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15 Best Things to Do in Ashland (MA)

15 Best Things to Do in Ashland (MA)

First developed on the Boston-Worcester Railroad, Ashland is a rapidly growing city whose population has doubled since the 1980s.

The city contains two large reservoirs, built in the 19th century as reservoirs for Boston's water supply, but redeveloped as state parks in 1947.

Both Ashland State Park and Hopkinton State Park are great outdoor centers, with miles of trails, summer swimming beaches, and great conditions for kayaking and canoeing.

Recently renovated, downtown Ashland is full of life, featuring a thriving farmers market, a calendar of community events, and a landmark hotel opened by the railroad nearly 200 years ago.

Ashland is on the Boston Marathon route, but was the starting point in the early years, until the route was lengthened to match the new standard marathon length in the mid-1920s.

1. Ashland State Park

The 157-acre Ashland Reservoir is one of a group of reservoirs along the Sudbury River and its tributaries, established in the late 1800s as Boston's second major water supply system.

It was abandoned by the end of World War II, and the reservoir has been a popular recreational area ever since.

In summer, Ashland State Park promises swimming on a large sandy beach, while continuous trails for hiking, biking, and cross-country skiing surround the entire reservoir.

The original 1880s dam and spillway on the North Shore are still standing and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, while if you have your own non-motorized vessel, there is a gravel launch on the south side of Spring St. Louis.

2. Downtown Ashland

As we wrote this article, the city was completing a multi-million-dollar downtown Ashland revitalization project, creating new walkable streets along portions of Main Street and Front Street.

This includes new ADA-compliant sidewalks, as well as lighting, landscaping, wayfinding, trees and furniture.

Detached from the railroad, downtown Ashland is truly unique, with old businesses, small parks, historic architecture, and a dining scene that includes Italian cuisine, pub fare, pizza, breakfast food, and a bagel bakery.

The Zawiya district hosts outdoor events throughout the summer and serves as a proving ground for local businesses, while the farmers market attracts crowds on Saturday mornings.

3. Boston Marathon

From the race's inception in 1897 until 1923, Metcalf's Mill in Ashland was the starting line of the Boston Marathon.

Things changed in 1924 when the line was moved to Hopkinton Common, lengthening the course to 26 miles (385 yd) to match the new marathon standard length established at the 1908 Olympics.

There is a sign at the actual starting line on Pleasant Street that says “It All Started Here.” A century ago, the course traveled nearly three miles along Route 135 through Ashland.

Come early on Patriots Day to get a good spot to watch the opening stages of the world's oldest annual marathon. As a general rule, the further up West Union Street you go, the better the lookout point.

4. Ashland Farmers Market

Ashland has been in business for over a decade and has one of the best farmers markets in the western metro area.

On Saturday mornings, from mid-June to mid-October, the market has a designated grassy area parallel to the railway tracks.

You can check the market's website for a weekly list of suppliers as well as a calendar of seasonal events, from Sustainability Day in July to the Tomato Festival in August and Apple Day in September.

A typical week will feature fresh produce from five nearby farms, plus seafood, meats, baked goods, delicious cheeses, talented artisans, beverage vendors, pet supplies, ready-to-eat meals and the occasional food truck.

5. Hopkinton State Park

Much of the 1,245-acre public recreation area lies within Ashland's boundaries. Like Ashland State Park, Hopkinton State Park is located on the banks of a formerly active reservoir that was converted for outdoor recreation in 1947.

Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day is a great place to swim or bring the kids to play in the clear, shallow waters at two sandy beaches.

During the season, Boston Boating operates at Hopkinton State Park, where kayaks, canoes, paddle boats, and paddleboards are rented.

The generous forest tracts surrounding the reservoir are lined with miles of trails for activities such as hiking, biking, horseback riding, and winter cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

And if you want to celebrate with friends or organize a family reunion, the park includes 12 shaded picnic areas, with no less than 250 picnic tables and 165 charcoal grills.

6. Bay Circuit Trail

Ashland is located in the middle third of the epic trail system, stretching 230 miles through the Boston suburbs from Newburyport in the north to Duxbury in the south.

There's no better way to experience the true beauty of eastern Massachusetts than by hiking, biking, horseback riding, or skiing in these lush communities with plenty of natural spaces.

For added convenience, you're never far from an MBTA station, and the same goes for Ashland.

Traversing the city forest, the trail connects to many of Ashland's undeveloped sites, including the picturesque Mill Pond Park, which we'll discuss in more detail below.

7. Stone’s Public House

This Irish-American gastropub is located across the tracks in an elegant, multi-story old building in the heart of Ashland.

The inn, then known as the Railroad House, was built in 1832, just as the Boston-Worcester Railroad reached Ashland. It was owned by the astute businessman John Stone, who later leased the property to a series of innkeepers until his death in 1858.

