So you're looking for something different to do without the children and with a group of friends. Why not head towards Princeton and take a hike - literally.
Wachusett Mountain, located on Mountain Rd., Princeton, is a great place to start.
A group of friends and I hike regularly as a way to keep in shape, escape the demands of family for a while, and to commune with nature. The hikes can be fairly quick and simple, or longer and more challenging, the choice is yours.
Our favorite trek starts at the Visitor's Center. We enter from the Mountain Road parking lot and head up the hill to the junction of the Pine Hill Trail and Bicenntennial. We follow Bicentennial briefly, and then branch to the right onto the loop trail. This is where we begin our ascent up. We follow loop to Jack Frost and then take Mountain House to the summit. Round trip can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour depending on condition and pace. There are a myriad of trails to follow, stop in the Visitors Center and grab a map or visit the website.
In the winter, we carry snowshoes, trekking poles and microspikes (similar to Yak -Trax ), they fit over your shoe and have tiny ice busting spikes on the ends making hiking on ice much easier, but in the fall a pair of good hiking boots and some water will get you started.
Our snowshoe of choice is the Denali MSR for more reasons then can be listed in this article, but any expert at EMS or REI or just someone who regularly gets out there, will happily help you find the right product for you.
I can hear many of you saying that you could not possibly get off your couch and climb a mountain. I'm here to tell you that you are wrong. Slow and steady will always get you to the the summit.
There are a few rules to follow: no cotton because if it gets wet, it never dries, a good pair of hiking shoes, and a backpack with at minimum water, a spare pair of socks, a small first aid kit, a headlight/flashlight, an extra warmth layer, a pair of rain pants, a map of the area you're hiking, a compass, extra food, waterproof matches and a whistle.
These items will help you to stay in place longer if the unthinkable happens and someone gets hurt. As small as Mt. Wachusett is, if you needed to take a 200 pound man down the mountain with a broken ankle, it would take a very long time.
There are several other local hotspots to hike. Shrewsbury offers several local rail trails, connected through the Mass Central Rail Trail, and neighboring Northborough boasts 26 miles of trails over eight trail systems. To find maps for any of these, visit the town of Northborough Web site, and click on trails committee.
According to Masscentralrailtrail.org, "There is plenty of free parking at the Junction of Rt 140 and Thomas street one mile south of Exit 5 on Interstate 190 in West Boylston. This section of the trail allows walking, mountain biking, cross country skiing, and wheelchair access."
As with any activity, there are many experts out there happy to help you to learn more. Locally, the Worcester Chapter of the AMC is a great place to start and, of course, Hopkinton State Park nearer to home. AMC can be found at amcworcester.org. They offer hikes, and hiking classes for beginners in everything from winter hiking, to kayaking to cross-country skiing.
Get out there, enjoy the company of great friends, the moonlight, or the sunlight and some well deserved time away from the kids.
Editor's Note: Wachusett's trails are very kid friendly as well. I have regularly hiked the area with scout troops and other young children. I would not recommend a child under three attempt the summit unless in a backpack on mom or dad. The ranger at the Visitor Center would be happy to suggest a great kid-friendly trek. The rail trails offer perfect family adventures for all ages on bike or foot.