One of the largest towns by area in Massachusetts, Dartmouth is on the state’s South Coast and sits next door to the famous old whaling port, New Bedford.
Sparsely populated, Dartmouth comprises a series of historic villages, set amid farmland, vineyards, marshlands and woods. In the south, on Buzzards Bay, the town has a maritime feel, with its yacht clubs and commercial fishing communities.
A large portion of Dartmouth’s ample outdoor space is open to the public and managed by the Dartmouth Natural Resources Trust (DNRT), which was founded in 1971.
Their efforts have made Dartmouth a fantastic place for walks and birding in mature woods, salt marsh and converted farmland, all handed over to the trust in the last half-century.
1. Demarest Lloyd State Park
At the place where Slocums River flows into Buzzards Bay there’s a 200-acre state park that was established in 1953.
The headline at Demarest Lloyd State Park is the 1,800-foot beach, composed of sand and pebbles and pitching gently into warm and shallow waters, protected from ocean swells by the headlands at Deepwater Point and Potomska Point.
There’s a very different environment further north where you’ll encounter tidal marshes, offering a habitat for terns, egrets and herons, as well as birds of prey like ospreys and hawks.
The latter can be discovered along Slocums River Trail, while the George’s Pond Loop Trail encircles a salt pond red by the river and edged by sand dunes.
2. Lloyd Center for the Environment
These 55 acres of river estuary and maritime forest were donated to the Dartmouth Natural Resources Trust in 1978, and the reserve has been the site of nature-oriented programming since 1981.
There are five miles of trails at the Lloyd Center, and at various points you’ll be treated to inspiring vistas of Buzzards Bay, Slocums River, a larger swath of Demarest Lloyd State Park, Mishaum Point and Cuttyhunk Island.
Children will be rapt at the visitor center, which gives you an interactive look at Buzzard Bays rich aquatic life via touch tanks. Out on the observation deck the panoramas sweep out as far as Martha’s Vineyard on a clear day.
3. Apponagansett Park
This charming waterfront park is tucked into a harbor, with views across to the village of Padanaram and Little Island. Apponagansett Park’s big draw in the summer is its sandy beach, bathed by calm and sheltered waters, ideal for families.
The beach has lifeguards during the summer months, and is also served by an ice cream stand, open Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day.
Among the other amenities at the park, there’s a boat launch, picnic area, basketball court, volleyball court and a playground for kids.
Apponagansett Park is the stage for a summer concert series by the Dartmouth Community Band, putting on free concerts here on Tuesday evenings throughout July and August.
4. New Bedford
Dartmouth shares a boundary with New Bedford, which was the world’s foremost whaling port for much of the 19th century.
Something special about New Bedford is how much of this heritage is preserved in situ, at the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park, preserving a 34-acre cobbled cityscape just west of the waterfront.
New Bedford is prominent in Melville’s Moby-Dick (1851), and the author had firsthand experience as a whaler based in the port from the late 1830s.
The New Bedford Whaling Museum is a must, and you can track down Melville-related sites in the national park, and witness the fortunes generated by the industry at mansions like the stately Rotch-Jones-Duff House and Garden Museum.
5. Destruction Brook Woods
The largest reserve in the care of the Dartmouth Natural Resources Trust is a lot gentler than the name makes it sound.
Destruction Brook Woods is on the watercourse that eventually feeds the tidal Slocums River, and has several footbridges crossing the brook, which is often audible in the forest.
With interesting topography, the reserve is on 280 acres and has ten miles of trails beckoning you through mature Atlantic white cedar and American beech forest.
On the slopes are ledges and glacial erratics coated with ferns and lichens, with owls and hawks swooping for prey, while along the water’s edge you stand a good chance of sighting ducks and herons in the brush.
6. Cornell Farm
For five generations this 130–acre parcel of coastal land was a famous, family-run salt farm.
Today the Trustees of Reservations and DNRT look after the fragile salt marsh system at Cornell Farm, traced by serene pine and oak woodlands with bountiful American holly in the undergrowth.
There’s a long stretch of boardwalk over the marshlands, with satisfying views and a fantastic vantage point for egrets and herons, as well as the deer that linger on the edge of the woods.
7. Parsons Reserve
If there’s a time to be at this reserve at the head of Slocums River it’s got to be late winter or early spring.
This is when the magnificent field of daffodils at Parsons Reserve is in bloom. Usually in flower some time between mid February and early April, the daffodils put on a three-week show attracting thousands of people with a splash of early color.
For the remainder of the year, Parsons Reserve is a great spot for a walk, with a vernal pool home to frogs and salamanders, and trails that wind through rugged forests and wooded wetland areas.
