Road Scholar cycling tour of the Massachusetts North Shore

salem-friendship-cycling-tourThis cycling tour of the Massachusetts North Shore is based in Ipswich and Newburyport, Massachusetts and visits some of the most beautiful and historic coastal areas in New England. It is designed for experienced cyclists who are able to cycle 20 to 40 miles at a moderate to fast pace, with options for distance, destinations, and alternative activities, including hiking and canoeing. The tour is offered through the nonprofit educational organization Road Scholar at a very affordable price, but anyone can follow the links below to download cue sheets, maps and GPS files for each ride if you wish to do it on your own.

In addition to receiving route maps and cue sheets, Road Scholar participants have at least two guides. When we are riding as a large group, one will be leading and the other “sweeping.” When we separate for short and long distances or for multi-sport options, one guide accompanies each group. Participants choose a distance option that fits their cycling abilities. (No support vehicle is provided.)

Mountain bikes, city bikes, beach bikes and other heavy or slower bikes are not appropriate for this tour.

Sign up at the Road Scholar site


GPS Files for Garmin cycling computers can be downloaded from the RideWithGPS route links provided below.

Sunday, Day 1: Jeffreys Neck (8-14 miles)

Image from the Ipswich Riverwalk Mural

Image from the Ipswich Riverwalk Mural

Check in at the Ipswich Inn and Kaede Bed and Breakfast after 1 pm. At 4:00 we’ll take a 10 mile ride to Jeffrey’s Neck, cross the Great Salt Marsh and enjoy a spectacular view of Plum Island, Cape Ann, and the Atlantic. On our return into town we enjoy a nice out and back ride on Labor in Vain Road. (When we get to the bridge, you’ll know how the road got its name). Turkey Shore and Labor in Vain Roads take us out to Gould’s Creek, which runs in opposite directions depending on the tide. Our return takes us along the Ipswich River and some of the oldest parts of town. Ride time is about an hour, with frequent informational stops.

During tonight’s informal group dinner at 6:00 pm we’ll go over the week’s itinerary and get better acquainted with each other. 

Monday, Day 2: Full day ride to Salem, 32 miles

Salem ride

Full ride: Historic Salem. Crossing the harbor to historic Salem, we stop for a break at the Salem Visitors Center, run by the National Park Service. After lunch at Red’s Sandwich Shop, you’ll spend a couple of hours in town so that you have the chance to walk in the historic Chestnut St. neighborhood, visit the Salem Maritime National Historic Site and the Friendship (a reconstruction of a 171-foot three-masted Salem East Indiaman built in 1797), the Salem Witch Museum, or the House of Seven Gables. The return takes us through Beverly and Hamilton on our return to Ipswich.

The van is placed ahead of time in Salem to offer a limited number of participants a ride back to Ipswich. You may also take the commuter rail from Salem to Ipswich for a nominal price. Bikes are allowed except during rush hours.

We spend a third evening in Ipswich. After dinner we enjoy a slide show by local naturalist Bill Sargent.

Tuesday, Day 3: Essex, Crane Beach and Cape Ann (17 or 32 miles)

Cape Ann full ride

Short Ride: Essex and Crane Beach. This relaxed ride takes us along wooded back roads to historic Essex, one of colonial America’s first ship-building towns. While in Essex we often stop by the Essex Historical Society’s Shipbuilding Museum. Our ride turns back toward Ipswich and continues to Crane Beach, where you can enjoy a gorgeous hike in the dunes, returning along the pristine beach. Have lunch at the Beach or back in Ipswich.

Long Ride: Cape Ann. This faster-paced full day ride takes participants to Manchester by the Sea. After a short break, we’ll ride along the rocky Atlantic shoreline in quaint Magnolia, then circle back past glacial erratics in West Gloucester for lunch at Lobsta Land in Gloucester or Farnham’s in Essex before returning to Ipswich.

Your tour leader, Ipswich historian Gordon Harris takes participants to the Ipswich Riverwalk Mural as an evening activity.

Wednesday, Day 4: The Ipswich River Sanctuary and Topsfield

Wednesday is the official “half day,” Our morning ride takes us along the Ipswich River to Topsfield, and after our return we transfer to the Essex Street Inn in Newburyport. Lunch is back in Ipswich. Participants drive their personal vehicles, take the van, or ride their bicycles from Ipswich to Newburyport. (We will not be returning to Ipswich.)


The Wednesday morning ride takes us along the Ipswich River. Participants may wish to spend an hour or two kayaking or canoeing with rentals from Foote Brothers Canoes.

