A Hiker’s Guide to Fall Color in North Central Massachusetts
- Visit North Central
- Posted on September 14, 2021
New England is one of the world’s best places for viewing fall foliage, and North Central Massachusetts is at the heart of it all, with a wealth of outstanding trails for enjoying the colorful spectacle. Thanks to the efforts of many conservation organizations, land trusts, and trail maintainers, the region offers a variety of options for hikers and walkers, ranging from easy family-friendly outings to long-distance treks.
Wachusett Mountain, the region’s highest peak at 2,006 feet, has 360-degree views from Boston to the Berkshires. A 17-mile trail network includes direct routes to the summit and longer circuits combining multiple paths. The main entrance is on Mountain Road off Route 140 in Princeton, and other trailheads are located on nearby roads.
Similar long views across Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire await visitors at Mount Watatic, at the southern end of the Wapack Mountains on Route 119 in Ashburnham. The combined Midstate and Wapack trails lead over the summit and to another vista at Nutting Hill.
Tip: Wachusett Mountain and Mount Watatic are very popular destinations on autumn weekends. Visit during weekdays to avoid crowds and full parking lots.
Leominster State Forest, on Route 31 in Leominster, has woods, roads and footpaths leading through 4,300 acres of oak-hardwood forest. A segment of the Midstate Trail traverses Crow Hill’s rocky ridge, where there are views of ponds, wooded hills, and Wachusett Mountain. At less-traveled Monoosnoc Ridge, which extends from Route 2 south to Sholan Farms in Leominster, blue-blazed Monoosnoc Trail and other paths lead to overlooks on North and South Monoosnoc Hills, brooks, and an orchard. Trailheads include West Street at the north end, and Elm and Wachusett streets (see leominster.ma/gov for maps).
The Tully River Valley in Royalston, Athol, and Orange offers many options for hikers, bikers, and paddlers. A 4.5-mile foot trail loops around Tully Lake and the quarter-mile cascades of Doane’s Falls, and a 7.5-mile mountain bike and hiking trail circles adjacent Long Pond, passing by red maple trees that offer vivid foliage along the water’s edge starting in late September. Access is available at Tully Lake Recreation Area on Route 32, and Tully Lake Campground and Doane’s Falls Reservation on Doane Hill Road.
On the ridge above Long Pond, Jacob’s Hill Reservation features two vistas with panoramic westerly views across the Tully Valley, and the steep cascades of Spirit Falls, which are especially picturesque after an autumn rain. The entrance is on Route 68 in Royalston, and the reservation may also be reached via the Tully Trail from Long Pond. Across the valley rises Tully Mountain in Orange, where ledges provide a striking view across the region to Mount Monadnock, Wachusett Mountain, and Mount Watatic.
The North Quabbin Reservoir has many scenic areas and historic sites to explore. Federated Women’s Club State Forest, on Route 122 at the Petersham/New Salem town line, has trails to beaver ponds and an excellent view of the reservoir from Soapstone Hill. At Gate 40 on Route 32A in Petersham, an old road leads to the former center of Dana, one of four towns abandoned during the reservoir’s creation.
Ready for an exhilarating autumn experience? Lace up your boots, pack a bag, pick up a trail map, and explore the wonders of North Central Massachusetts, where Nature’s beauty waits around every bend in the trail!
Story by John Burk