You Can See for Miles and Miles…
- David Ginisi
Offering spectacular long views for a relatively modest effort, Mount Watatic is one of North Central Massachusetts’ premiere hiking destinations. The 1,832-foot summit, the region’s second-highest peak (after Wachusett Mountain), rises above the north end of the Midstate Trail corridor in Ashburnham and Ashby. It’s a great place to enjoy colorful fall foliage, watch hawks, or take children for their first mountain hike.
On clear days you can see the length of Massachusetts, from the Boston skyline to Mount Greylock and the Berkshire Hills on the western horizon – a 115-mile view! Other landmarks include Wachusett Mountain, Mount Grace, Mount Monadnock, the Wapack Mountains and hills of southern New Hampshire, and many nearby lakes and ponds. The best perspectives are from the lower summit, a large exposed rock ledge that makes for a nice picnic or snack stop.
The summit is also one of New England’s finest hawk-watching areas. On days with a north wind, you may see hundreds or even thousands of southbound raptors soaring along and over the ridge, often in circling groups called ‘kettles.’ The migration peaks in mid-late September and continues through autumn. Many monarch butterflies also pass over the mountain during their journey to wintering grounds in Mexico.
STEEPED IN HISTORY
Mount Watatic lies at the south end of the Wapack Mountains, which extend roughly 20 miles into southern New Hampshire. 1621-foot Nutting Hill, a subpeak just 0.6 miles north, is the Midstate Trail’s northernmost summit. Its rocky open top affords views of Wachusett Mountain and Mount Watatic’s upper slopes.
Along the trails are signs of the mountain’s long history. Stone walls date back to Colonial times, when early settlers cleared the slopes for sheep pastures. Old concrete supports at the summit indicate the former site of a fire tower, built in 1917 and used until 1996 (the original structure was rebuilt after the 1938 Hurricane). A ski area opened on the north slopes around 1940 and expanded with lifts, snowmaking, and night skiing facilities during the 1960s. It closed in 1984 due to competition from facilities at other mountains.
Motivated by proposals for a housing project and communications tower, several organizations — including Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust, Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, and the towns of Ashby and Ashburnham — collaborated to protect the mountain in 2002. Thanks to their efforts, hikers can enjoy woodland trails and vistas unblemished by development.
TAKE A HIKE!
From the reservation entrance on Route 119, the combined Midstate and Wapack long-distance trails, which overlap from the trailhead to the New Hampshire state line, lead past a beaver pond to a junction at 0.3 miles. Here you can go right on the Midstate/Wapack Trail for a moderately steep 1.1-mile route to the summit or take State Line Trail up to the ridge at Nutting Hill for a more gradual ascent. Many hikers combine both trails for a 2.8-mile loop.
If you have time and energy for a longer adventure, extend the outing by following the Wapack Trail north from the state line for 2.3 miles to scenic Binney Pond, part of a 6,000-acre conservation corridor.
A steep half-mile ascent of Pratt Mountain leads to overlooks with great views of Mount Monadnock, Binney Pond and Mount Watatic. The round trip combined with the Mount Watatic loop is 8 miles.
Mount Watatic and the other Wapack summits are excellent winter hiking destinations, offering opportunities to sample mountain terrain on trails that are less strenuous than higher peaks. There are a few steep and potentially icy sections, so use caution and wear shoe spikes or crampons when needed.
The parking area and trailhead is on the north side of Route 119 in Ashburnham, 1.4 miles west of the junction with Route 101. The mountain is a popular destination on summer and fall weekends, so visit on weekdays to avoid crowds.
Fabulous views, a great assortment of trails for every level of experience and energy — Mount Watatic offers the perfect opportunity to stretch your legs and enjoy the beauty of North Central Massachusetts!
Story by: Pat Gale