15 Best Things to Do in Ashland (MA)

Written by Jan Meeuwesen
Updated on
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First developed on the Boston & Worcester Railroad, Ashland is a rapidly growing town that has more than doubled in population since the 1980s.

There are two large bodies of water in town, built as reservoirs for Boston’s water supply in the 19th century, but repurposed as state parks in 1947.

Ashland State Park and Hopkinton State Park are both awesome outdoor hubs, with miles of trails, swimming beaches in summer and perfect conditions for kayaking and canoeing.

Recently given a major facelift, downtown Ashland is full of life, with a successful farmers’ market, a calendar of community events, and a famous tavern that opened by the railroad almost 200 years ago.

Ashland is on the course of the Boston Marathon, but in the early years was the starting point, until the route was lengthened in the mid-1920s to conform to the new standard marathon length.

1. Ashland State Park

Ashland State ParkSource: Wangkun Jia / shutterstock
Ashland State Park

The 157-acre Ashland Reservoir is one of a cluster of impoundments along the Sudbury River and its tributaries, established in the late 19th century as Boston’s second major water supply system.

This was obsolete by the end of WWII, and since that time the reservoir has been a popular recreation area.

In summer, Ashland State Park promises swimming at a large sandy beach, while the entire reservoir is surrounded by a continuous trail for hiking, biking and cross-country skiing.

On the northern shore the original dam and spillway from the 1880s are still intact and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, while if you have your own non-motorized vessel there’s a gravel launch on the south side off Spring St.

2. Downtown Ashland

Downtown Ashland, MassachusettsSource: Wangkun Jia / shutterstock
Downtown Ashland

When we wrote this article the town was completing a multimillion-dollar revitalization plan for downtown Ashland, building a new, walkable streetscape along portions of Main Street and Front Street.

This features new ADA-compliant sidewalks, as well as lighting, landscaping, wayfinding, trees and furniture.

Bisected by the railroad, Ashland’s center already oozes character, with unique, long-standing businesses, little parks, historic architecture, and a food scene comprising Italian, pub fare, pizza, breakfast food, and a bagel bakery.

There are outdoor events all summer long at the Corner Spot, a testing ground for local businesses, while the farmers’ market brings a crowd on Saturday mornings.

3. Boston Marathon

Boston Marathon in AshlandSource: flysnowfly / shutterstock
Boston Marathon in Ashland

From the race’s inception in 1897 up to 1923, Metcalf’s Mill in Ashland was the starting line for the Boston Marathon.

Things changed in 1924 when the line was moved to Hopkinton Common, to lengthen the course to 26 miles 385 yards to comply with the new standard marathon length established at the 1908 Olympics.

At the original starting line on Pleasant St there’s a sign proclaiming “It all started here.” For a century now, the course has traveled through Ashland for around three miles along Route 135.

Come early on Patriots’ Day for a good spot to watch the early stages of the world’s oldest annual marathon unfold. As a rule the further you go on West Union Street, the better the vantage point.

4. Ashland Farmers’ Market

Farmers MarketSource: Matej Kastelic / shutterstock
Farmers Market

Running for more than a decade now, Ashland has one of the top farmers’ markets in the MetroWest region.

Setting up on Saturday mornings, mid-June through mid-October, the market has a dedicated grassy space parallel to the railroad tracks downtown.

You can check the market’s website for a weekly list of vendors, as well as a calendar of seasonal events, from Sustainability Day in July to Tomato Fest in August and Apple Day in September.

On an average week there will be fresh produce from up to five nearby farms, as well as seafood, meats, a range of baked goods, gourmet cheeses, talented artisans, beverage vendors, pet supplies, prepared foods for a host of cuisines, and an occasional food truck.

5. Hopkinton State Park

Hopkinton State ParkSource: Monika Salvan / shutterstock
Hopkinton State Park

A big chunk of this 1,245-acre public recreation area is within Ashland’s boundaries. Like Ashland State Park, Hopkinton State Park is on the shores of a previously active reservoir that was converted for outdoor recreation in 1947.

Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day, this is a fantastic place to go for a swim, or bring children to play in the clean, shallow waters by two sandy beaches.

During the season Boating in Boston operates at the Hopkinton State Park, renting out kayaks, canoes, paddle boats and stand-up paddleboards.

The generous stands of forest surrounding the reservoir are streaked with miles of trails for hiking, biking, horseback riding, and activities like cross-country skiing and snowmobiling in winter.

And if you want to celebrate with friends or organize a family reunion there are 12 shaded picnic areas, with 250 picnic tables and no fewer than 165 charcoal grills at the park.

6. Bay Circuit Trail

Bay Circuit TrailSource: Michael Sean OLeary / shutterstock
Bay Circuit Trail

Ashland is on the middle third of an epic trail system weaving through Boston’s outlying suburbs for 230 miles from Newburyport in the north to Duxbury in the south.

There’s no better way to experience the true beauty of eastern Massachusetts than hiking, biking, riding or skiing through these leafy communities with ample natural space.

For extra convenience, you’ll never be far from an MBTA station, and this is true for Ashland as well.

Crossing the Town Forest, the trail links several undeveloped spaces in Ashland, including the delightful Mill Pond Park, which we’ll talk about in more detail below.

7. Stone’s Public House

RestaurantSource: ifriadrei2 / shutterstock

This Irish-American gastropub sits by the tracks in one of downtown Ashland’s finest and most storied old buildings.

Then known as Railroad House, the inn was built in 1832, as soon as the Boston & Worcester Railroad arrived in Ashland. The proprietor was shrewd businessman John Stone, who later leased the property to a succession of innkeepers until his death in 1858.

Over time the building fell into decay before being revived as a public house in the 1970s, and embracing an abiding reputation for ghostly goings-on.

There’s a sizable patio, a roaring fireplace, regional craft beers on tap, and a menu of traditional pub fare like shepherd’s pie, fish & chips, baked mac & cheese, steak and chips and roasted half chicken.

8. Sri Lakshmi Temple

Sri Lakshmi TempleSource: Yingna Cai / shutterstock
Sri Lakshmi Temple

The first and largest place of worship of its kind in New England, this temple for the Hindu goddess Sri Lakshmi was consecrated in 1990.

The Sri Lakshmi Temple was expanded in 2005 and again in 2018, furnishing the complex with a commercial kitchen, dining area, library, boardroom and new auditorium. Whatever your religious persuasion, this is a sight worth seeing, not least for the rich ornamentation on the main tower.

The temple is open to the public seven days a week, and gives a simple but delicious prasadam (vegetarian food offering for devotees) at the canteen.

9. Ashland Town Forest

HikingSource: Song_about_summer / shutterstock

As if two state parks weren’t enough—in the north of Ashland there’s a hilly natural landscape covering more than 660 acres and open to the public.

Purchased in 1942, Ashland Town Forest is contiguous with the smaller Cowassock Woods, which spills into neighboring Framingham.

In this tranquil landscape you’ll encounter areas of upland and lowland swamp, mixed hardwood forest, vernal pools, historic open pit quarries and numerous granite outcroppings.

Ashland Town Forest is crossed by a section of the Bay Circuit Trail, which is part of a six-mile trail network on the property.

In spring and summer the undergrowth is embroidered with wildflowers, while a few fauna species include red foxes, turkey-vultures, red-tailed hawks and the rare blue-spotted salamander in vernal pools.

10. Warren Woods

Warren WoodsSource: Michael Sean OLeary / shutterstock
Warren Woods

On the east side of Ashland State Park you can enjoy 120 acres of bucolic old farmland and woodland, managed by the Ashland Open Space and Recreation Committee.

Warren Woods was previously the property of Henry E. Warren (1872-1957), an inventor with numerous patents, the most famous of which was the first synchronous electric clock.

