Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A Walk in the Woods: Lowell Dracut Tyngsboro State Forest

This year it seems we only hiked during holiday weekends. Originally we had thought we would go camping over Independence Day but we decided there was much to be done around the house. Big Dude was easily convinced to go for a short walk in the woods nearby. There are several conservation areas local to us but we had not been to this one in about two years. 

Lowell-Dracut-Tyngsboro State Forest is spread out over three towns in Massachusetts. I learned about it when I worked in a residential treatment facility for boys that had an outdoor based component. It contains about 1,140 acres of woods and wetlands. I've often come across paintball tournaments, mountain bikers, and cross country skiers while hiking the woods. It may have been a Native American village prior to the arrival of the colonists and there are often rumors and ghost stories told about certain areas of the woods.  

Ghosts or not we went to the trail head on Trotting Park Road in Lowell. There are several entrances to the forest but I've always found this one the easiest to access.

Trail head on Trotting Park Road
We parked and unloaded the dog and Lil' Dude. He took great pride in being able to walk under the gate without ducking his head. After a few steps he decided he wanted the Big Dude to carry him in the backpack. So up he went and on we walked.

Beyond the Gate

L2 on the Healthy Heart Trail
We had decided to try to follow the Healthy Heart Trail. On the trail map it is indicated by the hearts. Interestingly enough, the family trail appears to be the same path. Throughout the entire forest are blue hiker blazes.

We hiked for a short while before we arrived at our first turn in the loop. L5 took us over a small footbridge and deeper into the forest towards Tyngsboro.

L5 Marker

We caught glimpses of wetlands through the trees. The trail had several footbridges on them. None of them had water or even mud under them. It had been a rather dry beginning to the summer so far. We came upon a funny plank bridge that forked into a "Y" shape. As we walked over it, we couldn't determine why it was a "Y" since the trail joined back up around the trees.

"Y" bridge
We walked on with the sunlight shining through the trees. The weather was warm but not hot. It definitely was comfortable for this pregnant lady to be hiking. At the side of the trail, we came upon a teeter totter. Of course, Big and Lil' had to go over it.

Teeter Totter
Soon after, Lil' Dude declared he wanted to hike too. This was good because it meant I could hand off the dog to Big Dude. Apparently, Ansel was very excited to be in the woods. He was pulling and trying to be at the front of his "pack" for most of the hike. We stopped to look at a pretty wetland area.


Fortunately as Lil' Dude wanted to walk, I was able to hand off our rambunctious pup to the Big Dude. Lil' was much easier to keep in check. 

We crossed back over Trotting Park Road at L10 and continued down the Heart Healthy Trail. This section of the trail gave us lovely views of Spruce Swamp. There was a gentle breeze and it kept the bugs away. Lil' Dude ran ahead a bit and explored along the trail. We could easily see him, so we were not concerned about loosing him, especially since he stopped every few seconds to touch something.
Giant Tree

Spruce Swamp

Spruce Swamp

Spruce Swamp
There were a few off shoots from the trail so we decided to continue hugging the shoreline. This meant that we missed the turn to follow the Healthy Heart Trail. However, it did bring us to this lovely spot. 
Party Zone

Creative Use of Bottle Caps
Clearly, kids are still partying in the woods. They made a fire ring at a point in the trail that juts into the swamp. I will admit, if I was to pick a place to have a fire and hang out, I'd choose there. Unfortunately, it did look well used. Hopefully, no harm comes from it.

We hung out there for a while, making certain that Ansel and Lil' did not get cut up on the glass. We enjoyed our snacks and some water. The breeze certainly was picking up, so once snack was gone and I took a few photos we moved on.

Relaxing pooch
We followed the trail up to D1. There were some huge rocks along the trail. I definitely could not get a picture to show the enormity of them. Lil' Dude did some climbing and then we wandered along.
Giant rock
While wandering up to D1, Big Dude and I noticed that many of the trees had what appeared to be scorch marks on their trunks. We speculated about fires but thought we might have heard if there was a forest fire near us. Granted, it has been a few years since my last visit to this part of the woods. I hope the fire didn't start because of a forest party.
Fired damage or something else?
By the time we reached D1, Lil' Dude was tired and definitely wanted to be carried/not carried/carried/not carried. There was quite a bit of crying and grumping. Big Dude popped him in the carrier and we set back down Carney Road towards the junction with the Healthy Heart Trail.
Carney Road

Spruce Swamp from Carney Road
We found the junction and followed the Healthy Heart Trail through the woods back towards the parking lot. It was confusing because there were many turn offs that just weren't labeled well. Somehow we actually managed to choose the right paths.

Along the way we found a cluster of boulders that were larger than any of the ones we found earlier. I love finding glacial erratics in the woods. They looked like lots of fun to play on but the tired Lil' Dude needed to get back to the car.
Ginormous Rocks
We made it back to the parking lot and got Ansel and Lil' Dude into the car. There were a few more cars in the lot than when we showed up. We had parked in front of  a stone that was spray painted with the word Love on it. So I climbed up and took a baby bump shot. It's not often there is a picture of me on the blog as I'm behind the camera most of the time.

I know I have displayed a lot of graffiti and trashing of the woods, but this is indeed a nice little forest with many walking trails. I've traveled through it several times over the years. The fact that it is so close to home is terrific for me. 

Where:  Lowell Dracut Tyngsboro State Forest, Trotting Park Road, Lowell, MA

Lowell-Dracut-Tyngsboro State Forest is located in north-east Massachusetts.
From the South: Take Rt. 495 to Rt. 3 north. Follow Rt. 3 North to exit 32. Go right at the end of ramp, onto Drum Hill Rd. go 5 sets of lights you will cross over the Rourk Bridge. Go left at the lights on the other side of the bridge. Go 500 yards then take a right at lights onto Old Ferry Rd. Take a left onto Varnum Ave. After ½ mile, go right onto Trotting Park Rd. Parking lot is at the gate.