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Hometown Weekly’s finest foliage spots

By Stephen Press
Hometown Weekly Editor

It seems most seasons around New England have their detractors.

While the skiers and skaters among us are loving every moment of the winter, self-identified “summer people” are kvetching about freezing extremities and aching bones. In springtime, as the world wakes itself from its chilly malaise and the melting ice and snow turn our organic surfaces into sponges, many find themselves complaining about muddy footprints, temperatures that feel like hangovers from February, and (depending on the year) the underperformance of the local nine. At the height of August, meanwhile, there will always be wet blankets, myself among them, who would gladly mortgage a kidney to find themselves in a state of permanent air conditioning.

For all the unique criticism one can levy upon those three seasons, though, I have yet to find anyone who can make a convincing argument that a New England autumn is anything other than palatable, if not wholly spectacular. While the mild weather certainly plays a role in this dynamic, I’d guess that the main driver is the fact that by the time October rolls around, the area’s deciduous forests have adorned themselves in spectacular yellows, oranges and reds. It’s sufficient to send painters, photographers, and tourists from far-flung locales driving along Rt. 2 in search of the perfect vista.

Those in Hometown Weekly’s communities needn’t hit the Mohawk Trail for their own excellent views, though. There are a plethora of spots a short drive from home that will slake their thirst for fall foliage — so many, in fact, that I cannot possibly list them all.

In Medfield, one might be most immediately tempted to scramble to the top of Noon Hill Reservation for its expansive view. It is spectacular in all seasons, but a particular treat at the height of fall, when the area’s trees spread out like a multi-colored Persian carpet in front of those who’ve put in the time to summit the hill. A less strenuous Medfield option, reachable without a vertical hike, can be found at the Kingsbury Grist Mill, right on Rt. 27. The mill, one of the town’s historical gems, is especially picturesque at this time of year and eminently worthy of exploration. 

Of course, one cannot neglect the Medfield State Hospital campus, especially as Halloween nears. In addition to providing ample natural scenery to scratch the itch, the abandoned grounds carry with them a sense of mystery and forboding — ideal for sightseers who’d like a touch of “spooky season” to go along with their leaf-hunting.

Nearby in Dover and Sherborn, it would be easy to simply say, “Pick some wooded roads and drive; they’re all gorgeous.” For as much truth as that statement contains, it would be lazy of me to leave it at that.

An obvious place to start would be Noanet Peak, which, like Noon Hill, provides expansive vistas of the foliage from a birds-eye view. Again, though, with the understanding that not all of our readers will be game for a literal uphill climb, fantastic options exist in both towns that do not require quite as much effort.

Powisset Farm, for example, provides not only appropriately seasonal views of the natural world, but also of a working farm at harvest time - an autumn imagery overload, if you will. It is also flatter and more easily walkable than Noanet Peak. This may be the most family-friendly of all options; toddlers who might not yet be fully appreciative of the falling leaves may instead find themselves captivated by the farm itself — a perfect distraction while you “ooh” and “ahh” at the lovely colors.

An even lower-key option would be Sherborn’s historic Pine Hill Cemetery, one of the area’s better birding locales. Do not let the “pine” in its name fool you, though — despite the evergreens, there’s more than enough color here to justify a quiet, peaceful stroll at fall’s peak.

Down the road in Needham, despite an abundance of scenic spots and verdant preserves, there is little question as to the most iconic foliage spot in town. James Kinneen said it best when he visited for a 2020 story in Hometown Weekly: “…the bench overlooking a beautiful view of the bridge was far more crowded than it was in May. With everyone taking photographs at that one specific overlook, I very much wanted to branch out and do something different. I really wanted to get a shot of the bridge that was unique, different, and unlike everyone else’s, to display in the paper. But after doing my best, the unfortunate truth is there’s a reason the image from that one spot is on postcards dating back to the 1930s, and why everyone takes their picture there. Move around as much as you like, trample through whatever brush you want, climb on whatever rock you can find, you’re not going to find a better view.”

For those who’d prefer to avoid the Echo Bridge crowds, there are other, slightly less postcard-y options. Charles River Peninsula, for example, provides a much less grandiose, more intimate view of the Charles than those that come with a visit to the historic bridge. It is especially attractive on a sunny morning, when the dew has yet to lift and the town has yet to fully awaken.

Westwood, meanwhile, “suffers” from the same fate as Needham: I’m not revealing any secrets when I say a trip to Hale is probably the most ubiquitous way to seek an autumnal encounter in town. There’s a good reason for it — it’s difficult to argue with twenty miles of beautiful wooded trails and four ponds, located off of Rt. 109.

Those who are looking for more of a hit-and-run encounter with the falling leaves of Westwood would be wise to check out Buckmaster Pond, though, which is both easy to get to and boasts some very nice views. Of all the spots mentioned, Buckmaster is perhaps the best venue for a picnic lunch, owing in part to a large lawn overlooking the pond — excellent for spreading a blanket and taking in your surroundings.

As in all of Hometown Weekly’s communities, in Walpole, one has myriad options when it comes to appreciating the season — although the two best might be located on opposite ends of town. Adams Farm, located off 109 near the border of Westwood, brings many of the same attributes to the table as Dover’s Powisset Farm, most notably a unique setting that might strike young children as more exciting than a “normal” walk in the woods. A feast for the eyes in all seasons, Adams Farm is arguably at its most stunning in mid-autumn, and not to be missed.

Closer to the Sharon border, Jarvis Farm provides another ideal venue for seasonal exploration. Constituting the former grounds of Sharon Country Day Camp, the farm is sufficiently autumnal in vibe that prior to COVID, it played host to Jarvis Harvest, Walpole Recreation’s annual celebration of the fall. For those looking to extend their visit into a longer walk, a boardwalk connects the property to the Walpole Town Forest.

It would also be criminal not to mention Bird Park, which is a little under ten minutes drive from both Adams Farm and Jarvis Farm. There’s no surprise that so many folks opt to take their family and engagement photos here — the park, which was designed by John Nolen, a keen admirer of the famed Frederick Law Olmsted, is a pearl, most especially when its trees are shedding in the fall.

New Englanders are cantankerous by nature — perhaps a result of our living in a place where the climate undergoes such frequent mood swings. For the moment though, those grievances can take a back seat. It’s absolute peak foliage season in our neck of the woods, and I, for one, have no complaints.

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