Sunday, October 16, 2016

Middlesex Fells Reservation, Rock Circuit | Massachussetts


At the terminus of the MBTA Orange Line, there is Middlesex Fells Reservation, a Massachussetts State Park just half an hour outside of Boston. I joined two friends on an impromptu hike on its Rock Circuit trail to experience two iconic aspects of the New England landscape: autumn foliage and granite boulders.


After an ear-freezing walk from our apartment building to Mass Ave station, we took the Orange Line to Oak Grove station, then walked through Boston suburbia to the trailhead about a half mile away. Not to imply that Boston is some urban jungle or bustling metropolis, but it was nice to not be surrounded by red brick and cars, and just enjoy the peaceful morning golden hour. There were fewer Halloween decorations than I had expected, though.

One of many unnamed boulders to climb

The Rock Circuit trail is just under 5 miles and basically picks out every significant granite boulder and goes up and over them, and links together various rocky outcropping and vista points on even large granite boulders. I've included a crude map of our route below, but we did not do the entire Rock Circuit (white blazes), but rather cut across it on the connector trail (orange blazes) and resumed the trail on the northern edge. Based on photo time stamps, we completed our route in around 2 hours. Next time, we will probably take the entire Rock Circuit trail to extend our hike.

View of Boston from Pinnacle Rock

Opinions on the difficulty and length of this hike vary across internet sources. It was a pretty easy hike, but I can see how a lot of going up and over boulders can be strenuous. Elevation gain is minimal. One thing to note is that there are few stretches of trail that are well-beaten and easy to walk on: rocks are everywhere, and watch your feet to prevent inversion injury.


As far as "scrambling" goes, there are certainly boulders where you will need to use your hands to traverse. I was wearing gloves and was generally more eager to scramble. Some descents are long and steep and need some careful route-finding, but nothing is scary or difficult. Overall, the boulders were fun, interesting obstacles that other trails would have gone around. Not the Rock Circuit.

Boojum Rock

It was quite chilly for the first 45 minutes or so, and I wish I had brought a hat. It's getting colder in Massachussetts, but the crisp morning was just perfect for a quiet ramble through the woods. This park is apparently quite busy, but we did not encounter fellow hikers until about an hour in.

MIT Observatory

The Rock Circuit brought us to the historic MIT Observatory built in 1899. It's now in ruin, but a good place to rest, take off a layer, and plan our route. We followed this blog post as a guide and figured we didn't have 3.5 hours to spare since we missed our first train and had a late start. Matching our pace to that blogger's, we could have probably completed the entire Rock Circuit in under 3 hours. After all, what's the point of waking up before sunrise to hike if we can't get a few good hours of actual hiking in?


It was good to get out of Boston for a bit, and especially to get away from school. We had our first set of gross anatomy exams earlier in the week and I needed a break from it all. I'm very happy with the results and am excited to tackle the next module (last one was Back and Limbs, this one is Thorax-Abdomen-Pelvis), but after I go out and see some beautiful New England autumn.

On White Rock

Leaves are slow to change color in Boston proper, but out in the Fells, the foliage was all ablaze. Earlier this week, I went on a jog near the Back Bay Fens and was disappointed to find greenery, but I'm pretty happy with all the autumn I saw on this hike.

Melrose Rock

In other news, my Thanksgiving plans are still up in the air. I'm not going home, and will either be spending the holiday in Virginia with a friend, in New York, or in Boston with other stranded West Coasters. As we hiked, we tentatively planned a camping trip to the Fells or maybe to New Hampshire or Vermont, which would be a real treat (but very cold).

Melrose, MA from Melrose Rock

I wish I could go hiking more, and for $5.50 roundtrip, this hike is about accessible as it gets. I'm hoping to get more friends in on this hike for next time, and I hope I have the strength to keep going even in the wintertime.

Black Rock

View from Black Rock

Lots of beautiful autumn colors

Cascade without water

All said, I still miss hiking in California, and wished that there could be more elevation change here. Boulders are all well and good, but I want hills. We also did not see many woodland creatures, though the blue jays were screaming like hell.



In total, ~4 miles and  <300 ft elevation gain, very rocky with plenty of big boulders to get up and over, and nice vista points of the Boston skyline or charming, quiet suburbs. We began our hike at around 7:20 AM and ended at around 9: 15 AM, but got stuck at the station for nearly an hour due to a delayed train. Overall, the hike was a moderate one which requires some scrambling and careful climbing. Sneakers are fine, but I think that real hiking boots, or at least shoes with better tread, are needed if hiking in the wintertime.

14 comments:

  1. Loving these fall photos so much - they really make me want to go out on the weekend for a hike in the brisk fall air. And wow, 4 miles - that is extremely impressive!

    Rae | Love from Berlin

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    1. Thanks! I'm pretty pleased with my first true autumn, and am ready to hike more around that park and around New England. Some of my classmates went to New Hampshire, actually! 4 miles is hardly enough to get my fill of foliage and boulders to climb.

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  2. That autumn foliage is so beautiful. I love it, we don't get enough of it here! I like a satisfying hike with views, but I'm so clumsy when it comes to needing to climb things like rocks. Glad to hear anatomy's going well!

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    1. I'm pretty excited to live somewhere with 4 distinct seasons; the famous New England foliage does not disappoint! Fortunately, the blazes marked out good paths up and down boulders

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  3. Despite the chilliness, everything looks so beautifully golden! A hike with less hills sounds like a hike for me ;P -Audrey | Brunch at Audrey's

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    1. I have learned my lesson: wear a hat when it's chilly out. Cold ears = misery.

      Something very restful about roaming around before most people are awake. Hot coffee would be the only thing I would add to our chilly vista point on Pinnacle Rock.

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  4. The views look amazing! I love the autumn colours too!
    xo April | April Everyday

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    1. It's pretty for being just out of the city!

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  5. As someone who really loves autumn color, I find this very very beautiful! Too bad we don't get autumn here.

    Carolynn | blog.carolynnyoe.com

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    1. Having distinct seasons (so far, just summer and autumn) has been a real treat. The outdoors have great character in these colors.

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  6. Great pictures! I never really spent enough time exploring the greater Boston area when I was in undergrad around there. We don't see as much of the seasons changing in NYC, there's so little green.

    I often end up stuck on the East Coast for Thanksgiving (it's such a brief holiday, travel is expensive, and the Christmas and New Years holidays are so close), so a lot of my law school Thanksgivings were spent with stranded west coast students.

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    1. I didn't know you were in Boston for undergrad!What were your favorite non-school places?

      As I write this, it looks like Thanksgiving might include a section hike in the Appalachian Trail.

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  7. Ahh how id love to go on a little trip up there or camping so lovely. Don't u just love autumn. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.. :-) Have a lovely day! Visit me whenever you have time www.its-dominica.blogspot.co.uk kisses Dominica! xXx

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    1. It was really nice seeing the autumn leaves. I hope they're still there when I return in two weeks

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