Visiting F. Gilbert Hills State Forest in Foxboro, MA used to be something my husband and I did with some regularity with our children in tow. We were truly surprised the first time we decided to spend a Sunday afternoon there. Bowled over perhaps is a better expression. We just couldn’t get over the presence of so much beautiful woodland plunked down in the middle of small town Foxboro, MA. Why hadn’t we heard about this place sooner, we all wondered. Often at our children’s urging we returned many times to the F. Gilbert HIlls State Forest in the 1980’s.
Visiting F. Gilbert Hills State Forest, Foxboro, MA now as senior citizens we were just almost as pleased as the first time we set foot there. There have been some changes of course like a larger and improved parking area, more clear and visible signs and trails that seem more open, perhaps just from the passage of time.
The F. Gilbert Hills State Forest takes in territory that lies within the town limits of both Foxboro and neighboring Wrentham, MA but the principle entrance lies off Mill St. in Foxboro. When you enter the F. Gilbert Hills State Forest you immediately feel surrounded by a stand of tall evergreens that seem almost to welcome you from your journey from your busy daily life to a place of relaxation and calm.
As you get out of your car you find yourself surrounded by pines and you may feel transported back in your mind to your old summer camping days or trips to other state and national forests you have made in the past. As you read the posted signs that describe activities at the F. Gilbert Hills Forest you discover that this is a large tract of land, more than 1000 acres.
If you have trouble picturing how big 1000 acres really is, it may be easier to think of the F. Gilbert Hills State Forest as a place that will provide you with some 23 miles of trails to pursue. Over the years people have made use of these trails to do what they like best. For some it has been the simple hike with children or without. On our most recent visit we saw a pair of hikers descending one of the trails to the parking lot carrying their walking sticks and water bottles looking like poster adults for the state forest.
For those who take their hiking seriously a wonderful aspect of the F. Gilbert Hills State Forest is that it is cut by a portion of the Warner Trail, a 35 mile trail that wanders from Canton, MA to Cumberland, RI. You can pick up that trail in the northwest quadrant of the forest and continue on following the Warner Trail signs according to your own desires. Or like us, you can just explore the forest to find the trail and then saunter along the Warner Trail long enough to feel you have experienced this marked trail that was created back prior to World War II. Either way it’s a memorable experience.
The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) has also marked one of the trails as a “Heart Healthy” trail encouraging those who are working on cardiac well being, I guess that means all of us, to give it a try. According to the Massachusetts DCR all of its newly designated trails, approximately 70 statewide, are walks of no more than 1.5 miles and offer walks that are easy to moderate in their grade and challenge. Walking such trails can be a fun way to improve your overall health
As we have discovered over the years, the F. Gilbert Hills State Forest also draws a considerable following of folks who have found in the forest a wonderful place for mountain biking. Families, groups of friends even single bikers will find the trails demanding and enjoyable. Horseback riding is permitted and local horse owners do take advantage of the extended trails and wooded area to enjoy a peaceful ride through the woodlands. Even in the winter the F. Gilbert Hills State Forest gets plenty of visits as the trails provide a place for local cross country skiing.
Whatever your activity of choice in the state forest, you can begin or end your stay with a picnic or snack in the quiet grove at the entrance to the forest that is equipped with picnic tables and a grill in a delightful forest setting.
We were glad we thought to return to F. Gilbert Hills State Forest. We had rather forgotten all that this under advertised facility has to offer. It is a nice place to take children, a great place to explore and because it is a state forest, the F. Gilbert Hills State Forest is absolutely free , all day , everyday for as many folks as wish to take advantage of its beauty and its many paths for many uses.