The more than 1,500 miles of Massachusetts coastline varies from the rocky bluffs of the North Shore to the sandy beaches of Cape Cod. See below for some trails close to the coast to enjoy this beauty and variety. (Looking for more options? Coast Guide Online provides an interactive map of more than 1,900 sites along the Massachusetts coast that are owned by government agencies and nonprofits and open to the public—from long, sandy beaches and rocky shores to small rights-of-way and public landings. It also has a specific map for trails and harbor walks!)
- Coolidge Reservation (Manchester-by-the-Sea) - This 66-acre Trustees of Reservations (Trustees) seaside property includes a 1-mile trail that runs to Bungalow Hill (with its panoramic ocean views), through salt marsh and wetlands, and to a spectacular seaside lawn.
- Crane Beach (Ipswich) - Another Trustees property, Crane Beach offers miles of white sands and magnificent dunes, with 5.5 miles of hiking through designated dune trails and along both the ocean and estuary side of the barrier beach.
- Essex National Heritage Area (North Shore) - Essex Heritage provides information on the natural, cultural, and historic sites in this 500-square-mile North Shore area. Search for walking and hiking trails in the region through the “visit” tab on the website.
- Halibut Point State Park (Rockport) - Halibut Point, a Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) coastal property that is co-managed with The Trustees, provides sweeping ocean views from Crane Beach in Ipswich to Mount Agamenticus in Maine and the Isles of Shoals off the coast of New Hampshire.
- Misery Islands (Salem) - Together, Great and Little Misery Islands offer 2.5 miles of hiking trails through open meadows, woodlands, old ruins, and rocky coastal terrain that provide access to scenic ocean overlooks and pocket beaches. These Trustees of Reservation islands can be accessed by private boat or through an independent tour with the Essex National Heritage Area.
- Parker River National Wildlife Refuge (Plum Island) - Located on Plum Island, this U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Wildlife Refuge provides several miles of foot trails through diverse coastal habitats, such as dunes, marsh, maritime forest, and cranberry bogs and offers numerous observation towers and platforms that allow visitors to get a glimpse of the many migratory and resident birds (over 300 species) that come to the refuge to feed, rest, and nest.
- Ravenswood Park (Gloucester) - This Trustees park with its 600 acres of woodland and wetland habitat—including a native Sweetbay Magnolia swamp—offers 10 miles of trails and carriage paths for walking, cross-country skiing, or snowshoeing. Visitors may also enjoy traversing a ledge trail that reaches an overlook to Gloucester Harbor.
- Salisbury Beach State Reservation (Salisbury) - Salisbury Beach, one of DCR’s most popular ocean beaches, stretches 3.8 miles along the Atlantic Ocean from the Merrimack River up to the border of New Hampshire. A short, self-guided nature trail on the south side of the reservation offers views of the river, beaches, and expansive salt marsh.
- Sandy Point State Reservation (Ipswich) - Sandy Point, a DCR property at the southern tip of Plum Island, is a beautiful 77-acre coastal barrier beach. Here, you can walk, beachcomb, fish, and try to spot Piping Plovers and Least Terns, two protected species of shorebirds.
- Boston Harbor Islands National Park (Boston Harbor) - These 34 islands and mainland peninsulas—managed through a partnership of federal, state, municipal, and nonprofit agencies—offer many destinations to explore. Whether you want to visit an historic fort or lighthouse, hike trails with spectacular harbor overlooks, or fish, swim, or watch for wildlife at the shore, this park system is rich in natural and cultural resources and makes for a great day trip or camping expedition.
- Boston Harborwalk (Boston) - This nearly continuous 43-mile walkway along Boston's waterfront is managed by Boston Harbor Now in cooperation with the City of Boston, state agencies, private developers, and waterfront residents. The Harborwalk accesses many area parks, public art displays, restaurants, museums, water transportation facilities, and observation points where you can view the operations of a working industrial port.
- Webb Memorial State Park (Weymouth) - Another DCR property located on Boston Harbor, Webb State Park offers a walking trail around a scenic peninsula extending into Hingham Bay. The trail is dog friendly and offers views of the Boston Harbor Islands and beyond.
- Ellisville Harbor State Park (Plymouth) - This DCR park offers a 0.9-mile woodland trail down to a remote beach with a short loop alongside a salt marsh. At the beach, look for shorebirds in the summer and harbor seals in the fall and winter.
- North River Wildlife Sanctuary (Marshfield) - This Mass Audubon site includes more than 2 miles of trails through woodlands, a red maple swamp, small cattail marsh, and salt marsh, and includes a universally accessible loop trail and two boardwalks that lead to the Hannah Eames Brook and the North River, were harbor seals may be spotted.
- Pilgrim Memorial State Park (Plymouth) - Pilgrim Memorial State Park, another DCR waterfront park, offers walking paths, benches, and scenic views of Plymouth Harbor. This state park is the site of Plymouth Rock—where the passengers on the Mayflower first set foot in the New World—and the location of the Mayflower II (the replica of the famous ship; which is currently under repair and due back in 2019).