Over time, the building fell into disrepair before being revived as a public house in the 1970s, gaining a lasting reputation as a haunted house.

There's a large patio, a roaring fireplace, craft beer on tap, and a menu of traditional pub fare such as shepherd's pie, fish and chips, macaroni and cheese, steak and chips, and half a roast chicken.

8. Sri Lakshmi Temple

The temple of the Hindu goddess Sri Lakshmi, the first and largest of its kind in New England, was dedicated in 1990.

The Sri Lakshmi Temple was expanded in 2005 and again in 2018, equipping the complex with a commercial kitchen, dining area, library, meeting room and new auditorium. Whatever your religious beliefs, it's worth a visit, not least because of the ornate decoration on the main tower.

The temple is open to the public on all days of the week, and serves simple but delicious prasadam (vegetarian food offerings to devotees) in the canteen.

9. Ashland Town Forest

As if two state parks weren't enough, just north of Ashland is a mountainous landscape that covers more than 660 acres and is open to the public.

Purchased in 1942, Ashland Town Forest is adjacent to the smaller Cowassock Woods, which extend into neighboring Framingham.

In this tranquil landscape, you'll encounter upland and lowland bogs, mixed hardwood forests, vernal pools, historic open quarries and numerous granite outcrops.

The Ashland Town Forest is crossed by a portion of the Bay Circuit Trail, part of a six-mile trail network on the property.

In spring and summer, wildflowers dot the undergrowth, while some animal species include red foxes, turkey vultures, red-tailed hawks and the rare blue-spotted salamander.

10. Warren Woods

On the east side of Ashland State Park, you can enjoy 120 acres of farmland and old-growth country woods, managed by the Ashland Open Space and Recreation Commission.

Warren Woods was first owned by Henry E. Warren (1872–1957), an inventor who held several patents, most famously the first synchronous electric clock.

The land was donated to Northeastern University after his death, and the city later purchased it in 2012 after a grassroots campaign by local residents.

There is a maze of paths across open fields and deep into ancient woodland, while the Old Stone Trail meanders across the town line with Holston to the south.

11. Mill Pond Park

Easy to miss, there's a beautiful linear park in the middle of Ashland, just off Myrtle Avenue. From the small parking area on Pine Hill Road, you can take a waterfront trail north of the beautiful Mill Pond, and then you can go a little extra. West along part of the Bay Circuit Trail, along the Sudbury River.

It's a peaceful place to spend a few quiet minutes, with a footbridge across the mill pond, an observation deck, and plenty of benches shaded by tall trees.

A few steps overlooking downtown, Mill Pond has secluded, forested beaches that are nothing short of breathtaking in the fall. On a warm day, you can have lunch from a local restaurant and take a walk in the park.

12. The Corner Spot

On the site of an old, demolished house in central Ashland lies a beautiful public space that serves a variety of purposes.

The Corner Spot has a set of picnic tables under an awning, so you can come here for an al fresco meal with friends and family.

During the summer, the place is constantly buzzing, thanks to outdoor musical performances and a selection of yard games.

As a gathering place, it's a prime spot for entrepreneurs who open pop-ups for a week, testing the local market in the shed, which offers free Wi-Fi.

13. Puzzle Escape Ashland

The Ashland Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) building is the focal point of the escape room. Designed with great attention to detail, Puzzle Escape Ashland is an antidote to corporate escape rooms.

There's only one room, with a theme that changes every few months, so you can expect a new challenge every time you visit.

For example, when we went to press, the experiment was “On Your Mark – Get Set, Go?”, where you and your team have to find a missing Boston Marathoner before the first race started in 1897. There are 45 minutes.

14. Boston Paintball Ashland

Located in East Ashland, this year-round paintball facility features Apocalypse City Arena on the map.

Built like a blockbuster movie set, Apocalypse City resembles a few sets on the East Coast, and features no fewer than 23 buildings, including City Hall, an apartment building, and a two-story hospital, as well as sundry vehicles such as an ambulance, a tank, a police car, and a plane. She fell.

To continue, you'll find a wooden ball court with a bridge and ditch, and an indoor playground with inflatable obstacles, perfect for evening games and small groups.

15. Modelville Hobby

Sure to inspire a sense of childlike wonder, you'll find a cavernous racing facility at Modelville Hobby (28 Elliot Street).

Below are five 1/24 scale tracks, some dating back decades. The store has been around in some form since 1965, and first moved to Ashland in 1978, taking up residence at 58 Union St. For 32 years.

Modelville Hobby moved to its current 70' x 100' space in 2010. One of the tracks here is the first sovereign track (220 foot track) ever built.

More than half a century old, it was shipped from Texas and put back into working order. Visit the Modelville website to learn about regularly scheduled races as well as two regional racing series coming to the facility.

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