Skip to main content

Willowdale State Forest West (Hood Pond Section)


Willowdale State Forest West (Hood Pond Section) [D-E]

Detail Map (80k)
Locus Map (60k)

Size: 2400 acres, east and west sections

Location: Ipswich, Boxford, Rowley and Topsfield. From Route 1 in Ipswich to Boxford Road in Rowley.

Parking: On old road bed at Route 1 and West Street; on small lot on Boxford Road in Rowley. Parking is also available where the trail crosses Old Right Road and again where the trail crosses Linebrook Road near Hood Pond.

Permitted: Hiking, cross-country skiing, horseback riding, hunting in season with permit, snowmobiles on designated trails only. Dogs are allowed if leashed. Be aware that hunting in season is permitted and that you share these woods with hunters in November and December.

Hours: Dawn to dusk.



Willowdale State Forest and Bradley Palmer State Park were once part of the private estate of Bradley Palmer, a wealthy lawyer and industrialist who lived during the first part of the 20th century.

Palmer, a graduate of Harvard and Harvard Law, became lawyer for and partner in several Boston-based corporations. These companies included United Fruit Company, which controlled large land holdings and agriculture in Central America; Gillette; IT&T; and the monopolies that owned nearly all of the railroads south of the Rio Grande. Palmer was an attorney for Sinclair Oil during the Harding administration’s Teapot Dome scandal.

Bradley Palmer loved the North Shore equestrian life. As his fortune grew, he bought land in Hamilton, Topsfield, Boxford, Ipswich, Georgetown, and Rowley; at one point he owned over 10,000 acres. The area that is now Bradley Palmer State Park includes his mansion and was famous for its gardens. Visitors to his estate, known as Willow Dale, included the Prince of Wales and President Howard Taft.

In 1923, Bradley Palmer gave the Hood Pond section of Willowdale State Forest to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He donated the remainder of his lands to the state in 1944, then leased back 107 acres around his mansion. After his death in 1948 at the age of 84, Bradley Palmer lay in state in the conservatory of his beloved Willow Dale. The mansion in Bradley Palmer is presently being renovated for use as a Bed and Breakfast.

Natural Features

The Hood Pond section of Willowdale State Forest contains woodlands, wetlands, streams, and lakeshore. White pines and red oaks grow on the hilltops, and red maples are the most common trees in the swamps. Atlantic white cedar trees grow in the swamplands that surround the east end of Hood Pond, and also in the small stream and marshy area that flows into the east end of Hood Pond.

The white cedar swamp is uncommon in eastern Massachusetts due to the cutting of these trees for fence posts in colonial times. A rare species of butterfly nests in the tops of the white cedars, and bog lemmings can sometimes be found in the swamps. The most common forest trees include oaks, shagbark hickory, red and sugar maples, white birch, white pine, and hemlock. The forest floor is carpeted with club mosses, lady’s slippers, starflower, partridgeberry, canada mayflower, and violets. Common juniper is present in abundance.

Ten to twelve thousand years ago the Wisconsin Glacier formed Willowdale’s low hills, eskers and outwash plains. As the glacier moved, the stones and debris it dragged along wore away much of the land surface. The melting glacier deposited this load of sand, gravel, clay, silt and boulders. Some of the glacial drift was carried miles away from the front of the glacier by the meltwater. Much of the land in southern New England is composed of a glacial drift. Several sections of this part of the Bay Circuit Trail follow a series of eskers that were formed when the meltwater streams that flowed under the glacier deposited ridges of sand, gravel and small rocks.

Bay Circuit Route

  • The Bay Circuit Trail leaves the Pine Swamp section of Willowdale State Forest at West Street in Ipswich. Several cars can park on the east side of Route 1 on the old road bed.

  • To continue on to the Hood Pond section, cross Route 1 heading west. Use extreme caution crossing Route 1, as it is a very busy, high speed road.

  • On the other side of Route 1, the trail passes into the Hood Pond Block of Willowdale State Forest on land donated to the state by Jean Powers in 1993.

  • Very shortly after passing by an industrial building, the trail turns left off of the larger trail and bears southwest leaving the new houses and pastures to your right. The trail continues past a marsh and vernal ponds on the left, crosses a stone wall and then turns right at the top of a small rise. The path heads northwest into a recently logged stand of red pines.

  • About .6 miles from the beginning of the trail at Route 1, the trail crosses Old Right Road. Several cars can park at this crossing.

  • The trail turns slowly west then southwest as it continues through the recently logged area and reenters the thicker woods.

  • In about 1/4 mile, the trail tees into a woods road. Turn right and walk west less than 1/4 mile to a fork in the trail; bear right to stay on the Bay Circuit Trail. The left fork leads across Linebrook Road into Topsfield conservation land that protects a locally rare ecosystem, a large cedar swamp bordering Hood Pond. This is an interesting side hike.

  • Proceed west (right) at the fork on the Bay Circuit Trail and pass by a kettle pond on the right and a large maple swamp on the left. The Bay Circuit Trail leaves the main trail with a sharp turn to the right down a short but steep hill. There is a bridge crossing the stream at the bottom.

  • In less than 1/2 mile, you will arrive at Rowley Road. Turn right and follow the road for 1/8 mile to where the trail (on the left) reenters the woods and Willowdale State Forest. The left fork at the Bay Circuit sign crosses a footbridge over a stream that flows into Hood Pond. There is a gravel parking area for several cars just west of the stream.

  • The trail skirts the parking area and runs parallel to Hood Pond until turning north and crossing over Linebrook Road. There is parking for several cars here on either side of the road. A short detour to the left will bring you to Hood Pond, a very pleasant place to picnic.

  • This is the beginning of the long Esker Ridge trail. You will pass two vernal ponds on the right within a short distance after entering the woods. Follow the wide woods road through the pine-oak woodlands. This section of the Bay Circuit Trail is excellent for cross-country skiing, since the esker winds up and down pleasantly for over a mile.

  • At the top of a rise, it bears right off the main trail on a narrow high trail until it drops down after an abrupt left turn to Boxford Road in Rowley. On the Esker Ridge Trail, you passed from Ipswich into Boxford and then into Rowley (totally unmarked and unnoticed). Just to the west of the trail entry onto Boxford Road, there is a sharp bend in the road and a gravel pit to the north. Several cars can park here.

  • If you wish to hike further, follow Boxford Road north for about 1/8 of a mile and then bear left off the road to follow the Bay Circuit Trail into the Georgetown-Rowley State Forest.