Massachusetts and its residents have played an essential role in US history from its very founding years. The National Parks in Massachusetts run by the National Park Service (NPS) pays tribute to the natural and cultural value of these people and places. The Massachusetts National Parks contain historic parks in Massachusetts, historic sites in Massachusetts and national trails that connect to other American states. Well known national parks Massachusetts can lay claim to include parts of the Appalachian trail, the Boston national historic park and the Cape Cod National Seashore.
Massachusetts National Parks
Are there any national parks in Massachusetts? Technically, the only national park in New England is Acadia National Park, one of the most visited and best national parks in the country.
The NPS, however, also run Massachusetts national parks and monuments that are smaller for their natural and historic value at the national level. Unlike the Massachusetts state parks and Massachusetts state forests, the Massachusetts national parks and historic sites in MA are federally protected because they have been deemed important to the entire country.
For example, the NPS manages Adams National Historical Park which is the birthplace of both the second and the sixth presidents of the United States. The NPS also runs the National Seashores, such as the vast Cape Cod National Seashore and the US national trails, like the Appalachian Trail.
Yes, it’s semantics. Both nationally and state protected places exist for the enjoyment of public visitors. Here are the best national parks in Massachusetts where you can explore some of the fascinating history surrounding the birth and growth of the USA.
Best National Parks Near Boston
The biggest city in New England, Boston has been a regional and national powerhouse since its founding in 1630.The city of Boston was not only important in the American Revolution but also subsequent historical events like the Civil War and the Industrial Revolution. It is only natural that of the National Parks Massachusetts has, 5 national historical parks are located near Boston.
Adams National Historical Park
Adams National Historical Park in Quincy Massachusetts is home to John Adams, Founding Father, signer of the Declaration of Independence and second President of the USA. Both John Adams and his son, John Quincy Adams (the 6th President) were born at this estate. John Adams’ wife, Abigail Adams, was an early Anti-Slavery proponent and a major influence on her husband and son.
Take a tour through the historical houses, grand gardens, and the quaint stone library to have a look at where foundations for the constitution were laid. The houses are only available to visit by a 2 hour guided tour but the tour of the gardens is self-guided.
Boston National Historic Park
Boston played a critical role in the American Revolution and the Civil War.
In downtown Boston, eight historic sites in Massachusetts are found in the area. Seven of the historic sites in MA are connected by the Freedom Trail, a self-guided walking tour of sites including the Bunker Hill Monument and the Old State House.
Faneuil Hall is also part of the Freedom Trail even though Peter Faneuil made his money in the transatlantic slave trade of which Boston was a major player. Many Bostonians though were against slavery and participated in the cause for social justice and civil rights after the American Revolution.
Boston Harbor Islands Recreation Area
Just offshore of the Boston Harbor lies 34 islands ripe for exploration. The islands have diverse offerings, like slate or shell beaches, wild berry fields, old forts, and much more.
Camping is permitted on some islands and others have a multitude of wooden walkways, shaded picnic sites, and charming vistas.
The islands can be reached by ferry from downtown Boston and the trip only takes 45-minutes. Park Rangers that live on the islands also offer educational programs and guided tours to help you make the most of your visit to this National Park in Massachusetts.
Lowell National Historical Park
This series of historical sites in downtown Lowell Massachusetts that make up Lowell National Historical Park depicts the start of the Industrial Revolution in the USA. Lowell was a planned factory town built to be better than similar manufacturing centers in England which were criticised for being terrible places to work.
The sites at the Lowell National Historic Park are prime examples of 19th centurial manufacturing facilities. For example, the Boott Cotton Mill and Museum is one of the oldest and best preserved sites. There are plenty of things to do at this Massachusetts National Park, such as boat tours of the Lowell Canal System and an annual summer folk festival.
Minute Man National Historical Park
More than 900 acres in Concord, MA are preserved to commemorate the American Revolution. The opening battles of the revolution played out over these grounds and noteworthy landmarks, monuments, and landscapes tell the story of how America won its independence.
The Battle Road Trail is a five-mile stretch between Lexington and Concord and visits the sites where Paul Revere was captured, as well as the iconic Hartwell Tavern, an inn restored to its 18th-century prime condition. This historical park is part of the Battle Road Scenic Byway.
Southeastern Massachusetts National Parks
Two of the Massachusetts National Parks in this region are related to how Massachusetts acquired much of its wealth during the colonial period (whaling) and the industrial revolution (mills). The Cape Cod National Seashore though is much less educational and more just beautiful.
Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park
Crossing borders into Rhode Island, this park is one of the best national parks to explore the earliest roots of the American Industrial Revolution. The success of the Slater Mill on the Blackstone River convinced other entrepreneurs to create mill villages. These decisions forever changed the trajectory of the US economy from a predominantly agricultural base.
On the Massachusetts side of the park, you can visit the Whitinsville Historic District and Hopedale Village Historic District to learn more about 19th-century milling. All of the sites at this national park in New England can be undertaken by self-guided tours.
Cape Cod National Seashore
This 43,000-acre piece of shoreline is an unmissable attraction in Massachusetts. More than 40-miles of sandy scenery is waiting to be enjoyed by nature lovers and beachgoers alike. Even off season Cape Cod National Seashore is a delight.
When exploring a national park in Massachusetts, you will find six pristine swimming beaches, eleven walking trails and various historical sites, too. The Cape Cod National Seashore in itself is one of the best things to do on Cape Cod. The sunsets from Race Point Lighthouse on Cape Cod are legendary.
New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park
One of the most unique national parks in Massachusetts is this 13-block precinct of New Bedford. The buildings within this area are dedicated to preserving the history and importance of whaling to America’s development.
