Today we revisited Great Brook Farm and State Park. We’ve been there many times, both winter and summer, and included the trails in my blog back in September of 2009. Today we headed out at the very early hour of 7:00 AM. The park is open from dawn to dusk and is frequented by horses, dogs on leash, mountain bikes, and lots of kids. Remember, this is a working dairy farm and there are plenty of baby animals to see.
On today’s visit we saw alpacas, sheep, goats, rabbits, chickens, and yes, plenty of cows at all stages of life including quite the contingency waiting their turn to move to the maternity barn. The sign informed us that they wait until 2 weeks before delivery to be moved. So it was just a group of pregnant cows gathered around the feed trough.
When we visited back in 2009, Beth’s father had just been moved into rehab, and my mother, Lillian was home and up for a ride, so we headed out. Following is my original blog post from back then, supplemented with photos from today’s hike, and updated links to reflect current conditions.
Great Brook Farm State Park
Ice Cream, Horses, Dogs, what more could you want?
- Pet Friendly – YES! Dogs and horses. Tucker gives this one 5 wags
- Accessible – Yes, most dirt trails, but very even and while there are some steeper areas, parking lots are paved, and the trails to the picnic areas and the pond are an easy walk from that second parking lot (not the one next to the ski barn)
- Special Note – This park includes a Healthy Heart Trail
- Admission – $3 per car, other prices for students, seniors, and out-of-state visitors.
On Track with our 52! (references the 52 parks we set as a goal back in 2009/2010)
We heard the day was going to be sunny but weren’t sure whether to take a long drive or stay close to home. It didn’t take long to decide, Beth’s Dad had just settled into his new space and was anticipating finishing up rehab after his surgery. We decided to bring Lillian along for the trip, so the shorter the drive, the better. And what better choice than to return to our local favorite, Great Brook Farm State Park, right in Carlisle, MA. Not more than a 20-minute drive from home. The other really great feature of this park is dogs are welcome!!!!! Tucker was wagging his little tailless butt in anticipation! A favorite park of his to meet other dogs, get patted and ooh and aahed at by little children, and LOTS of things to sniff! Any park with food, shade, water, picnic opportunities, trails, and other dogs is a big deal in his book.
By late morning on Sunday, with temps edging into the low 80’s we decided to pick up a few sandwiches and drinks at a local butcher shop (our new favorite place to get sandwiches) and head over to the picnic area, then on to the trails. The Alpine Butcher in Lowell is a GREAT place to grab lunch! Right off the highway, and even on weekends they make custom wraps, plus have lots of great gourmet additions, salads, cheeses, wine, mustards…. Also a great place for meat and fish, and pre-marinated selections. We keep telling ourselves we’ll be back during the week on one of those “in a rush” evenings when we just need something ready to go.
A Park for All Seasons
Anyway, with sandwiches, drinks, and utensils now in hand, the four of us rolled on to Carlisle and Great Brook Farm. As we pulled past the main parking area near the ski barn, we noticed the abundance of horse trailers. Did I forget to mention that both dogs AND horses are welcome. …and mountain bikes, bocce, lawn bowling, and in winter snowshoeing and cross country skiing. The Great Brook Ski Touring Center rents skis in winter and also sells hot cocoa and has a nice fireplace going. Certain evenings during the week they offer skiing by lantern light, with kerosene lanterns lighting, what else, the Lantern Loop trail!
Locally-made ice cream – how local can you get?
The park also offers locally made ice cream (30+ flavors), and their own honey sold out of the dairy barn, where, in the spring, you can see the new calves and the milking room. Outside they have various farm animals to pet and feed including goats, pigs, calves, sheep, and a random duck or chicken. (On our hike today in 2020, those chickens were roaming free through the woods, pecking at mulch and enjoying a random bug or two.) They sell feed for the animals, and we’ve been at the park in the colder months to find some of these animals out enjoying the winter sun.
The other nice touch is hand sanitizer so when you’re done petting and feeding you can get your hands cleaned up and ready for your ice cream. Picnic tables are plentiful up by the ice cream barn, and there are a few by the pond as well. If you want to bbq, check with the park ranger. We’ve done it on occasion, but fire dangers are real, so check first.
The park also offers guided barn tours, and varied interpretive sessions. (2020 Note – This is the first site of a mechanical milking machine in the country). Check their website for more information. In addition to hiking, horses, tours, and presentations, you can bring your canoe along. They have a canoe put-in at one pond, for self-propelled water vessels (canoes, kayaks, etc) welcome, but no swimming.
Back to our trip. We’d recommend you print a trail map at home since several times we’ve found that the Interpretive Center is out of stock, and the Park Ranger has none. Get one now! We pulled in through the second entrance and drove through the woods to the next parking lot. It’s smaller, and quite crowded during the day but when we arrived in 2020 at 7:30 there were very few cars there. But it’s amazing how there’s always room for one more.
