Everyone needs a little peace and quiet sometimes, and when you can spend some of that time out enjoying the natural world, taking a break from civilization for a while, the moment is all the better.
But you don’t have to go the Blue Hills to escape into the outdoors, or trek up to the White Mountains of New Hampshire—though both are beautiful and worth a trip. Right here in Needham, there’s , offering more than 360 acres of forest, trails, meadow and other natural surroundings that provide you with all the space you need for a short but satisfying getaway.
From the first scent of pine heavy in the air as you enter the Fitness Trail off the park’s main entrance on Charles River Street, or that initial feeling of serenity you experience as you pause at the top of the meadow, listening to the sound of birds trilling and the wind blowing the grasses, you’ll begin to appreciate the serenity that Ridge Hill has to offer.
Owned by the town of Needham, Ridge Hill Reservation is under the care and direction of the Conservation Commission. It is open daily from half an hour before sunrise to one hour after sunset and features open field, pine and mixed forest, swampland and, as implied in the park’s name, two long, narrow ridges called eskers, which were formed by glacial rivers.
Among the activities allowed in the reservation under Conservation Commission regulations are hiking, nature study, horseback riding, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing and other activities that keep with the protection of the park’s natural resources.
A few other rules to note: Vehicles are only allowed on the paved driveway and in designated parking areas—off the main entrance at 463 Charles River St. there are two small lots and one larger lot; no motorized vehicles such as motorcycles, trail bikes, motor scooters and snowmobiles are allowed anywhere beyond the paved driveway; bicycles are not allowed on trails, fields or any other non-paved areas; pets must be leashed at all times and visitors should remove all pet waste before they leave; and fires are prohibited except in the grills provided in the park’s picnic area.
Camping is also not allowed, and active sports should not be played in the meadows or fields between May 1 and Sept. 1 because those areas are important habitat for wildlife species, according to the commission’s rules.
There are a few picnic tables and grills located behind the caretaker’s buildings at the far end of the paved driveway, as well as a table located along the roadway near a trailhead.
Among the trails offered is a Total Fitness Trail, which provides exercise prompts along the path to help guide a workout that combines cardiovascular conditioning, flexibility and muscle toning. A sign at the beginning of the course—located at the entrance down and to the right of the first mini parking lot, shows the type of exercises recommended at each of about 20 stations along the way. (Note: This path is one of those pine-heavy spots—providing an aromatic bonus during your workout.)
Other paths are designated from Class 1—meaning it follows a relatively easy trail—to Class 3—which may involve a little climbing and the use of hands to help pull you over rocks and other rough terrain. One of the Class 3 trails, which follows the ridge line, can be accessed via the entrance to the Total Fitness Trail—instead of following the fitness loop around, you can keep heading north along the Esker Trail. See the map in our photo gallery or find two sizes of printable maps on the town Web site.
Whatever your purpose—whether you challenge yourself with a tougher route, take a short walk for some reflection time or just bring a picnic lunch and enjoy the scenery with your family, Ridge Hill is definitely worth a visit.