down the trail. When he seemed tired, his mom carried him on her back. What a supermom!
Along the trail, we happened upon the camp sites for the day campers. The camp sites are a reminder of the history of Hale Reservation. From the 1920’s to the 1950’s, Hale Reservation was actually a scout reservation. Each camp site we saw had a pavilion with arts, science, and recreation remnants from a fun week of play and learning. It was a little eerie, like being in a school at night, but I could just imagine how much fun the children had during camp.
A pavilion is sort of like a stage, right? That’s what 3 year olds think! Whenever we happened upon one of these deserted stages, we had to have an impromptu dance party. Just the four of us, rocking out in the middle of the woods. It was a great time, and Wike Baby laughed so hard!
Little feet were getting tired from all that hiking—and probably all that dancing, too. We decided to take the orange Split Rock Trail back to the road that would lead to our cars. On the way back, we saw lots of beach-goers heading toward the lake. Hale Reservation has a private beach for members.
Everyone we passed was super friendly. All 5 of them. I have a feeling that if you visit during a weekday in the summer, you’ll see a whole lot more people…!
I really enjoyed our Hale Reservation wike. We saw only a fraction of the 1,000 acres. On my way out, I drove the road that cuts through the park to scope out where to park and explore next time. Next time we visit, we will park at the Noanet Pond parking lot and hike either the red Page and Sadie Trail around the big pond or check out the rest of the blue Storrow Pond trail. I have a feeling we only saw the tip of the iceberg—in the best possible way!
Have you checked out Hale Reservation yet? Do your children attend camp there? What is your favorite trail?