Category Archives: Massachusetts

Cape Cod National Seashore

Overview

Northernmost of the ten National Seashores in the National Park Service (NPS) system, Cape Cod National Seashore includes 40 miles of shoreline on the narrow glacial deposit that sticks out of Massachusetts like a fishhook.  Its 44,000 acres are interspersed with towns that manage (and charge for) many of the beaches along the coastline.  Watch for gray seals playing in the surf, which attract predators like great white sharks to the shallows.  Even if you want to swim in the chilly ocean water, if you see gray seals it is best to go somewhere else so you are not confused with food.

Highlights

Nauset Light, Three Sisters Lighthouses, Old Harbor Life-Saving Station Museum

Must-Do Activity

The best place to start your visit is Salt Pond Visitor Center, which has a museum run by the NPS.  Located right off Highway 6, it is also a great place to stretch your legs on the Buttonbush or Nauset Marsh Trails.  From there, it is a short drive to Coast Guard or Nauset Light Beaches that offer tram service when parking lots are full.  Lifeguards are on duty at specific beaches from late June through Labor Day, which should give an indication of the short season when it is actually warm enough to enjoy the water.

Best Trail

There are 12 self-guided trails within Cape Cod National Seashore, plus three bicycle trails up to 7.3 miles long.  Our favorite was the one-mile Beech Forest Trail near Race Point Beach at the tip of Cape Cod.

Instagram-worthy Photo

If the red-striped Nauset Light looks familiar that is because you might have seen it on a bag of potato chips at the grocery store.  While there, take a walk over to the Three Sisters Lighthouses that have also been moved inland from their original eroding clifftop locations.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/caco/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$25 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads are paved and a permit from the Oversand Station at Race Point is required for those wishing to drive on designated sand routes.

Camping

No camping is offered through the NPS, but there are several private and state-run campgrounds, plus countless motels and vacation rentals.

Related Sites

Salem Maritime National Historic Site (Massachusetts)

Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area (Massachusetts)

Fire Island National Seashore (New York)

Explore More –Who was the famous Italian inventor that transmitted transatlantic radio signals from massive antennas on Cape Cod in the early 1900s?

Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park

Overview

Roger Williams National Memorial used to be the only National Park Service (NPS) site in Rhode Island, but in 2014 Blackstone River Valley was upgraded from an affiliated National Heritage Corridor to a National Historical Park.  It commemorates the industrial revolution that changed the landscape of America during the 1800s, as well as the immigration of factory workers that changed its face.  Another NPS-affiliated point of interest in the tiny state is Touro Synagogue National Historic Site (admission charged) in Newport.

Highlights

Slater Mill Historic Site, Blackstone River State Park, Statue of Hope Fountain

Must-Do Activity

Formerly known as the John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor, this NPS unit remains a partnership between government agencies, non-profits, and businesses in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.  Its centerpiece is the nation’s first successful water-powered cotton-spinning factory: Slater Mill Historic Site in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.  By 1880, this “hardest working river” was one of the most polluted in the country, but has recovered so that canoeists can float portions of its 46-mile length.

Best Trail

Blackstone River State Park has a free museum (inside the Kelly House) and a section of the canal that followed the river.  There are 3.5 miles of the 14-mile (of a planned 48) paved bikeway along the canal towpath within this Rhode Island park.  Another section of trail lies within Blackstone River and Canal Heritage State Park near River Bend Farm in Massachusetts.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The Statue of Hope Fountain was dedicated on November 12, 1904 in the town of Hopedale, Massachusetts.  It was carved from Carrara marble by Waldo Story and was once considered the “finest drinking fountain in the United States.” We found it a little creepy looking.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/blrv/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None for Blackstone River State Park, but Slater Mill Museum charges $12 per person.

Road Conditions

All major roads paved

Camping

Rhode Island State Parks manages several campgrounds, including George Washington State Campground in Chepachet.

Related Sites

Roger Williams National Memorial (Rhode Island)

New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park (Massachusetts)

Lowell National Historical Park (Massachusetts)

Explore More – When did English immigrant Samuel Slater take over a failed mill to start the first successful water-powered cotton-spinning factory in America?

Salem Maritime National Historic Site

Overview

Salem, Massachusetts may be best known for its “witch trials” of 1692 (during which nobody was burned to death, but about a dozen people were hanged in the region).  The town was also a significant trading port known for its shipbuilding.  During the American Revolution, Salem never fell to the enemy and its 158 privateers captured 445 English ships.  Deep water harbors like Boston later took away from Salem’s prominence, helping preserve its architecture until it was named the nation’s first National Historic Site in 1938.

Highlights

Derby Wharf lighthouse, Friendship of Salem, Custom House

Must-Do Activity

The main National Park Service (NPS) visitor center is located downtown in the old Salem Armory and offers films and exhibits (including one covering the “witch trials” of 1692).  Most of its 14 protected structures are located a short walk toward the waterfront near Derby Wharf.  It is free to come aboard the Friendship of Salem, a full-scale replica of a 1797 merchant ship.  You can learn all sorts of information from the interpreters on the ship and perhaps weave some of your own rope to take with you as a souvenir.

