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Freshwater Fun in North Central Massachusetts

north central mass lake dennison

Though it’s beautiful and worth a visit year-round, there’s something to be said about traveling to North Central Massachusetts in the summer. This is the time of year when its freshwater beaches, ponds and lakes truly shine.  Perfect for fishing, swimming and fun water sports like canoeing and kayaking with the family, freshwater provides a quiet, relaxing calm that’s different than the ocean.

Check out this list of lakes and freshwater beaches in North Central Massachusetts and start planning your trip today.

Note: Due to the ever-changing nature of the COVID-19 crisis, please see official websites before visiting to check for restrictions or closures.

Lake Dennison

1366 Main Street, Winchendon, Mass.

Part of the Lake Dennison State Recreation Area, this transit-friendly spot is home to 150 campsites and a family-friendly beach. Lake Dennison Beach is open from late-May to early-September, Sunday to Saturday, from 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. No dogs are allowed on the beach.

You can swim in the lake, drop a fishing line or hop in a canoe, kayak or non-motorized boat. Visitors also have access to grills, a (car top) boat ramp, pavilion, picnic areas, restrooms, showers and trailer/RV dumping. There are also 50 miles of surrounding trails and an annual triathlon.

Camping at Lake Dennison is $17 per night for Massachusetts residents and $54 per night for non-residents. Residency is determined by the vehicle’s license plate.

Barret Park

40 Barrett Pkwy, Leominster, Mass.

Barret Park’s 8.9-acre pond is great for fishing, as it’s seasonally stocked with trout for fishing. There are also paddle boat rentals in the summer. Swimming is not allowed due to water turbidity.

The pond is surrounded by 2.9 miles of public trails that you can hike or mountain bike. Other attractions include an area with playground equipment for children ages 5 to 12, a picnic area and a pavilion.

north central mass dunn pond
Dunn Pond (Photo: John Burk)

Dunn Pond

289 Pearl Street, Gardner, Mass.

Part of Dunn State Park, Dunn pond is a great spot for a variety of outdoor activities. Use the boat ramp and take a canoe, kayak or non-motorized boat out on Dunn Pond and fish from your boat or the shoreline.

Visitors will also find a beach, fishing piers, pavilions (which can be rented/reserved), a picnic area and restrooms – all of which are wheelchair accessible. There’s also two small playgrounds.

Then you can hit the trails, like the .75-mile Woodland Trail designed for wheelchair accessibility and/or the 1.1-mile Dunn Pond State Park Loop. Keep an eye out for wildlife like ducks, gulls and turtles around the pond and birds, chipmunks and squirrels in wooded areas. Dogs are welcome but must be on-leash.

Discover Your Next Adventure

North Central Massachusetts is home to stunning mountain trails, sparkling lakes and vast orchards.

Learn More

Nashua River

Pepperell and Groton, Mass.

Although it begins in New Hampshire, the southern half of the Nashua River stretches across North Central Massachusetts – Groton and Pepperell, to be exact.

For some exciting river fun, check out the Nashoba Paddler in Groton, Mass. Old Town canoe, kayak and stand-up paddleboard rentals are available from May 1 through October. Phone reservations are required this season.

Otter River State Forest 

86 Winchendon Road, Baldwinville, Mass.

Otter River State Forest is home to 70+ campsites, including cabins, four yurts and three group sites available for reservation.

Popular activities include camping (accessible camping available), fishing, hiking, mountain biking and swimming in Beaman Pond. Swimming is allowed from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Additional facilities include an athletic field, pavilion (reservations cost $65), picnic area, restrooms, showers and grills.

If you’d like a nice hike, Wilder-Mckenzie Nature Trail is an easy, 2.5-mile trail. If you’re an experienced paddler, there’s the Otter River Paddle. Its distance is 5.5 miles and difficulty is moderate.

Only one vehicle may be parked at each campsite, and so there’s an overflow lot located near Contact Station. Walk-in campsite reservations are allowed, but calling ahead is recommended to check availability.

Pearl Hill State Forest

New Fitchburg Road, West Townsend, Mass.

This 1,000-acre park is lush with pine trees. Visitors can enjoy biking, camping and hiking along with fishing and swimming in Pearl Hill Brook Pond.

There are 50 campsites, which are served by a bathhouse, along with the moderately difficult, 2.5-mile Friends’ Pearl Hill Loop trail.

Visitors will also find grills, a group day-use area, picnic areas, wheelchair-accessible restrooms and showers. You can reserve a group picnic area for $50. Dogs are welcome but must remain on-leash.

north central mass leominster state forest
Leominster State Forest (Photo: See/Swim)

Leominster State Forest

90 Fitchburg Road, Westminster, Mass.

There are plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy at Leominster State Forest, from horseback riding, non-motorized boating and swimming to mountain biking, rock climbing and hiking.

The Rocky Pond hike is 2.5 miles in length and moderate in difficulty. Forest Road Loop is 3.8 miles long but easier. Experienced cyclists will like Leominster’s Rocky ride; difficulty is strenuous and the distance varies.

After you’ve worked up a sweat, cool down with a dip in Crow Hill Pond, which – despite its name – is actually a swimmable lake. For those who like fishing, Crow Hill Pond is stocked with trout by Mass Fisheries and Wildlife. There’s also Paradise Pond, which is not swimmable, but that makes it a great spot for warm water fishing.

There are also grills and a scenic viewing area for visitors to enjoy.

Willard Brook

Route 119, Ashby & Townsend, Mass.

Spanning an impressive 2,597 acres, Willard Brook State Forest is a great location for camping, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking and swimming.

For experienced hikers, there’s the Friends Trail (Orange Loop), which is 5.2 miles in length and connects Willard Brook with Pearl Hill State Park. Hikers should plan for at least a 3-hour trek.

Those looking to chill for the day can enjoy picnic views and outdoor grills along with access to restrooms. The campgrounds include accessible camping in the form of a yurt with a ramp. Dogs are not allowed at yurt campsites but are allowed elsewhere as long as they remain on-leash.

Before You Go

Massachusetts state parks are typically open from sunrise to sunset but swim and office times vary. Parking generally costs $8 for residents and $30 for non-residents. Look into individual locations for rules on parking, whether pets are allowed, etc.

In Massachusetts, bike riders ages 16 and under must wear a helmet. If you choose to go boating, a Personal Flotation Device (PFD) or life preserver must be worn by boaters age 12 and under as well as canoeists and kayakers from Sept. 15 to May 15.

Which of North Central Massachusetts’ freshwater beaches would you like to visit? Tell us in the comments. 

Funded by the Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism.


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2 Thoughts on “Freshwater Fun in North Central Massachusetts

    1. Hi Dianne. According to, parking fees at state parks are waived if you have a handicapped license plate or placard. Purple Heart recipient and disabled veteran license plates or placards are also not subject to parking fees. I hope that helps. You can find out more here.

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