Where I went: Durham’s Wagon Hill Farm at 156 Piscataqua Road.
What it is: Wagon Hill Farm is 139 acres of open, rolling hilled land owned by the Town of Durham that is free and open to the public for year-round recreation from dawn to dusk. With the recognizable and signature wooden wagon perched atop the peak of the park’s tallest hill overlooking Route 4, the farm has become a landmark in the Seacoast for its historical and recreational significance. The farm is now used recreationally and is home to many hiking trails, kayaking, dog-walking, sledding, snowshoeing and more.
What I did: When I was a child, my family would take trips to Maine to spend the day in York and I remember looking out the window along Route 4 as my parents pointed out the wagon atop the hill. Years ago my sister gave my father a painting that she made of what we always called “the wagon in Durham.” For as much as the sight of the wagon on the hill has been imprinted in my mind over the years, I have never had the opportunity to spend the day adventuring around the land on which it is representing. It has always been on my bucket list and I figured that now was as good a time as any to explore the protected land.
I pulled up the gravel hill and parked my car in the small parking lot off to the side of the wagon before making my way over to the landmark itself. The wagon is nothing more than just that, a wagon, although it is more about what the wagon represents that makes it so significant, in my mind. The historic wagon seems to encapsulate the overall mission of the farm; it radiates and projects the ideals of preservation, conservation, history and fun.
Continuing along the trail past the wagon, I was genuinely struck at the beauty of the land. The perch provides the perfect view of the back of the farm that you can’t see from Route 4 because it’s hidden by the hill. The rolling hills of freshly mowed farmland were wide and open and interrupted only by the treeline connecting the shoreline of the Great Bay to the farm.
The trail ran off to the side of the park and down toward the water before turning to circle just before the treeline that stood guarding the water. I ventured down the small side trail leading to the beach before finding myself shin-deep in mud along the shoreline from the recent rains and morning frost. Undeterred, I continued onto the beach to admire the view of the inlet. Heading back to the main trail, and making sure to avoid the wet ground, I continued my trek along the main trail of the farm.
I followed the main trail along the tree and shoreline over a bridge across a small stream feeding into the bay before making my way to the farm’s beach. There, families were running up and down the grassy picnic area behind the water, and a father and son were skipping rocks and searching for crabs along the beach. With the sun coming out and warming the previously freezing air, I headed back to my car, finishing the main loop back to the top of the hill toward the parking lot. Along the path to complete my journey, I passed a community garden as well as the old farmhouse and other families enjoying the beautiful weather and breathtaking scenery.
With so much to do at Wagon Hill Farm, I knew going into the adventure that there was no way that I was going to be able to do it all in one day, so I settled for circling the main loop around the farm. Looking back, there is so much that I have yet to do. From wandering the smaller trails between and around the property to walking my dog, as well as coming back in the winter for snowshoeing and sledding, there is much left to be done at Wagon Hill Farm.
Who else would enjoy this: Over the years, Wagon Hill Farm has become the go-to spot for winter sledding. With hills as far as the eye can see and wide open spaces, the park is the perfect location to visit in the winter. But it is far more than a good place to spend a winter’s day. The incredible views and preserved lands that act as home to many rare and endangered wildlife throughout the state is the perfect place to hike with family, friends or dogs or by yourself. It is also a nice place to swim, boat and walk amongst apple orchards during the fall, and the trails provide plenty of variety. Some trails cut through the woods, while others are pressed grass, and some are graveled to allow for easy access to those who might have a hard time navigating up and down potentially wet or slippery hills. There are bird-, butterfly- and general nature-watching options for those looking to sit and admire the local wildlife, and the landscapes offer plenty for aspiring artists to brush onto canvas. At the end of the day, my photos do not do Wagon Hill Farm justice in trying to display the beauty of this preserved land, and I would highly suggest taking the time to see for yourself why it is that Wagon Hill Farm has become a landmark along the Seacoast.