Find Winter Activity Opportunities Close To Home.

Let’s define what we mean by Urban Wilderness:

  • Open space – wetland, meadow, and/or forested land.
  • Owned by a public entity
  • No parking or entrance fees
  • No visual pollution
  • Offers “peace and quiet”
  • Accessible by either car or public transportation from the nearby urban center
  • Offers a variety of activities (year-round)

Urban Wildernesses can be found in or close to many city centers. The point is that you don’t have to venture into the mountains to find winter recreation; it’s often just a short ride away. All you have to do is find them.

Here are two examples, one from the Boston Area, the other from Portland, OR.  What are your favorite Urban Wildernesses?

Around Boston

Hard to believe this view of Middlesex Fells Reservation is only a few miles from downtown Boston.
Credit: Commonwealth of Mass

Near Boston, MA is the Middlesex Fells Reservation. “The Fells” has borders in four near Boston suburbs; Medford, Winchester, Stoneham and Melrose. It’s 2,575 acres bisected by Interstate I-93. The east side of I-93 is more developed. The west side of I-93 is less developed with a border road and some homes along the road on the opposite side from the Fells. Nevertheless, the west side provides more of a wilderness feel.

Several ponds act as a water supply to the town of Winchester. The Fells have a good number of trails for mountain biking, hiking, snowshoeing, x-c skiing (ungroomed) and trail running including:

Skyline Trail

The 6.9 mile Skyline Trail follows the outer perimeter of the western Fells. There are spectacular views of Boston and the surrounding area. Most of the Skyline trail is in wooded landscape, with several steep ascents to rocky outcrops.

Reservoir Trail

The 5.2 mile Reservoir Trail encircles the north, middle and south reservoirs, and the open water can be seen from many sites (the reservoirs are for drinking water, so access to them is prohibited).

Cross Fells Trail

Beginning in the western Fells near the Medford High School, the 4.5 mile Cross Fells Trail gives a good sampling of the features of the Reservation, from wetlands at Whitmore Brook to open water at Quarter Mile Pond in the eastern Fells, to views at Cairn Hill. Use caution crossing South Border Road, Route 28, Woodland Road and the Fellsway.

For more information about Middlesex Fells Reservation, click here.

In the Boston area, there’s also Walden Pond, site of Thoreau’s cabin, in Concord, and Appleton Farms, a 900 plus acre working farm established in 1638, in Ipswich.

Here’s a brief description of a ski tour around Walden Pond.

And here’s what it’s like cross-country skiing at Appleton Farms.

Around Portland, OR

Forest Park is practically in downtown Portland, OR.
Credit: Forest Park Conservancy

At 5,157 acres, Forest Park in Portland, Oregon is one of the largest urban forests in the United States. With more than 80 miles of trails, Forest Park stretches for more than seven miles along the eastern slope of the Tualatin Mountains, at the convergence of the Columbia and Willamette Rivers. As stated in the park’s website, “Forest Park offers an unparalleled opportunity for visitors to experience a true Northwest forest without leaving the Portland city limits.” Forest Park immediately came to mind as an archetypical urban wilderness.

Activities along the 80 miles of trails include:

  • Horseback riding
  • Hiking
  • Cycling/mountain biking
  • Running – trail and road
  • X-C Skiing, Snow Shoeing (when and if it snows)*

Among the park’s trails are:

Ridge Trail

Trailhead access for the Ridge Trail, which is only open to pedestrian use. To find the trailhead, park at the obvious pullout on the way down Bridge Ave (heading toward Portland). You will then need to walk back up Bridge Ave roughly .2 mile to find the actual trailhead.

The Wildwood Trail

30.2 breathtaking miles, from the southern end of the trail at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington Park to the Northwest terminus of the trail at Newberry Road.

*The city of Portland averages only 4.3 inches of snow a year, so winter activities are the often same as activities the rest of the year. But, what a place to get you in shape for skiing on Mt. Hood only 50 miles from downtown Portland!

For more information about Forest Park, click here:

Please tell us your favorite urban wilderness. What makes it special to you?


  1. Steve
    In my area (central CT) we have great Rails-to-Trails, state parks, reservoir lands and state forests. Your article reminded me of how important these urban (and in my case, suburban) access areas are.

  2. Gary Stauffer says:

    Great post! In northern Michigan we have an abundance of Urban Wilderness because of wonderful land conservancies like Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy.

  3. Peter M Hogan says:

    Within eyesight of Boston, on a clear day, we also have Blue Hills downhill skiing in Canton and Mt Wachusett in Princeton. Then there is Great Brook Farm for great XC and mountain biking in Carlisle. Plus, there are a number of canoeable wetlands where you feel you could be out in the wilds but your just a half hour drive from the big city. Boston is a great outdoor city.

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