Our morning ride takes along beautiful Perkins Row through the Ipswich River Sanctuary to Topsfield, a charming New England village. We return through Bradley Palmer State Park to Ipswich for lunch.

Canoeing on the Ipswich River. Participants have the option to stop at Foote Brothers Canoes to enjoy an hour or two of self-guided canoeing or kayaking on the Ipswich River.

Topsfield-Danvers Rail Trail: After the Ipswich River Sanctuary, participants may chose to take the stone dust trail from Topsfield to Danvers through the Great Wenham Swamp, then return through Topsfield, and back to Ipswich for a total of 30 miles for the day.

Thursday, Day 5: The Parker River Wildlife Refuge and the Merrimack River 

Thursday afternoon ride: West Newbury, the Artichoke Reservoirs and the Merrimack River

The Thursday and Friday rides start at the Essex Street Inn in Newburyport. MA. This morning we take some of the nicest cycling roads on the North Shore, then return to Newburyport for lunch. In the afternoon we cross the bridge to Plum Island for a visit to the Parker River Wildlife Refuge

Morning Ride: Plum Island and the Parker River Wildlife Refuge. The afternoon ride takes us out to America’s first national seashore with a short walk along the beach at Plum Island with naturalist Bill Sargent. We often stop at the Joppa Flats Audubon Center on our return to the inn.

Afternoon Ride: the Merrimack River. The rural roads outside of Newburyport in Newbury and West Newbury are some of the most beautiful and less-travelled in the North Shore area and are wonderful for cycling.This beautiful ride begins on High Street in Newburyport and continues through Maudslay State Park and along the Artichoke Reservoirs. The full version includes a gorgeous section along the Merrimack River to West Newbury.

Friday, Day 6: (morning): Newbury and the Great Salt Marsh. (8 or 17 miles)

Thursday morning ride: Plum Island and the Parker river Wildlife Refuge

This 8-mile ride takes us through historic neighborhoods to the South Green in Newbury. We continue past Old Town Hill into the heart of the Great Salt Marsh. A longer option adds 7 miles, continuing along Historic Route 1A to Rowley and back. We return to the inn at 10:00, in time for the 11:00 am checkout, departure, and farewells.

Bike Rentals: The rides are primarily on paved surfaces in varying conditions, with an optional stone-dust trail on Tuesday. You may use your own road or hybrid-road bicycle.Jamis Coda, Diamondback Insight, and Villano “flat bar” road bikes with straight handlebars are available for rent with our tours, $100 for the week. Helmets are required and are available, although it is recommended that you bring your own. Email tour leader Gordon Harris to reserve a bike.

  • Gordon Harris is your host and primary guide. He is the webmaster for North Shore Cyclists and official historian for the Town of Ipswich Massachusetts. For more information or to rent bicycles for this tour email Gordon at
  • Paula Bossone is the vice president of North Shore Cyclists and organizes many special events for the club, including the annual Blazing Saddles Century.
  • Jimmy White is the ride coordinator for North Shore Cyclists, and oversees the club’s weekday and Sunday rides. He enjoys sharing his expertise with cycling fitness and gear.
  • Barbara Lampron has led tours with Gordon Harris for over a dozen years. She is currently the activities director at a resort in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts.

Reviews from previous Road Scholar tours

  • A scene from the Topsfield ride on Wednesday

    “This was an outstanding trip. Thank you Gordon for the wonderful rides.”

  • “Wonderful biking area and knowledgeable guide made this program outstanding”
  • “Gordon created the best trip we have been on. He had everything covered.” “Gordon is so well prepared not only for the biking but on the history, geography etc of the area.”
  • “Very enjoyable experience: Gordon was an excellent guide and teacher. He planned the daily rides very well. Alternate routes and plans were thorough throughout. We appreciated the effort he put forth. Nothing was left to chance.”
  • This is a great trip.The bicycling is very scenic, with rolling hills and lots of water views. You will learn about the history for the area as the guides are very knowledgeable and have carefully planned the routes. Both Ipswich and Newburyport are interesting old colonial towns that have retained their character and are fun to explore by bike and on foot. There are plenty of charming restaurants and shops.
  • ‘Tis a truly ‘top shelf’ New England north shore experience. Cycling, seashore and coastal vistas, knowledge of the local history, experience of leadership, restaurants and then some made for a worthwhile Road Scholar program.”

Click here to sign up at the Road Scholar site for this tour

View a slide show from the September, 2015 tour, produced by Susan Lash.

This Perfect Place: A Natural History of the MA North Shore was created by Ipswich naturalist Kristina Lindborg.