8. Allens Pond Wildlife Sanctuary
You could spend a whole day hiking and birding in wonderful coastal scenery at this Mass Audubon sanctuary in the very southwest of Dartmouth.
Allens Pond Wildlife Sanctuary is made up of a whole tapestry of habitats, including beaches, open fields, marsh, ponds and woodlands on land donated by local families over the years.
There are nine miles of trails along three different systems, each with something different to see, from vernal pools and bird-rich wetlands to sweeping views of Allens Pond and Buzzards Bay.
9. Dartmouth Orchards
Just west of the University of Massachusetts campus there’s a third generation family farm with a stand on the roadside.
Dartmouth Orchards sells a wide range of local, homemade and homegrown goods, including honey, jams, pies, preserves and fresh white and yellow peaches fresh from the orchard in season.
But the stars of the show are the apples and pears, with as many as 40 varieties available late summer through fall.
You can pick your own fruit here, and purchase a range of delicious ciders. Later in the year the stand sells a variety of Christmas decorations, like small table trees and centerpieces.
10. Slocum’s River Reserve
This public preserve is on former farmland along a scenic stretch of Slocums River, purchased by the The Trustees of Reservations and Dartmouth Natural Resources Trust in 1999.
The two organizations comanage Slocum’s River Reserve, composed of mature woodlands, pasture, salt marsh and farmed fields along some 3,000 feet of river frontage.
Slocums River is tidal and offers excellent waters for canoeing or kayaking. On the riverfront are two miles of mostly easy trails, with opportunities to spot ospreys and great blue herons.
At Angelica’s Overlook, you can look right across Slocums River to Buzzards Bay and the Elizabeth Islands if the conditions are right.
11. Dartmouth Farmers’ Market
The local farmers’ market takes place in the village of Padanaram in South Dartmouth on Fridays from the start of June to the end of October. The location could hardly be prettier, on St. Mary’s Parish Center lawn.
On a normal week there’s a roster of vendors selling seasonal fresh produce, pasture-raised meats, free range poultry, herbs, flowers, eggs and honey, along with a selection of baked goods. There are also handmade crafts, from jewelry to small-batch, cold-process soaps.
12. Running Brook Vineyard & Winery
In the countryside in the north of Dartmouth, this unpretentious vineyard and winery was established in 1998 and has almost 25 acres of vines at two properties.
All of Running Brook’s wines are estate grown and bottled, which means they are made with grapes grown only in these vineyards.
Typically you’ll find varietals like Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Vidal Blanc, along with a choice of grape-made liquors like brandy, grappa and the Portuguese dessert beverage, jeropiga.
You’re free to bring your own food, and there’s often live music on the weekends in summer.
13. Dartmouth Mall (AMC)
Dating back to 1971, this mid-sized mall was in good shape when we wrote this article, considering the fate of many similar malls around the country.
The Dartmouth Mall has more than 50 tenants, with JCPenney, Macy’s, Aldi and Burlington. A few of the national and international chains on hand here are Hollister, American Eagle, H&M, Old Navy, Torrid, Victoria’s Secret, Foot Locker, Yankee Candle, Kay Jewelers and Hot Topic.
For dining there’s Taco Bell, Panera, Olive Garden and Buffalo Wild Wings. And you’ve got an 11-screen AMC multiplex with reclining seats for all of its screens.
14. Buttonwood Park Zoo
One New Bedford attraction particularly close to Dartmouth is the city’s finest park, laid out in the 1890s by the noted landscape architect Charles Eliot (1859-1897). Buttonwood Park is preserved as an historic district, and has been home to a zoo of some kind since 1894.
A century later this was widely criticized for its condition, but hasn’t looked back since it reopened in 2000 following renovations.
There are more than 80 species at Buttonwood Park Zoo, among them North American animals like black bears, cougars, beavers, river otters, wild turkeys and bison, as well as local aquatic wildlife found in New England’s kettle hole ponds, marshes and streams.
For exotic species you’ll find the likes of bearded emperor tamarins, red pandas, Goeldi’s monkeys and poison dart frogs.
15. Round Hill Town Beach
As opposed to the other spots on the list, Round Hill Town Beach is exclusively for Dartmouth residents.
If you’re fortunate enough to be one, or a guest of one, you’ll have access to this long crescent of pale sand facing Buzzards Bay, with views of the Elizabeth Islands.
The beach was formerly part of an estate built by the prominent businessman Edward Howland Robinson Green (1868-1936), son of the famous financier, Hetty Green.
His mansion, now a gated condominium community, still overlooks the beach from the northeast side. Lifeguards are on duty mid-June through Labor Day.