In the MetroWest region, Hopkinton is a town that will be familiar to many as the starting line of the Boston Marathon on Patriots’ Day in April.
Hopkinton was bestowed with this honor in 1924 after the course was lengthened, removing the start from the neighboring town of Ashland.
This is one chapter in an historic rivalry between Hopkinton and Ashland, marked each year with a Thanksgiving football game between the two high schools.
Something remarkable about the landscape around Hopkinton is the profusion of reservoirs, all part of a 19th-century system built on the Sudbury River and its tributaries for Boston’s water supply.
The reservoirs were no longer required by the end of WWII, and two in Hopkinton have become adventure-packed state parks.
1. Starting Line of Boston Marathon
It’s impossible to spend any time in Hopkinton and not be aware that the world’s oldest annual marathon departs from this town.
There are numerous references in local businesses, and in 2015 the elementary school was renamed Marathon Elementary. Funnily enough, Hopkinton wasn’t always the starting line, as from 1897 to 1923 this was a few miles up along Route 135 in Ashland.
The course was lengthened to comply with a new standard distance of 26 miles 385 yards, set by the IMF in 1921.
The starting line is on the north side of the Town Common, but if you want a clear view you’ll need to be on the streets as early as possible. The sensible place to park is Hopkinton State Park, and there’s a B.A.A. shuttle bus from there to the starting line.
2. Hopkinton State Park
For a blissful day in nature you can’t do much better than Hopkinton State Park. Overlapping into Ashland, this 1,245-acre public recreation area is on the shores of a large reservoir, built in the late 19th century but decommissioned in 1947.
Since then the park has been a summer hotspot for swimming and sunbathing at pristine beaches, with miles of trails disappearing into the encompassing forest.
With a dozen shelters and more than 160 grills, the shores are primed for picnics and cookouts, and there are seasonal boat rentals, which we’ll cover in more detail later.
On top of all that, Hopkinton Reservoir is a favored fishing spot, stocked with trout, but also harboring plentiful yellow perch and largemouth bass, and a white catfish population.
3. Whitehall State Park
Also earmarked in the late 19th-century for water supply, the 620-acre Whitehall Reservoir, a great pond, was turned into a hub for recreation just after WWII.
As we’ll see later, one of the many things going for Whitehall State Park is the unbroken perimeter loop around the water.
On the eastern shore, this links with trails into Hopkinton’s conservation lands, affording more than a day of hiking just a couple of miles from downtown Hopkinton.
In summer, the Whitehall Reservoir is a favored boating and kayaking destination, made all the more exciting for the slew of little islands. Fishing is another main activity, with big counts of largemouth bass and trout, which are stocked every spring.
4. Downtown Hopkinton
At the intersection of Cedar St and Main St, Hopkinton has a small-ish central commercial district, with a clutch of stores, services and restaurants, all easy to reach on foot.
There are some substantial houses along Main St, as well as a few curiosities like the Hopkinton Supply Co. Building (26-28 Main St), an example of a mail-order commercial storefront dating to 1906.
Close by, the stone-built Hopkinton Public Library building is from 1895. Next to the start line, Hopkinton’s Town Common is further east on Main Street, and framed by the First Congregational Church (now the Korean Presbyterian).
There’s a summer farmers’ market, a variety of activities to mark the Fourth of July, and an outdoor concert series with an annual show by the Hopkinton Community Band.
5. Waseeka Wildlife Sanctuary
This Mass Audubon property comprises 229 acres of diverse woods concealing a marvelous secluded pond.
Rising from the waters are a number of standing dead trees, and these have become nesting sites for several bird species including ospreys, great blue herons, pileated woodpeckers and blackbirds, while you may catch sight of a great horned owl at this opening.
Look out for beavers from the Sassafras Trail, which has many examples of the namesake tree, known for having three different leaf shapes, while the Cart Path leads to the pond’s dam for pristine views of the water.
6. Boating in Boston – Hopkinton
Another great thing about Hopkinton State Park is that in summer there’s a location for the Boating in Boston rental company.
They are based at the boathouse by Parking Lot C, and are a perfect recreation option if you have older kids and teenagers.
Available for rental during the summer are kayaks, canoes, paddle boats and stand-up paddle boards.
Hopkinton Reservoir is an especially fun place for some paddling, partly thanks to the little islands that can be reached from the water, with Bacon Island just a few hundred feet from the boathouse, and Farr Island a little further south.
7. Start Line Brewing
Near the source of the Charles River, a couple of minutes south of downtown, there’s a craft brewery that has taken over the old Water Fresh Farm Marketplace.
The only brewery to be named after the Boston Marathon, Start Line Brewing opened in 2016 and has a rustic-style taproom pouring 20 different brews when we compiled this list.
Exactly half of the beers on tap were IPAs, including two of the flagships, Hop Load Mosaic, with tangerine, papaya and grapefruit notes, and the juicy and mildly floral Hop Load Hazy.
