Cool Cascades

  • David Ginisi


Few things in nature are as impressive or photogenic as a roaring waterfall or stream in a lush, green forest. In the hills and valleys of North Central Massachusetts, many waterfalls and cascades await discovery. The following destinations offer a variety of options for visitors, ranging from short, easy walks, to longer day hikes.


Royalston is home to three scenic waterfalls, all owned by The Trustees of Reservations.

At Doane’s Falls, Lawrence Brook drops 200 feet to Tully Late in a quarter-mile cascade. The stone remains of mills that once harnessed the considerable waterpower are visible on the banks of the steep ravine. The main entrance on Doan Hill Road is next to a stone arch bridge over the upper falls, and a 0.3-mile, universally accessible path connects the lower parking area to the base of the cascades. The reservation is also part of a scenic 4.5-mile loop trail around Tully Lake, an Army Corps of Engineers flood-control project. Other trailheads are located at Tully Latke Recreation Area, Tully Lake Campground, and Tully Dam.

At Spirit Falls in Jacob’s Hill Reservation, the outflow from Little Pond plunges 150 feet down a steep ridge to Long Pond. These highly seasonal cascades are best viewed in early-mid spring or after heavy rain. From the Route 68 entrance (0.6 miles north of Royalston town common), a loop trail leads to the crest of the falls at the junction with Tully Trail. Other attractions include scenic views from Jacob’s Hill and The Ledges. For a longer adventure, you can link Spirit Falls, Long Pond, and Doane’s Falls via the Tully Trail (approximately 1.8 miles one-way).

Picturesque Royalston Falls is distinguished by its narrow 45-foot drop into a dramatic gorge. Other geologic features along Falls Brook include smaller cascades, natural bridges and a rocky pool. From the Route 32 entrance in West Royalston, the New England Trail and Tully Trail offer a moderately steep, 0.8-mile hike to the falls that passes a camping shelter and footbridge. Another interesting option is from the north, following the New England Trail in Massachusetts south along the brook and beaver pond for 0.6 miles to the state line.



In a hidden ravine in Athol’s Bearsden Conservation Area, Thousand Acre Brook flows out of an old reservoir and over a rocky cascade in route to its confluence with Millers River. The brook trail is off the north end of South Royalston Road; look for the falls near a footbridge at the property’s northeast boundary (use caution where the road becomes dirt; parking is also available at a trailhead near Newton Reservoir).


From a beaver pond on the slopes of the Swift River Valley in Petersham, Rutland Brook cascades over mossy boulders in a forest of giant hemlocks and white pines. An esasy walk along the shore of Connor Pond will bring you to the Rutland Brook Loop Trail in 10-15 minutes. To reach this Mass Audubon sanctuary, take Route 122 north to Connor Pond at the Petersham-Barre town line, then follow the dirt road along the pond’s east side to the trailhead.


Cook’s Canyon, a rocky gorge where Galloway Brook flows over an old stone mill pond dam and down a steep hill, was a popular 19th-century tourist attraction in Barre. Today an old cart road, part of an east loop trail, parallels the brook to a view-point at the top of the chasm. The sanctuary (also owned by Mass Audubon) is on South Street, 0.3 miles from the town common.



In the northern portion of Willard Brook State Forest in Ashby, Trap Falls features a distinctive triple cascade into a shallow rocky pool. From a roadside parking area on the north side of Route 119 (1 mile east of Damon Pond), it’s an easy five-minute walk to the falls and a picnic area. If you have time for a longer outing, check out the scenic path along Willard Brook, which passes a covered bridge near Damon Pond.

-Text and Photos by John Burk