EDITOR’S NOTE: Outdoorsing the North Shore is a new column by Amesbury resident Justin Chase. Married with two young children, he is dedicated to exploring family-friendly places to visit in the region. It will appear regularly in this space.
Outdoorsing the North Shore
In an effort to jump-start the weekend, my wife and I packed up our kids, ages 5 and 7, and headed to Agassiz Rock. The 116-acre conservation area showcases two massive boulders — Big and Little Agassiz.
Owned by The Trustees of Reservations in Manchester-by-the-Sea, the property provides an outstanding destination for casual hikers with perfect picnic spots for all.
Nearly the entire property runs along a sunny, west-southwest-facing hill that’s sheltered from nearby chilly ocean winds. We hiked a short, mile-long loop up and over awesome boulders and through some of the year’s last golden-green hardwoods.
I’m not certain whether it was the perfect kid-sized trail or the crisp fall weather that made it so great, but either way, it was just what we needed. With plenty of opportunity for our boys to explore and pal around, we enjoyed a wonderful afternoon together as a family along a trail we will most certainly revisit.
Located off Exit 15 from Route 128, the park offers easy access and free parking. We arrived shortly after lunch and were greeted by a welcoming trailhead blanketed with freshly fallen leaves and a clean, well-marked trail. It rose gradually, littered with smooth rocks and under a thick canopy of yellowing birch and maple. The trail traveled over thoughtfully placed planks and wended around erratics and huge, stately old oaks.
Our boys made games of leaping from rock to rock as we hiked along. As we made our way up to Little Agassiz (the smaller of the two featured boulders), the air smelled of ripe spruce, pine and that wonderfully familiar scent of fallen leaves from days before.
Little Agassiz is more than just a beautiful monolith, it is actually a 20ish-foot-tall glacial deposit that sits on a gorgeous bed of slabby granite overlooking Manchester and beyond to the Atlantic. The spot seems like a natural playground of sorts — scrubby and craggy, with colorful, hardy ground cover and slender, fragrant cedars. For close to an hour, the boys climbed, jumped and scrambled over pink and gray granite. They ducked into little “caves” and up over smaller, more manageable rocks below the towering boulder in the center of it all.
We continued along the loop toward Big Agassiz on a slippery, rolling trail covered in bronze pine needles. Beech, ash, birch and maple hung overhead and shone brightly in the late October sun while crimson woodruff, mushrooms and moss lined the sides of the trail. The colors were brilliant, somehow highlighting the splendor of early, mid- and even late fall.
Unlike Little Agassiz, Big Agassiz is a curious, massive boulder, sitting alone in a thicket. There are no surrounding rocks, no slabs of smooth granite and no notable views. It’s simply an enormous, round boulder plopped by a receding glacier that scraped across Cape Ann many years ago.
Rather than being a playground, Big Agassiz served as a backdrop against which to take a break. We chose a nearby patch of sun and enjoyed a thermos of homemade hot cocoa. Sometimes, something as simple as cocoa makes a blustery trip particularly great for kids, warming them up and providing a sugary burst of energy to keep them moving.
It was a beautiful moment alone on the trail. We were without distractions, demands or schedule. We just spent time together goofing off, dancing to music from an iPod and enjoying each other’s company in a way I’ll remember for a long time.
Hiking back to the car, I knew the trip was a success. My boys bounced and ran ahead while my wife and I walked a few steps behind, hand-in-hand. It was a perfect afternoon.
The hike was long enough to be worth the drive, but short enough for great outdoorsing with the kids. If you haven’t been, I suggest checking out Agassiz Rock. With plenty to do (and eat) between Greater Newburyport and the trailhead, it’s easy to make a full day of it.
Justin Chase is an avid naturalist who lives in Amesbury and grew up in Newburyport. He is the author of the blog Outdoors, By Cracky! Visit his website at www.outdoorsbycracky.com or contact him via email at email@example.com.
Hot Crocko (cocoa)
2.5 cups almond milk
1/4 cup cocoa
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup hot water
Throw it all into a slow cooker for 2 hours on high, or 4 hours on low. Makes enough for one small thermos.
If you go
What: Agassiz Rock
Where: School Street, Manchester-by-the-Sea
When: Open daily year-round from sunrise to sunset. Plan at least one hour.
How much: Free