Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge
GOOD FOR: Ages 5-8

Source:Outdoors with Kids Boston (AMC Books)
Address:Still River Depot Road, Harvard, MA
Hours:Dawn to dusk daily
Fee: Free

fws.gov/northeast/oxbow; 978-443-4661

Bathrooms: Compost toilets at the back of the parking lot
Water/Snacks: None

This remote hike offers ample opportunities to spot wildlife and marvel at the industrious work of beavers.

Hikers will likely spot evidence of beavers along the secluded trails at Oxbow.
Photo by: Kim Foley MacKinnon

Oxbow (1,700 acres) is one of eight refuges in the Eastern Massachusetts National Wildlife Refuge Complex. The hike described here takes you through three different habitats, where the chances of seeing wildlife are great. Pick up an interpretive trail guide at the parking lot to read text that corresponds with the numbered posts you’ll see as you walk.

Just to the right of the parking lot is the start of Riverside Trail. Follow this along the Nashua River, and then turn onto Turnpike Trail, which leads to Tank Road (a dirt road sometimes used by the neighboring Army Training Area) and back to the parking lot. The whole hike is about 2 miles long and pretty easy going. It will take you through wetlands, forests, and fields; it also passes two beaver lodges. The area can be buggy in spring and summer, so I highly recommend wearing pants. In winter, the trails are perfect for snowshoeing or cross-country skiing.

On one visit, when my group crossed over the boardwalk on one section of Turnpike Trail, we saw a magnificent beaver dam. Along the trail, we saw evidence of busy beavers: felled trees with telltale teeth marks. Though we didn’t see the beavers themselves last time we went, we almost tripped over a painted turtle that had decided to lay eggs in the middle of the path!

Remember: This probably sounds scarier than it is, but the park does warn visitors that the area was once used for military training and that there’s a remote possibility of unexploded ordnance. Tell kids that, in the unlikely event they see unusual metallic objects, not to touch them. And, as always, stick to the trail.

Plan B:

You can jump on the Nashua River Rail Trail (Trip 42) in nearby Ayer for a great bike ride.

Where to Eat Nearby:

If you head back to MA 110/111, restaurants are on Ayer Road, north of MA 2.


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