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10 coastal hikes

Leave the woods in winter and wander where land meets the sea

By Jeffrey Romano
Globe Correspondent / November 7, 2010

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Winter is arriving in the mountains. For much of the next six months the highest peaks in the region will be under snow and ice. Heading to the White or Green mountains, venturing to the Berkshires or northern Maine can lead to exhilarating winter expeditions for the well-prepared hiker. But what if you want a less strenous trek, requiring slightly less planning? The solution: Head to the coast.

The following destinations provide a variety of hiking experiences. Remember that conditions can be as unpredictable as a New England winter forecast. Be prepared with adequate clothing, food, and water. Insome cases, snowshoes and/or ice traction gear may be helpful.


Bluff Point (Conn.) The largest preserve on the Connecticut coastline, Bluff Point State Park became the home of one of the colony’s first governors in 1644. Today, it showcases towering trees, extensive marshes, an alluring sand beach, and a rocky headland more reminiscent of Maine than the Nutmeg State.


Hike: Complete the mostly level, 3.5-mile loop that leads south from the parking area. Wide, paralleling paths, one atop a low ridge and the other near shore, intersect near scenic Bluff Point and an adjacent 1-mile-long beach.


Trailhead: From Route 1 in Groton, follow Depot Road 0.6 mile to a parking area.


Hours: Open year-round 8 a.m. to sunset.


Where to stay: Mystic


Ninigret Pond (R.I.) Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge has more than four miles of easy trails through open meadows and along the edge of Rhode Island’s largest saltwater pond. The flights from this former naval air station are now piloted by great blue herons and the other 250 bird species that visit the refuge throughout the year.


Hike: Use the Foster Cove Loop, Cross Refuge, and Grassy Point Nature trails to complete a relaxing 4.5-mile adventure through the heart of the refuge.


Trailhead: Park at the refuge’s west entrance, located off Route 1 in Charlestown (3.3 miles from the Westerly line).


Hours: Year-round sunrise to sunset.


Where to stay: Westerly


Sachuest Point (R.I.) A narrow, rocky peninsula, Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge is surrounded by beaches and pounded by surf. The second largest winter home for harlequin ducks on the Atlantic Coast, the refuge is also a good place to spot loons, eiders, and Northern gannets.


Hike: The best way to experience Sachuest Point is to complete the 2.5-mile circuit that leads north to Flint Point, south around the peninsula, and then north along the eastern shore of Sachuest Bay.


Trailhead: Begin at refuge headquarters in Middletown at the eastern end of Sachuest Point Road.


Hours: Year-round sunrise to sunset.


Where to stay: Newport


Great Island (Mass.) The most challenging hike in Cape Cod National Seashore, Great Island is a long peninsula with a storied past. Once home to whalers, farmers, and oyster harvesters, today Great Island is a natural oasis of impressive sand dunes, sprawling beaches, and dense pitch pine forests.


Hike: Begin the eight-mile loop by following the beach south to the Jeremy Point Overlook. Return on an inland path past a former tavern site with excellent views of Wellfleet Harbor. Best enjoyed at lower tides, embark on other National Seashore trails for less strenuous adventures.


Trailhead: Begin at a large parking lot at the intersection of Chequesset Neck and Griffin Island roads in Wellfleet.


Hours: Year-round 6 a.m. to midnight.


Where to stay: Provincetown


Blue Hills (Mass.) The Blue Hills Reservation is a recreational gem, less than 10 miles from New England’s largest city. Dissected by 125 miles of trails, the Blue Hills offer many pleasant views of the Boston skyline and the surrounding coastline.


Hike: Complete a challenging 3.4-mile trek to the top of Great Blue Hill by using the north and south branches of the Skyline Trail (which can be tricky when icy). If conditions allow, strap on your snowshoes or cross-country skis and explore the area’s more gradual paths.


Trailhead: Begin at reservation headquarters on Hillside Street in Milton. Parking on the east side of the road.


Hours: Year-round dawn to dusk.


Where to stay: Boston


Crane Beach (Mass.) A popular North Shore summer destination, Crane Beach’s extensive sandy shoreline and network of dune trails offer the winter hiker a coastal paradise. Donated in 1945 to The Trustees of Reservations , a membership-based organization, Crane Beach is frequented by foraging sanderlings, plovers, and countless other shorebirds.


Hike: Follow Crane Beach roughly 2.5 miles to the eastern tip of the peninsula. Return the same way or head inland across the more challenging dune trails and over the summit of Wigwam Hill. Find additional hiking opportunities at nearby Castle Hill.


Trailhead: Located at the end of Argilla Road in Ipswich.


Hours: Y ear-round 8 a.m. to sunset; fee.


Where to stay: Newburyport


Odiorne Point (N.H.) Site of the Granite State’s first settlement in the 1620s and a military installation during the Second World War, Odiorne Point State Park is the largest undeveloped stretch along New Hampshire’s 18-mile coastline. Today, it is also the home of the Seacoast Science Center, which offers interactive learning for people of all ages (admission fee).


Hike: An easy two-mile loop begins just west of the Science Center. Continue along the rocky coast to Frost Point and then parallel along the sandy shore of Little Harbor. A number of forested trails lead back to the parking area.


Trailhead: Located on Route 1A in Rye.


Hours: Year-round.


Where to stay: Portsmouth


Reid State Park (Maine) Popular with swimmers in summer, Reid State Park’s sandy beaches, rocky headlands, and coastal marshes are prime wildlife viewing locations throughout the year. Hikers can expect to encounter grebes, scoters, long-tailed ducks, eiders, and loons amid the winter waves.


Hike: Begin the relaxing 2.5-mile loop by scaling Griffith Head. Continue along Mile Beach to Todd’s Point and use the paved road (closed in winter) for the walk back. Add one mile by exploring Half-Mile Beach.


Trailhead: The park is located at the south end of Sequinland Road, in Georgetown. Use the Griffith Head parking area.


Hours: Year-round 9 a.m. to sunset.


Where to stay: Freeport


Ocean Lookout (Maine) One of Maine’s most dramatic seaside vistas, Ocean Lookout in Camden Hills State Park features stunning views of Penobscot Bay. The lookout, lying just below the 1,385-foot summit of Mount Megunticook, is reached after a steady climb.


Hike: The 1.4-mile Megunticook Trail leads directly to the lookout. A slightly more challenging route, down the Tablelands and Adam’s Lookout trails, offers an alternative descent. These trails are excellent for snowshoeing, but can be tricky when icy.


Trailhead: Park at the entrance to Camden Hills State Park, located on Route 1 north of Camden. Follow Mount Battie Road 0.1 mile to the trailhead on the right.


Hours: Year-round 9 a.m. to sunset.


Where to stay: Camden


Sand Beach (Maine) Strolling across Acadia National Park’s Sand Beach leads one to classic coastal Maine scenes. Surrounded by some of the park’s most-visited natural features, Sand Beach is the perfect place to begin many hikes of various lengths.


Hike: Begin the journey by exploring the windswept beach. Return to the parking area and pick up the two-mile-long Ocean Path. The mostly level trail leads past Thunder Hole to towering Otter Cliff. Gorham Mountain and Great Head are more strenuous nearby destinations (each should be approached cautiously if snowy or icy).


Trailhead: Sand Beach parking area on the Park Loop Road. In winter, get to the Park Loop Road using Schooner Head Road.


Hours: Year-round.


Where to stay: Bar Harbor

Jeffrey Romano, author of “100 Classic Hikes in New England’’ (2010) and “Best Loop Hikes: From New Hampshire’s White Mountains to the Maine Coast’’ (2006), can be reached at www.jeffreyromano.com.