Other options included a Red Ale, a Kolsch, a Wheat Beer, a Blonde Ale, two Stouts and two hard seltzers. Start Line also has a kitchen focussing on BBQ, for ribs, brisket and pulled pork, as well as interesting vegetarian options like a falafel sandwich.
8. Hopkinton Center for the Arts (HCA)
A hub for the MetroWest region, the recently expanded HCA offers a multitude of arts experiences for a large and diverse audience.
In one complex, the center hosts events and classes for visual art, music, theater, dance, writing, ceramics, and film.
If you’re just stopping by, you can check out the wide-ranging group and solo exhibitions at the gallery space, with an annual show by HCA members in December and January.
In summer, keep an eye out for the free Summer Sunset Jazz on Saturday evenings at the center’s pretty amphitheater.
9. Cameron Woods
On the east side of the Whitehall Reservoir you can access more than 250 acres of town-owned conservation land at Cameroon Woods, comprising old growth forest, boulders and murmuring streams.
This parcel is contiguous with Hopkinton Town Forest in the south and Phipps Woods in the southwest, and has a trail network connecting with the Whitehall State Park Loop Trail. Realistically, you could spend hours hiking, biking, horseback riding or cross-country skiing in nature without surfacing into civilization.
The longest single trail is the 1.7-mile yellow-blazed loop, which traces a ridge on the east side, bringing you to some impressive lookouts.
10. Sands Conservation Area
There’s an extensive list of other conservation lands waiting to be explored in Hopkinton, and one of the most striking is this trail over a deep ravine just west of Hopkinton State Park.
The most scenic path is the Douglas Sands Memorial Trail, climbing sharply to a dramatic rocky overlook with awesome views to the northwest.
If you have time to spare you can get onto the newly created Greenwood Trail here, and walk a four-mile loop through the property.
For a detour, the Greenwood Trail bends around the Zettek Overlook, which is a little park posted high on a hillside, with uplifting views all year, but especially late on a fall day.
11. Ashland State Park
Like the reservoirs in Hopkinton, the Ashland Reservoir was once part of Boston’s second major water supply system, (1885), and became the focus of a public recreation area in 1947.
This is on 470 acres, encompassing the entire shoreline of the 157-acre reservoir. Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day, Ashland State Park is a mecca for recreation, offering swimming, boating, paddlesports, fishing, mountain biking and hiking.
The main trail loops around the entirety of the reservoir, and you can launch your craft from a convenient gravel ramp by Spring St on the south shore.
At the north end, the original 19th-century dam and spillway were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990.
12. Lake Maspenock (Sandy Beach)
Not far from where W Main St meets the I-495 there’s a place of remarkable natural beauty, on the wooded shores of a 234-acre lake.
Long and relatively narrow, Lake Maspenock has a shoreline with lots of little notches. One of these is a peninsula at the north end of Lakeshore Drive.
This is the main public access point for the lake, and the site of its lovely seasonal swimming area, Sandy Beach. Open to the general public for decades, this has recently been restricted to Hopkinton residents between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day.
For non-residents, if you catch a warm day outside this period, it’s well worth paying a visit. There’s also a public boat launch at 213 W Main St, with access for shore fishing, open all year round.
13. EMC Park
Opposite Hopkinton High School, about a mile south of downtown Hopkinton there’s an excellent public park, especially for families with small children.
The location is significant here, as EMC Park is just a stone’s throw from the source of the Charles River, and close to town-owned hiking trails.
Entering the park from Hayden Rowe St, you’ll be met by rows of endearing murals commissioned by the Hopkinton Cultural Council.
EMC Park has three baseball fields, at Colella Field, Egan Field, and McIntyre Field, while the newly updated playground is a wonderful asset for families. There’s equipment for children aged 2-12 in separate sets, all shaded by towering conifers.
14. Weston Nurseries – Hopkinton
The company that runs the enormous garden center and greenhouse in Hopkinton has cultivated and sold plants for a century now.
A horticultural destination for the area, this can be found a couple of minutes from downtown Hopkinton, along E Main St and is on a massive property that takes some time traversing.
Visit for everything from annuals and perennials to trees, shrubs, planters, ornamentation, hanging plants, orchids, terrariums, fertilizer, plant food, houseplants, tools, the list goes on.
There’s also a team of trained and knowledgeable horticulturalists happy to answer any questions and point you in the right direction.
15. Hopkinton Farmers’ Market
On Sunday afternoons in summer there’s a farmers’ market in a picturesque setting on the Hopkinton Common, close to the start line.
The market trades from 1:00pm to 5:00pm, mid-June through mid-October, and always has an exciting assemblage of vendors.
For a summary, you can expect seasonal fresh produce, seafood fresh from the Atlantic, artisan breads, herbal teas, trail mixes, farm-raised meats, cupcakes, cheeses, honey, maple syrup, and more.
Craft vendors are a fixture of the market, with artisans selling everything from alpaca wool products to pottery, handmade jewelry, stained glass and organic skincare.