A town of 20,000 in Briston County, Norton has long been on the sporting map as the home of TPC Boston, hosting the Dell Technologies Championship up to 2019.
The village of Norton Center, where you’ll find the town’s civic institutions, is right next to the 500-acre campus of Wheaton College, rightly considered one of the most attractive in the region.
Spending some time in Norton you’ll notice that water is almost everywhere, at large ponds and lakes like Norton Reservoir and Winnecunnet Pond, but also in the bogs, rivers and brooks that spread across the southern side of the town.
The Land Preservation Society (LPS) manages a number of preserves and refuges in this part of the town, several of which will soon be interconnected by a trail network.
1. Winslow Farm Animal Sanctuary
Established in 1996, this animal sanctuary rescues, rehabilitates and cares for mistreated and abandoned animals. Winslow Farm opened to the public a year later, and since that time has grown to more than 300 animals.
Their shelters and enclosures are in beautiful woodlands, with pathways for visitors weaving past towering old trees.
Among the residents are horses, goats, llamas, chickens, alpacas, sheep, donkeys, mules, dogs, cats, geese, peacocks and emus.
There are seasonal events at the farm all year round, as well as facilities for visitors like picnic areas and a playground for kids.
2. Wheaton College
Alongside municipal functions like the Police Department, Public Library and Town Hall in Norton Center you’ve got the small but attractive campus of Wheaton College.
This private liberal arts college was founded in 1834 and was one of the oldest institutions of higher education for women in the country up to 1988, when it first admitted men.
The campus doubles as an arboretum, with hundreds of mature trees, and is anchored by a gorgeous little pond. Commanded by almost 20 traditional-style halls, there’s a blend of historic and modern architecture to appreciate.
Some older structures include Mary Lyon Hall (1849) the Cole Memorial Chapel (1917), Knapton Hall (1911), Emerson Hall (1908), Larcom Hall (1908) and Park Hall (1934).
There are also important examples of mid-century Modernism and Brutalism, respectively at Austin House (1962) and the Watson Fine Arts Center from the same year.
3. Norton Reservoir
The Wheaton College campus and TPC Boston are both within a stone’s throw of a 589-acre body of water. Norton Reservoir dates back to the mid-19th century when the Rumford River was dammed to power the woolen mills downstream.
For one thing, the reservoir has a strong reputation for fishing, with big counts of largemouth bass and chain pickerel.
The shoreline is developed, with residential areas, strip malls, restaurants and the Xfinity Center (Great Woods) to the northwest.
For recreation on the water, you’ll find three public launches, at 206 Reservoir Street, 404 Reservoir Street and 111 Mansfield Avenue, and people flock to these waters on canoes and kayaks in summer.
4. Norton Kayak Company
With its shallow depth, many little islands, and an indented shoreline with dozens of coves, the Norton Reservoir is perfect for a paddling adventure.
Along Mansfield Avenue on the western shore you’ll come to the Norton Kayak Company. This business runs a schedule of tours, May through October.
Normally taking place on weekends, these trips are two hours long, and Thursday through Sunday there’s a special sunset tour so you can marvel at the lake at golden hour.
Private sessions are available on any day throughout the season, while the company also runs a kayak camp for kids, guided fishing trips, and a kayak safety class led by a certified instructor.
5. Bog Iron Brewing
Founded by three pals in 2011, Bog Iron Brewing started commercial production in 2013 and has grown into a 15BBL, 8,500-square-foot brewhouse and taproom.
If you’re curious about the name, it comes from the Chartley Iron Works (1696-1790), which dredged its ore (bog iron) from nearby bogs, lakes and ponds for smelting.
Visit the taproom for flights or full pints—a few of the beers pouring when we made this list were Burly Blonde (Pale Ale), Soul Cellar (IPA) and Campout Mild (English Mild).
There’s a great outdoor space for a perfect summer evening, and, as a bonus, dogs are also welcome here.
6. Winnecunnet Pond (Winnecunnet Lake)
One of Norton’s most treasured natural features is a kettle hole pond covering almost 150 acres on the east side of town.
Winnecunnet Pond is a recreation hub in the warmer months, especially for activities like canoeing and kayaking, with a boat ramp on the eastern shore along Bay Road.
In the winter this is a big destination for ice fishing, yielding chain pickerel and largemouth bass, and occasionally enormous northern pike.
The pond is known to have a long history of human activity, as a fishing, hunting, and camping site across millennia for the Indigenous Pokanoket and Mattakeesett peoples.
One thing that brings a lot of people to the shore is the Chateau Restaurant. This upscale Italian spot was established in 1933 and has glorious views over the water, especially at sunset.
7. TPC Boston
The home of professional golf in the Boston area first opened in 2002 with a design by Arnold Palmer. TPC Boston was given a layout a few years later by Gil Hanse, with PGA tour star Brad Faxon serving as consultant.
