In the Merrimack Valley by the NH-MA state line, Dracut is a town of just over 32,000 and a northern neighbor to the mill town, Lowell.
The landscape in Dracut is rural, with a lot of opportunities for agritourism, meeting the herd at an acclaimed dairy farm, digging for carrots or picking your own berries and apples.
There’s boundless open space, for rounds of golf at challenging courses, or for hikes and mountain biking in secluded woods, with swamps and hidden ponds.
The center of Lowell is a national historical park, relating the compelling story of what was once the largest industrial center in the country, all powered by a network of canals.
1. Veterans Memorial Park
Dracut’s premier park is an affordable hangout for families in summer. The large splash pad here could be described as a mini water park and is accompanied by a conventional playground and covered picnic tables.
There’s a line of eateries along Broadway Rd, just east of the park, for tacos, pizza, roast beef, donuts and more, so you could have a bite outside at Veterans Memorial Park.
You’ll also find a concession stand in the park in summer, and for active recreation there’s a ¾–mile trail, two soccer fields, two baseball fields and two football fields.
2. Lowell-Dracut-Tyngsboro State Forest
Spread over three towns, this remote 1,100-acre parcel of woods and ponds is made for hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding and cross-country skiing in winter.
You can explore the Lowell-Dracut-Tyngsboro State Forest along six miles of trails, guiding you through a remarkable diversity of habitats from rolling forest littered with boulders to wetlands, swamps and ponds.
Before colonial times, this was the likely site of a large Native American village, and later the land was quarried for its granite, going into industrial canals and the foundations of mills.
The main trail through the forest is the paved Trotting Park Road (closed to traffic), which is intersected by fire roads and smaller trails loved by mountain bikers.
3. Shaw Farm Dairy
This certified organic dairy farm in Dracut has been in business since 1908, and has a farm store that has been a must stop for generations.
Shaw Farm’s herd of cows receive high-quality feed, grown exclusively by the farm, which also consults a nutritionist to make sure the cows’ nutritional needs are met.
That attention to detail shines through in the range at the farm store, including fresh milk, chocolate milk, eggnog and a choice of homemade baked goods.
The ice cream here is made in small batches entirely on the farm, and you can treat yourself to cones, floats, frappes, a variety of ice cream sandwiches, ice cream pies, cakes and ice cream by the quart.
Dracut is barely ten minutes from a city that was one of the textile manufacturing centers of the world from the 1820s until just after WWII.
By the mid-19th century Lowell, aka Spindle City, was home to the largest industrial complex in the United States, and it’s worth visiting to gauge the dumbfounding scale of factories like the Massachusetts Mill and Lawrence Mill, and the ingenious canal system that powered them.
Parts of this cityscape are preserved as the Lowell National Historical Park, and there are plenty of enthralling sites and attractions to check out.
Be sure to see the Boott Cotton Mill and Museum, call in at the visitor center, walk the interpretive trail along the Merrimack Canal and board a replica trolley to find out about the streetcars that once served Lowell.
The city’s vibrant downtown area is commanded by brick industrial buildings on cobble streets, all bordered by the UMass Lowell Campus to the northwest.
Lowell received an influx of immigrants from Cambodia in the 1970s, and has some superb Southeast Asian eateries, especially along Middlesex St, south of downtown.
5. Four Oaks Country Club Golf Course
Hailed as one of the best public courses for miles, Four Oaks Country Club is on high ground, with views over the Merrimack Valley.
Although relatively short, this is a tough track for newcomers, with narrow fairways wrapped in deep forest, unpredictable changes in elevation and fast greens.
The course opened in 2012 and is matched with a palatial clubhouse that serves as a fancy events venue. Grazie, the course’s upscale Italian restaurant, bakes its pizza to order, with dough made from imported 00 flour and given 48 hours to proof.
6. Mascuppic Lake
In the very west of Dracut, on the line with Tyngsborough, there’s a scenic 209-acre lake, with wooded shores fronted by large houses.
Almost all of the lakeshore is private, but there’s a public boat ramp on the far eastern shore, owned by the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.
This sits next to a little beach area, with a strip of sand and several benches looking over the water.
If you’re here for fishing, then largemouth bass, yellow perch, white perch, bluegill, chain pickerel, yellow bullhead and brown bullhead are a few of the species that have been recorded here.
7. Dillon-McAnespie Park
Another great spot for active recreation, Dillon-McAnespie Park is fully accessible, and is known for its cleanliness and level of maintenance.
For amenities you’ve got a tennis court, a row of basketball courts, a multi-use field, a 70’ baseball diamond, a playground and walking paths.
You’re just a couple of minutes on foot from an ice cream stand (Mike’s Ice Cream Stand), for a treat while you relax on the benches here.
The park is also popular with dog walkers, and bags are provided, while there’s a bathroom block by the parking lot, open during the warmer months.
