All posts by Shawn

The joy of taking a vacation in the off season.

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My wife and I just came back from a wonderful weekend out in the Berkshires where it was definitely quiet season with very little snow to bring skiers in and all of the warmer weather activities long having finished for the season.  It’s nice not to wait for a seat at a restaurant, get a deal on a place to stay or see many attractions with a lot fewer people there.  The Berkshires are far from the only place in the Northeast that can really shine in the off-season.  Cape Cod is very quiet this time of the year and the islands can feel totally empty – even places like Boston aren’t quite so hectic since the flow of tourists tends to slow down sometime after October ends.

A trip out to Western Massachusetts or Upstate New York is lovely any time of the year and the weather in January is certainly less than ideal – however places like Stockbridge, Lenox, and other lovely postcard-worthy New England towns are lit up from the holiday season (at least for a little while longer).  The Vineyards, Museums, Cider Houses, Distilleries, State Parks and other attractions are a great way to get away with only a modest drive and many of the places to stay are offering reduced rates.

When a trip to a warmer climate or ski destination isn’t an option for you consider a relaxing trip to someplace close to home – there’s lots of wonderful places on sales that make for an ideal getaway!

Enjoying the home stretch of summer vacation.

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New England is an absolutely glorious place in the summer and, although it’s a short season, there’s so much to enjoy here.  There’s especially a lot of family-friendly attractions throughout the area.  For those of you in the Boston area with young children a few not much more than an hour from downtown come to mind:

  • Battleship Cove – this ‘floating museum’ on the southcoast of Massachusetts has several retired US Navy warships open for touring.  Most notably the World War II era Massachusetts.  If you bring a group along you can also camp out on the ship in the enlisted crew cots – it’s a great place to bring someone to show them a piece of living history.
  • Great Brook Farm State Park – This park in Carlisle boasts a working dairy farm that is open for scheduled tours, lots of open space to enjoy, an ice cream stand in the summer and an area where you can pet and feed the farm animals.
  • Stone Zoo – This zoo is located just a few minutes north of Boston off of I-93 and boasts lots of different animals and environments for kids to enjoy – including a lagoon full of flamingos!  The Stone Zoo also has a sister zoo in Boston – Franklin Park Zoo.
  • Minuteman National Historic Park – This is a great place to take a child after they’ve learned about the American Revolution in school.  Being able to talk the Battle Road and see the places from the history books is a real treat.  Plus there’s an interactive video, people dressed up in period uniforms and costumes and lots of special programming.

This is just a small sample of what’s available near Boston – there’s a lot more in the area and tons more if you’re willing to drive further!  Go out and enjoy these wonderful last few weeks of summer and free days before school starts up again!

Exploring the Erie Canal and Upstate New York.

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I had read about the early history of the United States in school and I learned in history class (grudgingly at the time) about some of the earliest infrastructure projects in the United States.  One that played a key role in the development of our country and was a key driver in New York City’s economic growth in the early 19th century was the Erie Canal.  This canal allowed barges to go from the Great Lakes to the Hudson River and thus New York City become the busiest port in the young United States.  This is an interesting piece of history that is still alive today.  In addition to many sections of the original canal that are preserved throughout New York the canal was upgraded under the stewardship of Governor Theodore Roosevelt in the early 20th century and is still in use today as part of the New York State Canal system.  This comprehensive system of canals connects the Atlantic Ocean (via the Hudson River), Lake Champlain, Seneca Lake, a couple of the Finger Lakes, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario across the interior of New York State.  There are also other options available to bring you to Montreal and other locations on the St. Lawrence River and spots further along on the Great Lakes.  Seeing this come to life was really exciting and I hope to include more photos and spots from this beautiful and historic transportation network in the future.

This is one end of lock 16 on the Erie Canal in Mindenville, NY.
This is one end of lock 16 on the Erie Canal in Mindenville, NY.

Take a tour of New Englands Industrial History.