- World's End (Hingham) - World's End, owned by the Trustees and now part of the Boston Harbor Islands National Park, provides 4.5 miles of Frederick Law Olmsted-designed trails and carriage paths to walk, cross-country ski, snowshoe, horseback ride, and explore nature.
Cape and Islands
- Cape Cod National Seashore Hiking Trails (Cape Cod) - This National Park Service page includes links to hiking trails throughout the Cape Cod National Seashore, ranging from the Atlantic White Cedar Swamp Trail to the Nauset Marsh Trail to the Beech Forest Trail.
- Cape Cod Rail Trail (Dennis to Wellfleet) - This paved 25-mile trail, the site of a former railroad right-of-way, runs through the towns of Dennis, Harwich, Brewster, Orleans, Eastham, and Wellfleet, while passing by diverse landscapes of beach, salt marsh, pine forest, and cranberry bog. Though popular for cyclists, this trail can also accommodate other activities, such as horseback riding, walking, and running.
- Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge (Chappaquiddick Island, Martha’s Vineyard) - This Trustees refuge, located on Chappaquiddick Island's eastern edge, is a 7-mile long barrier beach that offers ample opportunity for hiking, wildlife viewing, and fishing. While here, explore the bayside trails, Eastern Red Cedar groves, salt ponds, and the Cape Poge Lighthouse at the northern tip of the barrier beach.
- Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge (Nantucket) - While Coskata-Coatue ("co-skate-uh co-too") Wildlife Refuge may be best known for its historic lighthouse, miles of white-sand beaches, and world-class fishing, this Trustees property offers 16 miles of hiking along trails and sand roads through a complex ecosystem that features rare habitats, plants, and birds.
- Long Point Wildlife Refuge (Martha's Vineyard) - This Trustees of Reservations refuge, consisting of coastal beaches, salt and fresh water ponds, scrub oak shrublands, sandplain grasslands, and pitch pine barrens, offers a 2-mile trail through these diverse habitats, along with plentiful beach-front access.
- Scusset Beach State Reservation (Sandwich) - Located on Cape Cod Bay on the northeast side of the Cape Cod Canal, this DCR property offers a 3,000-foot breakwater and fish pier for fishing and 1.5 miles of frontage along the canal for walking, running, bicycling, bird watching, ship watching, and picnicking.
- South Cape Beach State Park (Mashpee) - While at this DCR park, part of the Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve managed by DCR and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, walk the 1-mile white sand beach past a kettle pond or stroll through a scrub oak/pitch pine woodland and on boardwalks over salt and freshwater marshes.
- Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (Falmouth) - Located on the south shore of Cape Cod, in the towns of Falmouth and Mashpee, this reserve—part of the DCR state parks system and a National Estuarine Research Reserve—encompasses 2,700 acres of open waters, barrier beaches, marshlands, and uplands with many opportunities to explore trails and nature. This reserve is made up of many sites, including South Cape Beach (described above), Washburn Island, and the Quashnet River Area.
- Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary (Wellfleet) - Visit the 1,000 acres of Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary and explore 5 miles of scenic trails through pine/oak woodlands, on boardwalks over an expansive salt marsh, around fresh water ponds, and by coastal heathlands to watch for birds and other wildlife and capture a view of Cape Cod Bay.
- Demarest Lloyd State Park (Dartmouth) - Come to one of DCR’s best kept secrets to walk the sandy beach that overlooks the mouth of the Slocums River into Buzzards Bay or hike the easy trails that follow along tidal marshes and through hilly oak forest to scenic views of the beach, bay, river, and creeks.
- Fort Phoenix State Reservation (Fairhaven) - At this DCR property, walk along the rocks, pier, and 0.5-mile Buzzards Bay beachfront to watch boats, take in the views of Buzzards Bay, and relax. While here visit the adjacent Fort Phoenix, an American Revolutionary War-era fort and national landmark that is managed by the Town of Fairhaven.
- Horseneck Beach State Reservation (Westport Point) - This 600-acre DCR reservation, comprised of beautiful barrier beach and salt marsh ecosystems, contains the popular 2-mile long Horseneck Beach, which sits at the entrance to Buzzards Bay. Stroll the beach (or the paved walking path that runs along it) or head over to Gooseberry Island to explore the nature trails and one of the premier birding locations in New England. For water trails, launch a kayak to discover miles of tidal inlets that cut through the marsh.
- Lloyd Center for the Environment Walking Trails (South Dartmouth) - This non-profit research and education organization offers 5 trails through 82 acres of maritime forest on the edge of the Slocum River Estuary. Explore the trails to discover diverse vegetation and habitats, ranging from red maple swamps to big toothed aspen to cedar forest, witness two of the largest hollies in the state, or visit the observation deck with sweeping views over the Slocums River to Demarest Lloyd State Park, Cuttyhunk Island, and even Martha’s Vineyard.