Our first hike of 2015 was a spur-of-the-moment excursion in Northboro, a town we once called home and where my mother still lives. We were already in town and ended up able to drop our daughter off with Grandma for a couple hours. I pulled up the Northboro Trails Committee website and looked for something close by. We ended up starting at the Coyote Trail, which meanders through the Yellick Conservation Area. You can read more about the area in this news article I found later, which pointed me nicely to this updated map.
The trail begins at a generous parking area off a very steep driveway which connects to Hudson Road, a well-traveled road which connects Route 20 to the Solomon Pond Mall in Marlboro. We’d seen the parking area many times in our travels in town but had never stopped there.
The trail starts off strangely, hooking southwest along the Assabet River and basically through some back yards (signposts helpfully tell you to stay to the left of the markers to avoid trespassing) until you reach a narrow but sturdy bridge which crosses the fast-moving, shallow river.
Once across the river, the trail immediately turns back the way it came. It is fairly well-marked, but is precarious and narrow as it closely hugs the shoreline on the hillside. I would not attempt this trail in any kind of wet weather, or with any ice or snow on the ground. It wouldn’t take much to end up sliding down the hillside into the water (what I’m showing below isn’t that bad; there were some hairier parts).
After that initial section, a short spur continues northeast, labeled the Tall Grass Trail. It follows the river through some very thick grassland; without the work that keeps this trail clear, it would be impassable very shortly, overrun with brambles and briars.
We paused a moment to take a picture and then returned to the intersection with the Birdsong Trail.
The Birdsong Trail is a totally different beast than what we were just following. Flat and easy to follow, it moves through several terrain types before settling into a rocky pine forest.
The marsh is never far, as you can see in the picture below. Residential neighborhoods were never far either; you could see houses along much of the trail. This, combined with the ever-present drone of I-290 in the distance, reminded us that we were definitely on a suburban trail. Still, the extra pool of volunteers and foot traffic that comes with a suburban trail provides some real benefit; the paths were clear and well-kept, and surprisingly clean of litter.
We had gone a bit over a mile and a half when we decided to turn back. Looking at the maps, it’s clear that we stopped just as the Birdsong Trail was meeting up with the Old Farm Trail. We were very close to Route 20 but didn’t press through to see it (trust me, we’ve seen plenty of Route 20 over the years).
At that point, we turned back and followed the trail back the way we came. There-and-back trails are a mixed blessing; it’s nice that once you decide to stop, you know exactly what terrain and distance separates you from returning to the trailhead. On the other hand, it’s not very exciting to cover the same ground in the reverse direction.
As we returned to the parking area, the sun was beginning to fall behind the hills and some clouds made it seem later than it really was. A nearly-full moon hovered over the treeline and I tried my best to capture the moment.
Overall we were impressed with this trail, and wish we had come at a time when we could have explored the Old Farm Trail as well. That would have changed our three mile hike into a five mile one, though, and we didn’t have that kind of time.
The trail was not particularly challenging, other than the slippery narrow sections along the hillside near the start. Paths are clearly marked, with blue plastic blazes nailed to trees along the first section, and orange painted blazes or orange ribbons tied around trees on the second section. Even in areas where the blazes aren’t clear, the path is well worn and frequent footbridges over the many small streams make it clear where you should go next.
Given the proximity to the river, I’m sure in mosquito season this would be a totally different experience. And, as I said, I would avoid the Coyote Trail if any snow was on the ground (though the Birdsong trail would probably be pleasant in the snow).
So: one 2015 hike down, many to go. I look forward to sharing them here….