Up to 2019 this was home to the Dell Technologies Championship (known as the Deutsche Bank Championship 2003–2016), and then briefly became a rotating venue for The Northern Trust. When we wrote this article, Boston was off the PGA tour, but that is likely to change in the future.
In the meantime, anyone able to play as a guest should leap at the opportunity. With verdant fairways, bentgrass greens and more than 60 bunkers, the course has tested some of the best players in the world, but also accommodates a range of abilities with five sets of tees on each hole.
The par 5 18th stands out for its compact elevated green, with a tricky greenside pot bunker.
8. King Philip’s Cave
A fun little detour just north of Winnecunnet Pond is an unusual cluster of granite boulders, dropped into a pile by a retreating glacier at the end of the last Ice Age some 10,000 years ago. You’ll find this on a small preserve managed by the Land Preservation Society.
The formation gets its name from the little shelter underneath, claimed to have been the place where Wampanoag sachem Metacomet (1638-1676) aka “King Philip”, hid near the end of King Philip’s War, before dying in Misery Swamp on Mount Hope in Bristol, RI.
9. Woodward Forest
The largest property in the care of the Land Preservation Society can be found on Gateway Lane off Old Taunton Avenue.
Woodward Forest is on 150 acres, with a network of color-coded trails along riverbanks and an old cart path. The preserve is made up of mixed woods, a meadow, a large vernal pool and wetlands.
A branch path takes you beside the Threemile River, and you can trace this back to the confluence of the Wading River and Rumford River, at the northernmost tip of Woodward Forest.
Lockety Neck at this spot is believed to have been the site of a skirmish in King Philip’s War, in 1675.
10. Crane Farm Preserve
A short way down the Threemile River from Woodward Forest is the smaller Crane Farm Preserve, which is a much-loved location for horseback riding and launching kayaks and canoes on the river.
These 45 acres comprise lush floodplain in the northern areas and sandy upland woods as you travel south on the main loop.
The preserve stands as an important habitat for wood turtles, and you can relax on a bench along the riverfront in the north end. There are ongoing plans to link the Crane Farm Preserve with Woodward Forest, just a few hundred feet away.
11. Xfinity Center (Great Woods)
One of the top live music venues in the region is just next to TPC Boston, across the town line in Mansfield.
This partially covered amphitheater first opened in the summer of 1986 with a capacity of 12,000, and was expanded to its current size in 2000, with 5,900 general admission seats, 7,000 lawn seats and 7,000 reserved seats, for a total of 19,900.
One artist inextricably linked with the Xfinity Center is Jimmy Buffett. When we wrote this list he had performed here over 60 times, more than any other venue in his career.
With around 40 shows every summer, the list of recent performers is a who’s who, featuring the likes of Beck, Jennifer Lopez, Wiz Khalifa, Blink-182, Dave Matthews Band, Kings of Leon and Alanis Morisette.
12. The L.A. Foster Wildlife Refuge
Before long you’ll be able to spend hours in nature in the south of Norton as the town is in the process of connecting yet another preserve with the trails at Woodward Forest.
This is the L.A. Foster Wildlife Refuge, set further up the Wading River and across Taunton Avenue from the forest.
The L.A. Foster Wildlife Refuge is an interesting place to explore as it has industrial history, as the site of a forgotten copper works and quarry.
One fascinating feature from that period is a canal, built to channel water from the Wading River to the copper works’ pond. One of the paths in the refuge carries you along the dike next to the canal, while as you walk south you’ll enter a wetland area.
13. Everett Leonard Park
In the warmer months, this public park in the quieter southern part of Norton is a go-to for family recreation.
The first thing to mention is the Norton Town Pool, a modest but well-maintained facility open Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day.
Not far from some of the Land Preservation Society properties, Everett Leonard Park is in a rural setting and there is a trail if you’d like to spend some more time in nature.
For active recreation the park also has a basketball court, a baseball field, a horseshoe pit, volleyball court, a playground and a snack stand open in summer.
14. Links at Mass Golf
A round at TPC Boston may be out of the question for most people, but there’s an alternative in Norton at this 18-hole par 3 course.
Links at Mass Golf is ideal if you’re a newcomer to the sport, or have children who are finding their feet. For a par 3 the green fees are reasonable, and the course has been designed with a lot of variety to keep younger players engaged.
In the last few years, Links at Mass Golf has become a year-round facility with the introduction of a pair of golf simulators. These allow you to try out almost 200 of the most famous courses around the world, from the Old Course at St. Andrews to Pebble Beach.
15. Great Woods Conservation Area
For more inspiration for outdoor recreation, there’s a vast patchwork of conservation parcels abutting TPC Boston to the north in Mansfield.
The main parking lot for the Great Woods Conservation Area is just across the town line, off Oak Street.
Awaiting you here is a kiosk with a map for a large system of trails through woods, wetlands, and former farmland with exciting historical fragments, from old stone walls, a cemetery and cellar holes.
If you’re pressed for time, the orange trail starts at the parking area and follows one of the old farm pathways before meeting a bridleway on the red trail, so you can loop back in a few minutes.