Exploring Pawtuckaway’s Boulder Field with Kids:
The boulder field at Pawtuckaway State Park is a world-class landmark that receives little attention outside the climbing community. It’s known to climbers nationwide and the world over for its tremendous bouldering opportunities but it also happens to be a gigantic playground for anyone who loves to marvel at the wonders of nature and explore the outdoors.
Exploring the boulder field is chance to wander through a garden of colossal rocks as well as nearby ponds and streams. It’s a place that compels you to veer off the trail, whenever your curiosity points you in a new direction. Walking among these massive boulders is a way to awaken the imagination.
The quickest way to access the Boulder Trail is by entering the backside of the park via Reservation Road. Once you turn onto Reservation Road, follow it around a few corners and look for a left hand turn onto Round Pond Road. Then, follow Round Pond Road as it twists and turns past a few ponds (and other trail junctions) all the way down to Boulder Trail. You can also access the trail further down the road at Round Pond. There’s some pull-off parking by the trailhead but if that’s full you can usually find a place to pull your car to the side of the road near the start of the trail.
The relatively short and easy walk down to the boulder field also makes this a great spot for hiking with children. You can walk a short distance from the trailhead off of Round Pond Road, enter the boulder field and have an adventure that is as long or short as you want to make it.
We typically explore the woods by our house each weekend but I wanted to try something new and introduce the kids to the marvels of Pawtuckaway’s boulder field. I was curious how my 3 year old would react to these gigantic rocks and seeing groups of climbers perform feats of agility and strength as they maneuver up these boulders.
I was not disappointed (and neither were they) when we arrived and spent a few hours drifting aimlessly through this awe-inspiring location.
After a short walk down Boulder Trail you’ll notice giant boulders down the hill to the left and a worn path where you can enter the Boulder Field to walk around. It’s not uncommon to see several groups of climbers with their bouldering pads laid out beneath the rocks. This is a fairly popular family hiking spot too and on a busy day you’ll meet lots of hikers along the Boulder Trail Loop or going up to North Mountain from here.
One of the things I really like about this place is that there is no real endpoint and you can put the kids down and simply let them explore at their own pace. There is no need to worry about ‘getting somewhere’ or keeping a certain pace. There are several worn down footpaths leading to different boulder areas but the terrain is pretty open and you can just go in any direction you want to and explore whatever catches your eye.
This area of the park is also pet-friendly. Our dog made plenty of new friends as we walked around. Just be sure to keep them close and have your leash handy.
Down through the trees you’ll also notice a small pond. We made our way down to the edge to check it out and found a couple of geese swimming near shore and spotted some hawks flying high above. If you continue to follow Boulder Trail around the pond, it loops over to Round Pond and meets up with the end of Round Pond Road (there is also another trailhead and parking spots there).
We chose to stay near the boulder field on this day and follow signs down to the ‘Lower Slab’ to sit in the sun at the edge of the pond and eat our PB& J sandwiches. There is a really nice view of the pond if you scramble up the rock slabs for a better vantage.
After lunch we went back to explore the boulders and wander some more, stopping briefly to watch climbers. We noticed several remarkable tree formations and admired the way that they grew and wrapped themselves around the rocks. We also found some interesting geological patterns in the stones and seams of basalt running through the granite.
My daughter enjoyed peeking into the many little caves that are created by some of the rocks and was quick to inquire what animals might live or use these little shelters.
I found that while my daughter enjoyed seeing the giant boulders she was just as curious about all the different trees, fallen logs, moss and smaller stones we saw. Her imagination was fully engaged and we stopped to play pretend throughout the course of our exploration. We did everything at her pace and it was nice not to worry about the time since I knew the car was only a short walk away.
My one year old (who was on my back in a kids carrying backpack) seemed to enjoy the surroundings as well. He was constantly looking around checking out his surroundings and occasionally letting out a roar, grunt or screech.
As the afternoon grew late I finally made the call to start heading back so we could be home in time for dinner. My daughter did not want to leave and even on the way back to the car she was smiling and racing ahead of me down the trail. Before we got back to the road she decided she wanted to stop and splash around and throw rocks in the little steam that crossed the trail.
She asked if we could go off the trail again to check out the moss and other huge rocks we could see from the trail. I was happy to oblige and help her explore a bit more before we went home – after all that was the whole point of the day and one of the reasons this area is so cool for kids. It is so conducive to that kind of creative free-flowing exploration. Forget your destination and simply enjoy the journey!