Best Trail

The Derby Wharf Trail follows a paved breakwater out to a small lighthouse that dates to 1871.  This truly is a walking park with additional points of interest at the Salem Witch Museum, House of the Seven Gables, and Peabody Essex Museum (all of which charge admission).

Instagram-worthy Photo

The 1819 Custom House is where novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne worked between 1846-48.  The original rooftop eagle carved in 1826 is housed inside, but a replica stands in its place.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/sama/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved, but only street parking is available.

Camping

Harold Parker State Forest has a large campground located approximately 10 miles northwest of Salem, Massachusetts.

Related Sites

Boston National Historical Park (Massachusetts)

New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park (Massachusetts)

Lowell National Historical Park (Massachusetts)

Explore More – Who was the shipping merchant who became one of America’s first millionaires and whose house is now part of Salem Maritime National Historic Site?

Boston National Historical Park

Overview

Boston National Historical Park is famous for the 2.5-mile Freedom Trail that leads through historic downtown Boston, Massachusetts.  Tourists should not try to drive into the city because parking is difficult and the public transportation system is so good.  We recommend that you hire a guide or bring along your own information because almost nothing along the route has outdoor interpretive signs.

Highlights

Faneuil Hall, Charlestown Navy Yard, Bunker Hill Memorial, burying grounds, Boston Common

Must-Do Activity

One of our favorite misnomers in American history is that the Battle of Bunker Hill actually took place on Breed’s Hill north of Boston.  This first major skirmish took place shortly after the Revolutionary War kicked off in Lexington, Massachusetts in 1775 and is well-known for the Patriot commander that told his men not to “fire ’til you see the whites of their eyes.”  The 221-foot obelisk built to memorialize this fight (which the Patriots lost) was started in 1825 but not completed until 1843.  The National Park Service does not charge to climb the 294 stairs to its peak for great views of the area. 

Best Trail

The famous 2.5-mile long Freedom Trail through downtown Boston, Massachusetts is a walking path marked by a line painted on the sidewalk.  Of the many historic places you will pass along the route, some of the free ones include the site of the 1770 Boston Massacre, Faneuil Hall known as the “Cradle of Liberty” (and now a National Park Service visitor center), the site of the first public school in America established in 1635, several burying grounds, and the Old Corner Bookstore that has been turned into a restaurant.  You can also pay to enter the Old State House and Paul Revere House, among other sites.

Instagram-worthy Photo

If you keep walking the Freedom Trail north you cross the Charlestown Bridge to the Charlestown Navy Yard where you can walk aboard the USS Constitution (“Old Ironsides”), the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world, and learn about it from active-duty U.S. Navy servicemen and women.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/bost/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None, except at specific buildings like the Old State House and Paul Revere House.

Road Conditions

Roads are paved, but traffic is bad and parking is expensive.  It is best to use public transportation to get into the city and then walk.

Camping

There are camping opportunities (reservations required) in Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area, which are accessible by ferry from the city.

Related Sites

Minute Man National Historical Park (Massachusetts)

Boston African American National Historic Site (Massachusetts)

Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area (Massachusetts)

Explore More – The live oak wood used to build the USS Constitution came from what island, now managed by the National Park Service?

Springfield Armory National Historic Site

Overview

The arsenal at Springfield, Massachusetts began manufacturing guns during the American Revolution and became the first National Armory in 1794.  For nearly 200 years it served its purpose before being donated by the military for the creation of Springfield Technical Community College in 1967.  The National Park Service (NPS) maintains a museum and former officer’s quarters on 55 acres at the back of the gated campus.

Highlights

Museum, film, Organ of Muskets

Must-Do Activity

Start your visit with the 14-minute film, then peruse the two halves of the museum, one side dedicated to weaponry and the other to industry.  Watch the scale model of the Blanchard Eccentric Lathe as it demonstrates the shaping of wood to match a metal template.  This technology was first introduced here and is commonly used today to create keys, furniture, and baseball bats. 

Best Trail

There are no trails, but you can walk the sidewalks around the brick buildings that once housed the armory and are now the campus of Springfield Technical Community College.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The “Organ of Muskets” inspired the 1845 anti-war poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, a Harvard professor with his own NPS site. 

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/spar/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Follow street signs from Interstate 91 exits to the main gate for Springfield Technical Community College then back to the free parking lot by the NPS museum.

Camping

Granville State Forest is located 20 miles west of Springfield, Massachusetts on Highway 57.

Related Sites

Longfellow House – Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site (Massachusetts)

Minute Man National Historical Park (Massachusetts)

Coltsville National Historical Park (Connecticut, authorized in 2014 but remains unfunded)

Explore More – Who was the Springfield Armory employee who invented the M 1 rifle used throughout World War II?