Anyone visiting or living in New England knows all about the lovely old industrial buildings all over New England.  Often made of stone and brick and usually repurposed into something else for use today (often offices or condos) – they’re a lovely part of many a New England downtown.  With very little manufacturing left in New England these buildings are a very lovely testament to the industrial innovation and development that took place in New England and the critical role that it played in the development of the American economy.  In traveling throughout New England a few attractions stand out as great places to get a glimpse into the industrial development of the region and an idea of how big an manufacturing powerhouse New England used to be.  Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Saugus Iron Works – This National Historic Site just north of Boston was a
    Water Powered Trip Hammer at Saugus Iron Works NHS
    Water Powered Trip Hammer at Saugus Iron Works NHS

    surprise to me.  I always thought that New England’s industrial development didn’t start until the 19th century, however this site shows that industrial development started a lot earlier.  This site dates from the 17th century and was the first location in the British Colonies where iron ore was refined and turned into useful items like nails and other tools.  Saugus Iron Works represents the beginning of the iron industry in the United States.  It’s a great place to take kids for an in-person history lesson and even has an operational water-powered trip hammer!

  • Lowell:  This city was built on the textile industry.  It wasn’t the first place where textiles were produced at an industrial scale but was one of the very first large
    Historic Locomotive in Lowell.
    Historic Locomotive in Lowell.

    cities built for the express purpose of textile manufacturing.  There are multiple mills and museums in the city which showcase Lowell’s rapid rise from a small village to a major industrial hub.  Your first stop should be the National Historic Park visitor center.  Tours leaving from this location and give you a good introduction to the city.  After that, there are several things to see including the National Streetcar Museum and the American Textile History Museum among other spots.

  • Slater Mill – Pawtucket, RI:  This is one of the first textile mills in the United States, opened in 1793.  The designs for each machine in this mill were smuggled out of Great Britain (where this information was considered a state secret) by Samuel Slater.  This was one of the very first places where water power was used in the United States to manufacture textiles.  Slater Mill has a great museum which is a popular stop for school groups.

There are many other interesting sites in New England but these three are great places to learn more about the Industrial Revolution in New England.   Enjoy an afternoon at any one of these places and learn a little more about this fascinating part of American History.

A few of my favorite spots year round that shine in the summer!

One of the reasons I love living in New England is that we get all four seasons here and they can be enjoyed in a variety of landscapes.  Mountains, coastline, long lazy rivers, big cities and small towns – with just about everything in between.  No matter the landscape it’s pretty much all here.

I personally tend to gravitate towards mountains and freshwater fun.  It started with

Bristol Falls, VT
Bristol Falls, VT

being put on skis and learning to love winter in the mountains from when I was a little kid.  It has grown into an enjoyment of lots of outdoor activities especially hiking and swimming in a nice lake or mountain swimming hole in the warmer months along with skiing, snowshoeing and enjoying the scenery in the colder months.  This has allowed me the pleasure of visiting lots of great New England ski towns that shine year round.  Here are a few of my personal favorites:

  • Warren and Waitsfield, Vermont – These two towns anchor two of New
    Mad River Valley in the Summer
    Mad River Valley in the Summer

    England’s most iconic ski resorts in the Mad River Valley of Central Vermont: Sugarbush and Mad River Glen.  This area has it all: iconic New England Mountain scenery with jaw-dropping scenery in the fall, great skiing and several classic mountain swimming holes to cool off on during a hot summer day.  There’s also a lovely covered bridge that makes for a great photo backdrop!

  • Bethel, Maine:  Bethel is home to one of New Englands largest and most developed resorts, Sunday River.  It’s one of my picks to start the season since they have (at least as far as I can see) the best snowmaking in New England (maybe tied with Killington) and it tends to get the crowds.  But Bethel is a lovely classic New England ski town with lots to do when the snow has melted.  Sunday River runs lots of activities (check out their website for details) and the surrounding area is tons of fun in the summer.  With camping, biking, swimming and lots of other activities to enjoy Bethel is a great place to bring the family for some summer fun!
  • North Conway, NH:  North Conway is a really popular place and it’s a very
    Swimming hole on the Kangamangus Highway in NH
    Swimming hole on the Kangamangus Highway in NH

    popular destination for good reason.  It’s been a resort town for quite some time and is a busy place at the year-round hub of the Mount Washington Valley.  With the Kangamangus Highway, Mount Washington and several ski resorts with lots of summer activities in the area just to start with.  There’s also a great downtown, lots of nice restaurants and many other great activities to enjoy.

