In the Heart of Winter

Looking across the marsh in winter at Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary © Mark Ainscow
Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary © Mark Ainscow

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This article was featured in the Winter 2021 issue of Explore, our quarterly magazine for members.

Valentine's Day is around the corner, a day to celebrate love in all its beautiful forms, whether you're planning a romantic dinner with your significant other, sending flowers to a beloved elder, mailing a "thanks for being you" card to your best friend, or dishing out heart-shaped waffles to your kids.

With this list of Valentine-inspired adventures and "secret" spots, you can give your loved ones the unforgettable gift of quality time with a trip to one of our wildlife sanctuaries this winter. Be sure to show some love to the places you visit, too, by carrying out what you carry in, helping to keep our sanctuaries beautiful for all to enjoy.

View from the top of the drumlin in winter at Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary
Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary

Reach New Heights

Couples and families looking for a challenge to tackle together will love taking a hike up the Trail of the Ledges at Pleasant Valley in Lenox. Fill your tumblers with hot beverages and bring something insulating to sit on so you can linger at the summit of Lenox Mountain and take in the sweeping views of the Taconic Range.

For a more accessible date, the All Persons Trail winds past towering hemlocks to a boardwalk and observation deck with benches overlooking Pike's Pond. There you can watch for wildlife, including the sanctuary's industrious beavers—although they often keep to their warm lodges and dens in cold weather, they remain active all winter long.

Tale As Old As Time

For generations, the magnificent Great White Oak at Wachusett Meadow in Princeton has been a destination for friends, families, lovers, and solo travelers alike. This magnificent tree is at least 250 years old and has a massive trunk measuring 15 feet around, and the nearby bench is a perfect spot to admire its beauty and reflect on the quiet strength and resilience its venerable lifespan represents.

View from the Top

The Fern Trail at Arcadia in Northampton and Easthampton follows a stretch of the Mill River and offers lovely views of the marshes and grasslands beyond, especially if you climb the observation tower or pause for a moment at the bench provided for just such occasions. From there, you can continue to follow the trail out to the Old Orchard (and maybe even sneak a kiss among the bare fruit trees) before heading back to the nature center on one of several trail options.

Babes in the Woods

The view from atop the namesake drumlin at Drumlin Farm in Lincoln is lovely year-round, but a fresh blanket of snow can make it extra special, coating the rolling hills all the way to distant Mount Wachusett almost 40 miles to the west. While you're there, take a stroll around the farmyard, where expectant mother goats and sheep will be nearing their due dates and the livestock crew is busy preparing for the influx of babies in March and April.

Lucky Ducks

Pack some snacks and a thermos of cocoa and go for a ramble along the nine miles of trails at Broadmoor in Natick, through mature woodlands, open fields, and along the edges of vibrant streams, ponds, and marshland. The boardwalk bench on the accessible All Persons Trail overlooking the marsh is a perfect spot to cuddle while looking for winter ducks like Wood Ducks, Hooded Mergansers, and more.

Close-up of two of the goats at Habitat Education Center in winter © Magali Foucher-Bruxelle
Habitat Education Center © Magali Foucher-Bruxelle

Hearts A-Racing

Habitat Education Center in Belmont offers some fantastic cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in winter, with trailheads accessible right from the main parking lot. Schussing through the meadows and into the quiet woods will get your heart pumping (or maybe even skipping a beat over your skiing partner in that cute winter hat) and provides plenty of opportunities for private moments in a winter wonderland.

Consider a stop at the charming greenhouse turned into an outdoor pen for the sanctuary's herd of charismatic goats.

Rock My World

For a truly unique nature adventure, try the Rockery at Ipswich River in Topsfield—an extraordinary grotto of stacked boulders, narrow passages, and small caves constructed in 1905. Take the Rockery Trail from the nature center and follow the Rockery Loop Trail around Rockery Pond. You can easily extend your hike or snowshoe with a jaunt on the Waterfowl Pond Trail out to the Stone Bridge, or any other segment of the 12 miles of trails.

Urban Oasis

Find a quiet moment together, even in the city, on the Fox Trail at Boston Nature Center in Mattapan. The trail leads you through fields, woods, and wetlands harboring pockets of activity from overwintering songbirds and waterfowl. Follow the boardwalk into the wetland to be surrounded by native cattails, softly swaying in the breeze.

The Sweet Spot

The Bluff Trail at Moose Hill in Sharon is a popular, easy-to-moderate walk that extends from the far end of the fields circled by the Billings Loop. Plan for about 90 minutes of walking on this out-and-back trip; a gradual incline through dense forest crisscrossed by old stone walls takes you up to a beautiful lookout above the tree line with plenty of room to picnic and relax and take in the view.

On the way back to the nature center, look for the sugar shack on the Billings Loop and keep an eye out for buckets hanging from sugar maple trees, collecting sap for the sanctuary's own delicious, homemade maple syrup.

Back to Nature

The overlook at the end of the Ridge Trail at Tidmarsh in Plymouth is a fantastic spot to soak up some rays on a sunny winter day. From the observation platform, you and your companion(s) can take in the beautiful restored landscape of the sanctuary and its meandering cold-water streams where herring are now free to swim upstream from Cape Cod Bay come springtime. The overlook is less than a mile from the parking lot, but feeds directly into a network of three miles of trails (with more on the way) showcasing the grassy sandplain and cattail-filled wetlands that have replaced cranberry bogs.

Love Is in the Air

Romance is literally in the air at Long Pasture in Barnstable where, beginning in late March, the male American Woodcock puts on a swoon-worthy show for observing females. He produces buzzy peent calls from the open field on the sanctuary's Woodcock Trail (of course), then launches himself skyward with a flurry of twitters and chirps, showing off his aerial acrobatics in hopes of landing himself a mate. A bit late for Valentine's Day, but it's an incredible performance to take in together—perhaps as part of your own kind of courtship ritual!

Over the Moon

You'll have to time it right if you want to catch the sunset and full moon rise over Sengekontacket Pond at Felix Neck in Edgartown, but it's well worth the effort (just remember that the sanctuary trails close at dusk). The cozy Shad Trail will lead you to a secluded beach to see the sunset; a bench at the entrance to the nearby Beach Trail allows for lingering and enjoying the moment. On your way back, look for the moon in the east, a spectacular sight as it inches up into the sky over the open field.

A Little Night Music

Make a date for a little "night music" on a midwinter evening at Wellfleet Bay in Wellfleet. Enjoy the daily duet of courting Great Horned Owls from the woodland edge of the campground (although there is sometimes a lull in February when the owls are "on nest"). You can usually catch the chorus from late afternoon until the sanctuary closes at dusk, either from the edge of the bird box field or even from your cozy car—the owls can be heard from the parking lot!