A Mountain for all Seasons

  • Visit North Central

More than a Landmark, Wachusett is a Great Place to Visit

Wachusett Mountain, the dominant landmark of Johnny Appleseed Country, has long been one of New England’s most famous mountains.

For centuries, its long views have attracted visitors — including Henry David Thoreau, who once spent a moonlit night on the summit and reportedly observed fires burning on the distant slopes of Mount Monadnock in southern New Hampshire. At 2,006 feet, its summit is the highest point in Massachusetts east of the Berkshire Hills.

On clear days, the views from the recently-constructed summit viewing platform are spectacular. The tall buildings of downtown Boston are visible on the eastern horizon; visitors in historic times used to tell of seeing the masts of sailboats on the ocean. To the west are the rolling foothills and low mountains of the Connecticut River Valley and Berkshire Hills, including Mount Greylock, the state’s highest peak.

The familiar profile of Mount Monadnock dominates the view to the north, along with many other hills of southern and central New Hampshire. With binoculars, you can zoom in on distant landmarks such as the rock cliffs of Mount Watatic or the Quabbin Park viewing tower.

Fabulous Foliage
Autumn is a great time to visit Wachusett Mountain. The hawk migrations are still near peak as the season begins, and continue through October. In addition to the summit views, the hiking trails and auto road offer close-up perspectives of the colorful forest groves. Since the mountain is located fairly close to the mild coastal plain and its forests include late-turning species such as oak and beech, the colors last through the end of October. The temperatures are ideal for hiking, and the humidity and bugs of summer are long gone.

Below the summit are several groves of old-growth trees, a very rare natural community in eastern Massachusetts. These areas were never logged because of the rocky, rugged terrain, and some of the trees are more than 350 years old.

The Jack Frost Trail leads through an enchanting forest of large old hemlocks, while unusual dwarf oaks, birches, and maples grow along the Old Indian Trail. The lower-elevation forests are mature but much younger, as they were once cleared for pastures by colonial settlers.

The 3,000-acre Wachusett Mountain State Reservation offers hikers 17 miles of hiking trails that offer options ranging from a quick one-way beeline to the summit to half to full-day circuits. The grades are generally moderate, with steeper sections below the summit. Maps and information are available at the visitor center on Mountain Road, where there is parking for roughly 30 cars. The shortest and most direct route to the top is the Pine Hill Trail, which offers a moderately steep 0.6-mile climb from the center.

For a longer but less crowded outing, try one of the less-travelled trails that are spread around the mountain. One especially interesting route begins at Echo Lake south of the visitor center and combines the High Meadow, Jack Frost, and Mountain House Trails. The West Side and West Road Trails, accessed via trailheads on West Princeton Road, offer pleasant ascents up the western slopes to the summit trails.

Aerial Views, Too!
You don’t need to be a hiker to climb the mountain, as the recently renovated parkway is open to vehicles daily from late May through October. Along the way, it passes several scenic vistas, picnic areas, and trail crossings. The Wachusett Mountain Ski Area also offers foliage viewing rides in their lifts on weekends and holidays during their autumn festivals (visit their Web site or call 978-464-2300 for schedule and details).

A nearby historic site worth visiting is Redemption Rock, a large glacial boulder off of Route 140 where, in 1676, colonial settlers negotiated the release of Mary Rowlandson, a woman who was taken captive by Native Americans during King Philip’s War. The rock is part of the Midstate Trail, a long-distance hiking trail that crosses central Massachusetts. From the parking area, you can hike south to Wach-usett Mountain or north to Crow Hill in the nearby Leominster State Forest.

For maps and directions, visit www.mass.gov/dcr or call 978-464-2987.

— John Burk