There are lots of other great mountain towns that are fun year round (Rangeley, Maine and Stowe, Vermont come to mind as great spots too) but these are ones that I end up spending a lot of my free time enjoying and know well.  All are worth a trip and there are many more lovely places that I haven’t mentioned too.  I hope to hear about your adventures (click on one of the social media links, comment here or e-mail me at daytripdiaries@gmail.com) and happy trails!!

Enjoying the slow lane in Massachusetts

I grew up in Massachusetts and, for a very long time, took my home state for granted and thought that I had seen everything worth seeing as I was growing up.  That led to years of missed opportunities to explore all that Massachusetts has to offer, which is a lot more than I could have imagined.  Every region of this great state has so many things to see and do packed into it.  One of the great ways to get a good glimpse of that is to hop off the expressway and enjoy the slower roads across the Commonwealth.  The biggest example of this that comes to mind is the Massachusetts Turnpike, or Interstate 90.  This 138 mile highway is a critical connection that runs across the state and I’m very thankful it’s there and I’ve used it many times to go lots of different places.  However, looking at other options to cross the state if you’re not in a hurry is a great way to see lots of other enjoyable places in Massachusetts.  There is a wonderful network of older roads that show a different side of the Bay State.  Three of the easiest ones to follow that take you all the across the state and are great to start with are the following:

  • Massachusetts Route 2:  This road has earned a reputation for being a
    Connecticut River from the French King Bridge.
    Connecticut River from the French King Bridge.

    miserable road in the eastern third of the state, however it goes near or by lots of great places and is a completely different highway when you get to it’s western sections.  It passes through the historic towns of Lexington and Concord just after it goes by Route 128 heading west and skirts Minuteman National Historic Park.  As it keeps going westward it passes by the town of Fitchburg and becomes the Mohawk Trail shortly thereafter.  It crosses over the Connecticut River at the lovely and historic French King Bridge  As it continues it passes into New York over a lovely mountain pass with switchbacks in the road that equal any in Vermont as it leaves North Adams and ends in Troy, New York after a spring through picturesque farm country in Upstate New York.

  • US Route 20:  This road is often congested in Eastern Massachusetts and is
    Grist Mill at the Wayside Inn of Sudbury.
    Grist Mill at the Wayside Inn of Sudbury. Photo courtesy of Catherine Cox at R & B Photography

    often a miserable ride in rush hour.  Don’t let that keep you from exploring it as it goes through some absolutely lovely sections of the state.  Its eastern sections include trips through the historic and lovely towns of Sudbury, Wayland and Waltham, home of the first watch factory in the United States and a thriving city with an awesome culinary scene.  Right off of Route 20 in Sudbury is the historic Wayside Inn, the oldest inn in the United States that is still operating and hosted a visit by General George Washington (though he likely didn’t sleep there).  As you go further west it passes through Springfield with it’s many museums and other attractions (including the Basketball Hall of Fame and Springfield Armory National Historic Site) and then onto the lovely Berkshire towns of Lenox and Pittsfield before heading into New York.

  • Route 9:  This is another miserable road in Eastern Massachusetts that is a heavily used commuter road and a very popular shopping destination.  As you
    Quabbin Reservoir
    Quabbin Reservoir

    had west it quiets down and goes through several lovely communities on its way west including Were, Amherst and Northampton before ending in the Berkshires in Pittsfield.  In addition to the towns it passes through it also goes by the historic Quabbin Reservoir (the 412 billion gallon reservoir that supplies water to 2.4 million people in the Boston area and is a former valley that was flooded to make the reservoir) and several more parks in Western Massachusetts.

These descriptions don’t do justice to all of the things to do on these roads and the other routes you can take across the state.  However, I hope I’ve gotten you thinking about all the great places to see taking the slow road.  Enjoy the trip!!