Cornfields, cows, and roads to ramble
Quite picturesque on this Sunday since the lot is backed up to a huge “If You Build It They Will Come” style cornfield all fading golden in the September sun. The park offers plastic bags for dog owners in case you’ve forgotten yours. Special note – If you don’t like dogs, this is probably not the park for you since it seems every 2nd or 3rd visitor has at least one dog in tow. Tucker rates this park FIVE WAGS! Especially for the nice mowed grass fields and the shady spots to take a nap. But after settling Lillian in her folding chair near the pond for some peace and quiet we headed out to find “The City” historic site which is off the Garrison Loop and near the log cabin. Tucker looked longingly at a few shady nap spots, but he knew they’d be there when we got back.
A Few Missing Trail Markers
Unfortunately for us, we took the Pine Point Loop (really nice trail and well-marked) through the forest on the other side of North Road from the ice cream barn. It leads you back out onto North Road which is VERY narrow and includes some turns that don’t allow oncoming cars to see you, so be very careful as you walk and stick to the left side of the street. Tucker stayed on the short lead. Thankfully cars drive slowly in this area. The unfortunate part though is that we had to find the entrance to the Woodchuck Trail and we walked past one unmarked trail then continued on and on…. Poor Tucker’s tongue was hanging low. We hadn’t brought his water with us, and he would have NONE of the lemon Vitaminwater Beth offered. As I said, make sure to download a map because it’s easy to get lost. But you’re never very far from the road.
Eventually (about an hour into our walk) we decided that unmarked trail must have been the one we wanted so we headed back. Never got to the ruins or the log cabin, but now we know, take the unmarked trail! And next time we’ll find it. On the trip back Tucker’s tongue was dragging through the puddles! Note to self (and all you other dog owners) don’t forget the water!!!!! We walked through the field behind the ice cream barn on the way back and the smell of the hay, and warm pine needles was definitely a nice way to finish the day. We decided against an ice cream since the place was pretty crowded, but if you go, definitely take advantage. It’s yummy!!! We then packed Lillian up, took advantage of the VERY nice public restrooms, and headed home.
Where To Go AFTER a Day at the Park
There are two great restaurants in the area that we’d recommend for dinner after a day at the park. More on the nice side than a quick lunch spot. Rufina’s is a really nice, smallish Italian restaurant just outside downtown Chelmsford. Back in 2009 this place was known as Vincenzo’s. Unique dishes, GREAT Champagne POM fizzes, and white peach sangrias, and their bruschetta of the day has never let us down. Its actually also a good place for kids. They’ve got these giant paintings on the wall, and in the rear room, the painting depicts some very unique people. One evening Beth and I sat waiting for our meal and decided to make up stories about who these people were and what was going on in their lives. A bit of escapism from two women who have MORE than enough going on in our own lives! I am hoping those pictures still hang in that restaurant today. The second restaurant is right in downtown Chelmsford, Fishbones. An awesome seafood restaurant and fish market. Not sure I’d bring kids here, but they’ve got a menu that changes based on the market, nice seating outdoors in season (they’ve got heaters so the season lasts past summer and starts in late Spring!) and while it can be crowded, it is well worth the wait.
This week we’ve got Beth’s father starting radiation treatments, and my mother having her second surgery, so life will keep us busy for a bit yet, but we are determined to get back out on the trails and blogging again here soon! Let us know if you want to join us on the next adventure!
So why pickled cabbage after this trip? Because as we walked we caught a cool breeze that reminded me of Fall. And for some reason reminded me that while I bought cabbage last weekend to make stuffed cabbage, we used up the ground meat and that cabbage wasn’t going to last forever! I hope you enjoy this yummy, tangy version of pickled cabbage.
Lemon Herb Pickled Cabbage
- 1 small head of green cabbage (not nappa)
- 2 1/4 cups water
- Juice from 1 1/2 lemons
- 2 cups of vinegar (I used half pomegranate, half white)
- 2 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 TB brown sugar
- 4 cloves minced garlic
- 1 tsp crushed black pepper
- 1 TB chopped fresh dill and chives
- 1 TB lemon thyme
- 1/2 TB whole cloves
- 1 tsp whole coriander seeds
- Rough chop the cabbage
- Place water, lemon juice, vinegar, salt, sugar and water into a saucepan and bring to a boil.
- Once boiling add the cabbage, garlic and herbs to the boiling water. Stir it and let heat for 30 seconds to a minute. Turn off the heat.
- Cool completely and pour into one or two large jars or air tight containers and chill in the fridge for one or more hours before serving.
Leftovers will keep in their container with brine to cover for 2 – 3 weeks.
Since this post included information about Beth’s Dad I’m also dedicating this one to Ed. We miss him dearly, and as with recent recycled posts that included Lillian and Tucker, We’re remembering them and the good times we were fortunate enough to have shared with them.
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