It's not as well known as Walden Woods, but Mount Misery was one of author Henry David Thoreau's favorite places to take his rambling hikes.
Located less than two miles from Walden Pond State Reservation, and connected to it by walking trails, Mount Misery in Lincoln has all the natural beauty of its famous neighbor without the crowds.
"This is really a piece of heaven," said Elizabeth Shienbrood, 39, of Sudbury, who regularly walks Mount Misery's well-groomed and well-marked trails with Ruby and Riley, her mixed-breed dogs.
The name Mount Misery is a misnomer.
First of all, it's not really a mountain. The glacially carved hill that gives the surrounding land its name is just 284 feet above sea level.
And it's certainly not miserable.
The 227-acre swath of land next to the Sudbury River and established by the town in 1969 with the help of state and federal grants has a diverse landscape featuring hemlock forest, vernal pools, ponds, agricultural fields and wetlands.
The wildlife is just as diverse, from painted turtles, deer, fishers, barred owls and ovenbirds to the dozens of chipmunks that dart through the carpet of leaves on the forest floor. Beavers have even built dams along the appropriately named Beaver Dam Brook.
"The whole park has so many unique characteristics all together in one area, and that's what makes it such a special treasure," Shienbrood said.
So how did such a beautiful place get such a bleak name?
There are a couple of local legends, said Tom Gumbart, the town's conservation director.
In one, a pair of yoked oxen wandered away from nearby farm in the late 18th century and got stuck on a tree, one on either side, with the yoke preventing them from moving forward. "They were either too stupid or too stubborn to back up, so they ended up dying there," Gumbart said.
In another story, sheep that grazed in the area supposedly died after tumbling over a rocky outcrop, he said.
No matter what the story, Mount Misery - also known as Lincoln Conservation Land - has had the name for at least a couple of centuries.
"We know Thoreau mentioned it in his journals," Gumbart said.
Thoreau's notes include a passage on the dispersion of seeds that begins, "Returning one afternoon by way of Mount Misery," followed by his observations of a type of milkweed with a bursting seed pod.
Although not quite the wilderness it was when Thoreau lived in the area in the 1840s, it is still a popular destination for a variety of recreational users.
The trails are normally filled with hikers and dog owners, who are allowed to let their dogs off their leashes on certain paths.
Some of the trails are open to mountain bikers, and it's not unusual to see equestrians on the trails.
Paths where dog and bikers are allowed are clearly marked.
About a quarter of a mile from the main parking lot and trailhead is another parking area with a boat landing for canoeists and kayakers. People ice fishing on the river and cross country skiing on the trails in the winter are a common site.
The area has even been used for orienteering.
"This is without a doubt the most popular site in our community," Gumbart said.