Enjoying Massachusetts by Kayak

One of the great things about living in New England in my opinion is all of the bodies of water we have here.  We don’t have to worry about droughts as much as people in other parts of the country and our backyard is covered with lakes, ponds, streams, rivers, creeks and other types of waterways.  This makes New England a great place to be a kayak owner or to at least give it a try.  My wife and I are considering buying kayaks because there are so many great places to enjoy kayaking just in our backyard!  A few places near us that we’ve tried include the following:

  • Charles River Canoe and Kayak – located in several locations in the Boston area the one Newton is just a few minutes down the road from us.  You can rent stand-up paddleboards in addition to canoes and kayaks.  This part of the Charles River has plenty of room to maneuver and you get to see lots of places from a unique angle.  One example is the I-95/128 and I-90 interchange.  It looks completely different on a boat underneath the highway.
  • South Bridge Boat House:  This place rents canoes and kayaks in Concord.  It’s a great way to enjoy parts of Minuteman National Historic Park, especially the North Bridge in Concord where the second main engagement of the Minuteman against the British Army.
  • Norton Reservoir Kayaking:  I haven’t been here yet but I grew up right down the street from this lovely body of water.  There is a great kayak company that I’ve heard about and I want to try.
  • Lyman Reserve:  There aren’t any places nearby that rent kayaks that I know of.
    Buttermilk Bay from Lyman Reserve
    Buttermilk Bay from Lyman Reserve

    However, don’t let that stop you.  This Trustees of Reservations property fronts onto Buttermilk Bay, a sheltered and calm area connected to Buzzards Bay that is a great place to kayak and enjoy the lovely coastal scenery of Massachusetts.

These are just a few of the many, many places you can go out and enjoy using a kayak or canoe in Eastern Massachusetts alone!!  There are many more places in the rest of the state and throughout New England.  Please let me know a few of your favorites – by commenting below, on my Facebook page or via Twitter (@takeadaytrip)!  I’d love to hear from you!!

Holiday season hiatuses and moving forward

December is a busy time of the year for many people and I’m no exception.  Between work going crazy this time of the year and the holiday season, it’s hard to get much else done even if the desire to is still there.  However, I have hopes to get a few places in my new neighborhood up here for your viewing pleasure including the DeCordova Museum & Sculture Park and The Charles River Museum of Industry in Waltham

Beyond that I have ambitious plans for 2013 including starting up a meetup group to bring other interested people along in exploring Greater Boston and New England with me as well as getting a mobile app put together and launched so that this site is at it’s best on your smartphone.  I’d love any thoughts on places to go or improvements I should make (among the huge list that I have on my list that i want to do).

Otherwise, take some time out of this busy time of the year to relax and enjoy the many awesome things around where you live!  Happy adventuring!!

Shawn

Another great weekend coming up….

It looks like we’re coming up on another wonderful November weekend with some pretty decent weather.  With highs in the 40’s this weekend near Boston and clear weather; weekends this time of the year don’t often get better than what we’ve got coming on tap.  With that in mind, there are lots of places where you can enjoy a few hours outside and then have some time inside as the sun goes down and it gets colder at a much earlier hour.  I think a great place to go this time of year is Cape Ann as it’s close enough to Metro Boston to be an easy drive (so you don’t have to get up too early), it’s got lot of great things to do that are free to summer crowds in November and the scenery is still quite lovely and worthy of being prominently featured on any number of postcards. It’s also accessible via mass transit with the commuter rail going up from North Station in Boston.

A great day trip to Cape Ann would probably involve some outdoor time and some indoor time.  For outdoor time I would recommend a trip to Ravenswood Park, a great Trustees of Reservations park with miles of hiking trails and a great interpretive center center.  When you’re done hiking head to Downtown Rockport and Downtown Gloucester.  There are lots of museums, restaurants and other attractions.  You might also want to consider a trip to Historic Dogtown Common in Gloucester as well if you want to hike and enjoy a bit of history (I would recommend finding a guide if you’re really interested in the history).

If you want to go into the city, there are tons of museums beyond the main ones that most people visit.  Some great spots include the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Museum (which shares a parking lot with the John F Kennedy Presidential Library, another great place to visit) that has some amazing original documents including a 18th century copy of the Bill of Rights and several properties of Historic New England.

Whatever your preference, don’t let a lovely weekend like the one we have coming up go to waste!  Enjoy the Greater Boston area if you can, a lot of people come here from all over the world and pay a lot to do so while we are lucky enough to live here!!

Happy Trails!