Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge
GOOD FOR: All Ages

Source:Outdoors with Kids Boston (AMC Books)
Address:1 Monsen Road, Concord, MA
Hours:Dawn to dusk daily
Fee: Free
Bathrooms: At a comfort station near the parking lot
Water/Snacks: None

Opportunities abound for wildlife sightings at Great Meadows, which make this a wonderful place for kids.

Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge is a haven for great blue herons.
Photo by: Jerry and Marcy Monkman

The Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge is composed of 3,800 acres, which may sound daunting when planning your visit, but families who want an almost-guaranteed sighting of wildlife along easy trails should head to the Concord Unit. (There is a unit in Sudbury as well.)

About 2.5 miles of trails—great for hiking, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing—are on the property. A dike that runs between the Upper and Lower Pools (also called impoundments) is the main path. The dike separates the “meadow” from the river, and it’s an easy walk. Start your visit at the observation tower to check out views of the property, then head down the 1.7-mile Dike Trail. If you have young kids and want a shorter walk, you can take this trail straight to the Concord River, stopping along the way at a wildlife observation platform, and then turn around. Otherwise you can take the trail all the way around the Lower Pool. The impoundments are drained into the river in summer, turning into mudflats and becoming a haven for birds, such as redwinged blackbirds and great blue herons.

Birds aren’t the only creatures happy to be here, especially in summer. On one hot, sunny day, my group lost count of how many black northern water snakes we spotted lounging on rocks. In addition, we saw numbers of leopard frogs, bullfrogs, dragonflies, and turtles.

Remember: This is a carry-in, carry-out property, so plan accordingly. The 4-mile Reformatory Branch Rail Trail passes by the property and follows the roadbed of the Boston & Maine’s old Reformatory Branch between Railroad Avenue in Bedford and Lowell Road in Concord. Portions of the Bay Circuit Trail also pass through Great Meadows.

Plan B:

To switch from nature trails to a bit of history, head west on MA 62 to the Battle Road Trail and the Old Manse (Trip 40) in Concord.

Where to Eat Nearby:

A number of restaurants are in Concord Center.



By: lkhboston
Posted: 10/23/2013 17:41

Nice leisurely walk perfect for a fall afternoon. Be sure to look for the interpretive signs.

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By: FossT
Posted: 06/01/2012 09:24

The tower really helps keep this a fun place for kids who may lack the attention span for bird watching. We stop there twice, once at the start, and again at the end to see what we saw....



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By: mommypth
Posted: 05/31/2012 12:57

There is a wonderful trial around the impoundments (2 lakes) and you can walk to the river. The kids loved the obersvation platform and climing the tower- which has a huge scope on the top to watch wildlife. Pack a lunch becaues there is lots to explore. It is also connected to the minute man bike path so olds kids could ride in. Though no bike are allowed on the trails. Refuge rangers and volunteers offer naturalist programs that are engaging for the kids.  Last time we were there someone let my kids use their scope to watch a great blue heron- they loved it.

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By: terimorrow
Posted: 05/15/2012 18:43

Kids love to climb up to the observation tower.  Once there, they can preview what they'll see on the walk.  In the summer, there are plenty of birds and flowers for the kids to look at. 

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