The New Bedford Whaling Museum presents the vibrant society that developed as the whaling industry boomed. They also promote safe maritime practices today and aim to educate the public about these magnificent mammals.
NPS Historic Sites Massachusetts
If you are looking for historic sites, Massachusetts has you covered! There is so much history in this state that the NPS historic sites in Massachusetts are only a small portion.
Boston African American National Historic Site
The free African American community that settled on the north side of Beacon Hill in Boston in the 19th century made important contributions in the fight against slavery. They became leaders in the Civil War, the Abolitionist movement, and the Underground Railroad.
The Black Heritage Trail is a 1.6-mile trail that travels past churches, homes, schools, and businesses that played important roles in the black community centuries ago. Although many of the historic places are now privately owned, sites like the African Meeting House are part of the Museum of African American history which has locations in both Boston and Nantucket.
Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site
Landscape architecture was Frederick L. Olmsted’s claim to fame and the office he set up in Boston is now a national historic site. The first office in the world fully dedicated to landscape design, Olmsted’s legacy as a leading urban planner lives on in his designs for the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. and Central Park in New York City.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy National Historic Site
The Brookline, Massachusetts childhood home and birthplace of the former president, John F. Kennedy, was painstakingly restored by his mother to reflect the childhood of her soon. The house is also an accurate depiction of an average American home after 1915 and visitors can see hundreds of pieces that came directly from the Kennedy household.
Longfellow House Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site
General George Washington laid the foundations for his revolutionary war victory in this historical building. Half a century later the house would become the family home for famed poet and American cultural icon Henry W. Longfellow.
Perfectly preserved interiors reflect decades of history, and the colonial gardens offer a sanctuary for thinkers and writers in Cambridge, MA. Historical societies and poetry enthusiasts often gather on the lush lawns under the shade of the centuries-old trees to celebrate American literature and culture.
Salem Maritime National Historical Site
Salem isn’t necessarily associated in the popular mind with its maritime history but the Salem Maritime National Historic Site proves that there is more to this town than witch hunters. Salem though, just like the rest of North Shore Massachusetts, had an influential maritime past that brought it many riches.
It has been in operation since 1938 and was the first National Historic site in the country. The Salem waterfront houses twelve historic structures that showcase the history of New England’s maritime sector over more than 600 years.
Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site
Water sources and rivers were utilized as a source of energy during the 1600s, attracting numerous iron makers from Europe. The Saugus River was one of these water sources. At the Saugus Iron Works National Historic site in MA near Boston, you will find how European iron makers brought their trade to the Massachusetts colony. Saugus is considered the birthplace of the (once) mighty American iron and steel industry.
Sprawled over 12-acres you will find a working water wheel, iron forges, mills, and a historic 17th century home. This national historic site is great for a family vacation to Massachusetts because kids can learn cool things like how to make a nail and how colonists used herbs for medicine.
Springfield Armory National Historic Site
The Springfield Armory is the country’s first armory and it served the country and military forces for more than 200 years. George Washington, himself, approved the Springfield location of the Springfield Armory.
A working armaments factory from 1777 to 1978, Springfield served the US military with armament supplies from the American Revolution all the way through to the Vietnam War. Preserved here is the largest US Military small arms collection in the world. Other military archives and structures have also been kept in prime condition.
Massachusetts National Trails
Established in 1968, the National Trails were recognised for scenic, historic and recreational purposes. The Appalachian Trail and the New England trails are considered scenic trails. The Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route Trail falls under the national historic trails subcategory.
Since these National Trails are so long, the majority of hikers break them up into manageable sections or day trips.
The Appalachian Trail is the longest marked footpath in the US is a mammoth undertaking of more than 2,000 miles. Hikers who do the whole trail cross 14 states in total from Georgia to Maine. The Appalachian trail started out in 1921 the brainchild of a Massachusetts man, Benton MacKaye, who wanted to encourage an increasingly urban population to head out to the countryside.
The Massachusetts section of the Appalachian trail winds through a small section of the Massachusetts state forests and crosses the iconic Mount Greylock. It’s easy to get to from the neighbouring Berkshires towns like Lenox MA or Stockbridge MA.
Ninety miles of the route is located in Massachusetts and mostly crisscrosses the Berkshires, including Benedict Pond in Beartown State Forest, the October Mountain State Forest, the Ashwillticook Rail Trail, Mt Greylock State Reservation and Clarksburg State Forest.
New England National Scenic Trail
Hikers adore this 215-mile journey through some of New England’s most breathtaking landscapes. Along the way, you will travel through 41 communities in Massachusetts and Connecticut.
The New England Scenic Trail was designated as such in 2009 as a way to combine the historic Metacomet, Mattabeset, Menunkatuck, and Metacomet-Menadnock trails.
Do you get the sense that native Americans in Massachusetts like the letter “M”?
National parks in Massachusetts are loved as an escape to mountainous panoramas and forests. Much of the New England National Scenic Trail though passes through private land but there are designated cabins and shelters available for overnight stays.
Washington Rochambeau Revolutionary Route
A 680-mile series of roads were traversed by French and American troops in the 1700s during the Revolutionary War. It took them 14-weeks to complete and it was the largest movement of troops of the war. This concerted effort between General Rochambeau’s French Army and General Washington’s colonial troops was essential for the ultimate victory of the American side at Yorktown in Virginia.
The Washington Rochambeau Revolutionary Route passes through Boston as part of the Boston Historic National Park.
Massachusetts National Parks Map
This Mass National Parks Map shows you where to find the NPS run properties in Massachusetts mentioned in this article, including Massachusetts National Parks, historic sites in Massachusetts and national trails.
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