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Did you know that it is possible to go for a 16 mile hike over rugged terrain with over 3,000 feet of elevation gain inside Rt. 128? If not you are not alone, the possibilities for serious hiking in the Blue Hills and, to a lesser extent, Middlesex Fells are one of the best kept secrets of the Boston hiking community. These two areas offer spring training opportunities for those whose fitness has suffered over the winter, and can provide moderately challenging hikes for those weekends when a trip up North is not convenient.

The Area

While there are a few other rugged areas around Boston, none offers the length and variety of trails that the Middlesex Fells and Blue Hills offer.

This is a large reservation on both sides of I93 north of Boston, in the towns of Stoneham, Medford, Malden, Melrose and Winchester (map). Most hiking is done in the western part, and the area surrounding the reservoirs is closed to the public.

The western section has a spine of hills along its eastern edge, with flatter terrain on the western side of the reservoirs. There are two long trails here. The Reservoir Trail (orange blazes, 5.5 miles) basically goes around the reservoirs, though never along their shores. Much of it follows old carriage roads, and when it becomes a footpath it is neither steep nor does it go over rugged terrain. The Skyline Trail (white blazes, 6.8 miles) follows the rocky eastern spine of this section above the highway, then goes over every small hill on the generally flatter western side. It is entirely a footpath, and has rough footing much of the time.

The eastern half is much less used, even though it is probably more scenic. The Rock Circuit Trail (white blazes, 4 miles) is a rough and rocky trail that makes a loop in the southern half of that section. The two sections are connected by the blue blazed Cross Fells trail.

There are many other trails and carriage roads, and hikers are strongly advised to get a map of the reservation.

The Hikes

An excellent first spring hike is the Reservoir Trail (a loop of about 5.5 miles marked by orange blazes) in the Western Fells. It is fairly flat, and is a mixture of carriage roads and narrower trails. It hugs the central reservoirs fairly closely, and does not go far South of them, limiting its length. It crosses the more challenging Skyline trail several times, so it is possible to add one or two hills to it.

This can be made more strenuous in two ways. You can increase its length by going all the way South to Bellevue Pond, and use the more hilly Skyline Trail part of the way. In its least strenuous form it is the Reservoir Trail plus carriage roads to and from Bellevue Pond. At the other extreme, you can go all the way along the Skyline Trail except for the ridge of hills between Bellevue Pond and the Sheepfold. In any case, the full loop is about seven miles.

The full Skyline Trail (a loop of about 7 miles marked by white blazes) is rocky, with many small hills (the highest, Bear Hill, is only 317 feet above sea level), and is quite challenging at the beginning of the season.

It is easy to extend the Skyline Trail by following the blue blazed Cross Fells Trail for about a mile into the East Fells. There one can do the Rock Circuit Trail (white blazes) for another four miles, giving a total of about 12 miles. One can lengthen it further by going North on the pink blazed Virginia Woods Trail and then the red blazed Crystal Spring Trail. This gives a hike of around 16 miles, which is quite challenging in spite of the limited elevation gain.

Hikes in the Middlesex Fells
Trails Distance Elevation Gain
Reservoir 5.5 Minimal
Reservoir plus parts of Skyline 7.0 About 500
Skyline 7.0 About 1,000
Skyline plus Rock Circuit 12.0 About 1,500
Skyline, Rock Circuit, Virginia Woods and Crystal Spring 16.0 About 1,800

For More Information


The DCR web site has schematic maps of the Middlesex Fells. It is more useful for visualizing the locations of trailheads and major features than anything else.

Maps of the Middlesex Fells can be obtained in the following ways (from DCR web site):

Friends of the Fells
4 Woodland Road
Stoneham, MA 02180


Orange Line to Wellington Station, MBTA bus #100 to Roosevelt Circle Rotary, walk south to the rotary, turn right on South Border Road, Bellevue Pond is 1/5 mile right on South Border Road. Sheepfold section exit on Elm Street, walk north on Route 28 about one mile underneath the overpass, sign is on the left.

By Car:
From North 93 South to exit 35 at stop take a left under highway at next stop sign take a right at first set of lights (rt28) take a right for Sheepfold entrance.
93 South to exit 33(RT28N) take first right onto South Border Road. Bellevue Pond on right.
From South
93 North to exit 33(RT28N) for Sheepfold or proceed halfway around rotary and take South Border Road for Bellevue Pond.

Books and Web Sites

The AMC's Massachusetts and Rhode Island Trail Guide, currently in its 7th edition, has full descriptions of all the trails in both reservations. The map of the Blue Hills included with the book does not show contours, and so is much less useful than the DCR map.

The Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) web site has some very basic information on the Middlesex Fells. The Local Walks/Hikes Committee of the Boston Chapter of the AMC runs frequent trips in the Middlesex Fells.