The Ipswich River Watershed is a biker’s paradise, and the quintessential New England landscape. Along scenic byways lined with stone walls reminiscent of the region’s agricultural heritage, you’ll pedal past a pleasing palette of forest and meadow, swamp and bog, pond and streams. The Ipswich River is the unifying theme, the waterway which connects all that you’ll see into an ecological system – natural and human communities connected by water.
You might expect the Ipswich River Watershed to be flat – and you might be wrong! The watershed’s landscape is dotted with elongated glacial hills called drumlins, interspersed among low-land features. The drumlins are not high – the highest is 420 feet – but they can be steep, and will provide a good challenge for those biking muscles! So while you won’t find hill climbs miles in length, flat terrain is the exception in the Ipswich River Watershed.
The following tour circuits are chosen for their beauty, generally rural character, and links to hiking, canoeing and other recreational opportunities. The northern and eastern sections of the watershed are the most rural in character; the southwestern and southern sections are more urban, as is reflected in the text describing the routes.
Most of the roads don’t have paved shoulders, and are often narrow and winding. We try to keep you off larger and busier roads, though a few are included (mostly for short links) in the routes suggested.
Upper (Western) Watershed
1. Harold Parker State Forest (2½-7 miles, paved and unpaved roads) The best biking in the Upper Ipswich Watershed is at and near Harold Parker State Forest. This area is mostly part of the Skug River subwatershed – a tributary of the Ipswich. The biking within the park itself is varied and extensive, ranging from short rides on paved roads to many miles of unpaved roads, and the best off-road biking opportunities in the area. We don’t go over the basic route on paved roads through and around the park, because that is easy to see by looking at the map.
The ride is lovely – forested terrain, passing by numerous beautiful ponds. Be aware that private property is interspersed with parts of the park, so the route on paved roads passes through some neighborhoods. Enjoy!
2. Andover – North Andover – Middleton Loop
This ride takes a tour of the highest hills of the Ipswich River Watershed, beginning at the Ward Reservation in Andover. These hills form a disconnected ridgeline which separates the Ipswich and Merrimack watersheds. The Ward Reservation includes Holt Hill, the highest hill in the Ipswich River Watershed. This is well worth visiting in its own right, as is the fascinating Pine Hole Bog, also on the property.
3. Wilmington – Reading Loop (8.8 miles)
The southwestern part of the Upper Ipswich Watershed is more developed than the mid and lower watershed. This route links some of the nice open space and recreational properties, and follows pleasant routes through residential areas. The really good news is 4 of the communities are working together to develop a bike trail network. The network will link to existing and proposed bike trails in adjoining communities.
4. North Reading – Middleton – Lynnfield Loop (about 13 mi)
8. Miles River Watershed Loop (21 miles)
The Miles River is one of the main tributaries of the Ipswich River, beginning in North Beverly and Wenham, and traveling northward through Hamilton, joining the mainstem of the river in Ipswich.
9. Coastal Circuit (about 15 miles)
Le Tour du Watershed!
This is a 60+ mile route which takes you from the northwestern portion of the watershed all the way to the coast and back. This ride is for the fittest among you!! For those who like the idea but aren’t ready for the whole challenge, you may arrange to have a car at the coast to ferry you back to the start; or use your maps to choose a turnaround at the halfway point.