SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

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May 28, 2010

These hikes are kid-friendly

Essex County is replete with natural spaces suitable for parents and children to explore. There are thousands of acres locally, overseen by such entities as the Trustees of Reservations, the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, Mass Audubon, and town-managed wildlife refuges, all with well-marked trails and learning opportunities for any age.

Without advance planning, however, hiking with children can be a chore. Bring proper supplies (snacks, water, bug spray, first aid) and research your destination, and your trek will be more enjoyable. For best results, look for safe environments with lots of learning opportunities, and the little ones will enjoy their early experiences in the natural world.

Here are four kid-friendly places to hike on the North Shore:

Wildcat Conservation Area

Location: Herrick Road, Boxford

Description: 319 acres; can be explored in one hour; clearly marked trails, easy-to-read signs

Kids will love it: Because there's a variety of terrain, from bog to ledge, and several easy hikes; also, BTA/BOLT has a book, "Exploring Boxford's Beautiful Trails," with seven family craft projects for Boxford properties, including Wildcat.

More information: www.btabolt.org

Marblehead Neck Wildlife Sanctuary

Location: Risley Road, Marblehead

Description: 16 acres; small park with a loop trail (some clambering over rocks required); mix of swamp, thickets and woodlands

Kids will love it: Because this is sanctuary for migratory birds during spring and fall; also, it has a picturesque pond populated with ducks and geese.

More information: www.massaudubon.org

Appleton Farms

Location: County Road, Ipswich

Description: 658 acres; mix of crop fields, livestock pastures, wetlands and forest; one of America's oldest continuously operating farms

Kids will love it: Because of its easy-walking footpaths that crisscross the property, plenty of family-friendly agricultural learning opportunities, adjacent Appleton Farms Grass Rides property.

More information: www.thetrustees.org

Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary

Location: 87 Perkins Row, Topsfield

Description: 2,265 acres; Mass Audubon's largest sanctuary, with more than 10 miles of interconnecting trails; forests, meadows and wetlands.

Kids will love it: Because there's so much for families to do: rent canoes or a cabin, camp on a private island, learn about the flora and fauna of the property in organized classes or independent explorations.

More information: www.massaudubon.org

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