The land was donated to Northeastern University after his death, and was later purchased by the town in 2012 after a grass-roots campaign by local residents.

There’s a tangle of trails across open fields and deep into old growth woods, while the Old Stone Trail loops across the town line with Holliston in the south.

11. Mill Pond Park

Mill Pond ParkSource: Yingna Cai / shutterstock
Mill Pond Park

Easy to miss, there’s a gorgeous linear park in downtown Ashland, just off Myrtle St. From the little parking area on Pine Hill Rd you can head off on a waterfront trail, along the north side of the gorgeous Mill Pond and then a little further west along a portion of the Bay Circuit Trail, next to the Sudbury River.

This is a hushed place to spend a few quiet minutes, with a pedestrian bridge across the mill pond inlet, an observation platform, and several benches in the shade of tall trees.

Considering the town center is a few steps away, Mill Pond has secluded wooded shores that are nothing short of breathtaking in fall. On a warm day you could pick up lunch from a local restaurant for a picnic in the park.

12. The Corner Spot

Live MusicSource: mRGB / shutterstock
Live Music

On the site of a demolished old house in downtown Ashland there’s a lovable public space that serves a variety of purposes.

The Corner Spot has a set of picnic tables under canopies, so you can come here for an alfresco meal with friends and family.

There’s a constant bustle here during the summer, thanks to outdoor music performances, and a choice of yard games.

As a gathering place, this is also a prime spot for businesses to open pop-ups for week-long slots, testing the local market at The Shed, which has free Wi-Fi.

13. Puzzle Escape Ashland

Escape RoomSource: Jerome.Romme / shutterstock
Escape Room

The Ashland Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) building is home to an escape room attraction. Made with a lot of attention to detail, Puzzle Escape Ashland is an antidote to slick, corporate escape rooms.

There’s only one room here, with a theme that changes every few months, so you can expect a new challenge whenever you visit.

For instance, when we went to press the experience was “On Your Mark – Get Set, Go?”, in which you and your team have 45 minutes to locate the missing Boston Marathon before the first race gets underway in 1897.

14. Boston Paintball Ashland

PaintballSource: Vanoa2 / shutterstock

In the east of Ashland this year-round paintball facility is on the map for its Apocalypse City arena.

Built like the set of a blockbuster movie, Apocalypse City is like few scenarios on the East Coast, and features no fewer than 23 buildings, including a city hall, an apartment building, a two-story hospital, as well as scattered vehicles like an ambulance, a tank, a police car and a downed plane.

To go with this you’ve got a woodball field with a bridge and moat, and an indoor field with inflatable obstacles, perfect for evening matches and smaller groups.

15. Modelville Hobby

Slot Racing TrackSource: Ina Raschke / shutterstock
Slot Racing Track

Sure to inspire a sense of childlike wonder, you’ll find a cavernous slot racing facility at Modelville Hobby (28 Eliot St).

There are five 1/24th scale tracks here, some of which date back decades. The store has been around in some form since 1965, and first moved to Ashland in 1978, where it was based at 58 Union St for 32 years.

Modelville Hobby relocated to its present 70’ x 100’ space in 2010. One of the tracks here is the first Sovereign (220-foot track) ever built.

More than half a century old, this was shipped over from Texas and restored to working condition. Take a look at the Modelville website for regular scheduled races, as well as the two regional race series that visit the facility.


15 Best Things to Do in Ashland (MA):

  • Ashland State Park
  • Downtown Ashland
  • Boston Marathon
  • Ashland Farmers’ Market
  • Hopkinton State Park
  • Bay Circuit Trail
  • Stone’s Public House
  • Sri Lakshmi Temple
  • Ashland Town Forest
  • Warren Woods
  • Mill Pond Park
  • The Corner Spot
  • Puzzle Escape Ashland
  • Boston Paintball Ashland
  • Modelville Hobby