8. Dunlap Sanctuary & East Richardson Preserve
Over the last few decades the town has acquired several properties purely for the purpose of conservation and passive recreation.
There are two side by side in the northeast of Dracut, close to the NH line. To the west is the Dunlap Sanctuary, with 85 acres of woods, encompassing the ten-acre Big Pond.
The mile-long loop, with benches along the way, leads you over small hills to a beaver dam, then loops back along the west shore of the pond towards the parking area.
Next door, East Richardson Preserve has another three miles of trails taking in vernal pools, little streams and the east shore of Big Pond.
9. UMass Lowell Kayak Center
The University of Massachusetts Lowell runs a paddlesports rental center minutes away on the bank of the Merrimack River in Pawtucketville.
You can come in summer to rent an SUP, single kayak, tandem kayak or canoe, for anything from one hour to a whole weekend.
The center also offers a weekend shuttle service, dropping you off in Tyngsborough for a leisurely and scenic five-mile paddle downstream to the center.
Added to that, the center provides instruction for stand-up paddleboarding, canoeing and kayaking, from basic level to instructor development.
10. Farmer Dave’s
For a true hands-on rural experience, this diversified farm in Dracut produces a mountain of fruits, vegetables and flowers each year.
There’s a farm stand and CSA program, and in the summer and fall you can head into the fields and orchards to pick your own blueberries, flowers and apples, normally involving a tractor ride to the right location.
This is also one of those rare places that lets you dig your own potatoes and carrots. Farmer Dave’s stand sells this produce, as well as raw honey, maple syrup, apple cider (in season) and a fabulous selection of baked goods from the farm’s own bakery.
11. Jack Kerouac Birthplace and Grave
The influential Beat novelist and poet Jack Kerouac (1922-1969) was born close by in West Centralville.
Lowell recently celebrated the centennial of Kerouac’s birth with an exhibition at the Lowell National Historical Park, including the famous scroll on which he wrote the first draft of On the Road (1957).
He was born on the second floor at 9 Lupine Rd, and is buried in Lowell at the Edson Cemetery.
Not far from Kerouac’s birthplace you can get onto the Merrimack River Bike Path for a clear view of Lowell’s unique industrial cityscape, and the immense Lawrence Mills, now an apartment complex.
12. Hickory Hill Golf Course
There’s another highly-rated course less than ten minutes away in Methuen. Hickory Hill Golf Course has four sets of tee boxes and an interesting contrast between its front and back nine.
The outward nine tend to be open and play longer, while the inward nine is in a hilly landscape ensconced in deep woods, with tight fairways.
Among the trickier holes are the par 5 6th, with a testing dogleg, and the narrow par 4 18th with trees crowding the fairway.
There’s a driving range at the course with grass tees, and the Hickory Bar/Grill serves breakfast on weekends, as well as a full menu of burgers, sandwiches and salads every day.
13. Edward A. LeLacheur Park
Lowell had a minor league baseball team, the Lowell Spinners, from 1996 to 2020 when MLB reorganized the league system.
Their impressive riverside home is still used by the UMass Lowell River Hawks baseball team. LeLacheur Park holds more than 5,000 spectators, and remains a great place to watch Lowell’s 4th of July fireworks.
The River Hawks meanwhile are an NCAA Division I program and compete in the America East Conference.
More than 20 River Hawks have been drafted, with 2015 All-Conference Shortstop Danny Mendick playing for the Chicago White Sox at the time of writing.
14. Parlee Farms
Up the Merrimack in Tyngsborough you can visit this expansive family farm that started growing in 1987. Parlee Farms produces a wide range of fruit and vegetables using environmentally responsible methods.
The pick-your-own season runs from around mid-June to late October, with strawberries, cherries, blueberries, flowers, peaches, nectarines, apples and pumpkins all ready to be harvested.
Produce from these fields and orchards is also sold at the farm stand, along with local honey, jams, sauces, dressings, local maple products and drinks including apple cider (in season).
In addition there’s a mouth-watering array of seasonal prepared foods, and in fall this means favorites like roasted corn and apple cider donuts.
Finally, little ones will love seeing the barnyard animals, and may even get to feed and pet lambs, kid goats and bunnies in the season.
15. Jay Gee’s Ice Cream and Fun Center
Also somewhere for families to keep in mind is this ice cream stand combined with a fun center, a short drive away in Methuen.
On a riverside property there’s go karts, 18 holes of mini golf, an arcade, bumper cars, bumper boats and batting cages. You can purchase a Fun Pass or Ultimate Pass for access to multiple attractions.
At the ice cream stand out front you can choose from more than 60 flavors of hard ice cream, and there’s a lineup of imaginative seasonal choices like eggnog and apple cider donut. Jay Gee’s Ice Cream also offers soft serve, frozen yogurt and freshly made ice cream cakes.