Magazine

Fall Travel: Thrill Seeking

5 haunted hikes in New England: Do you dare?

These paths in Massachusetts, Maine, and New Hampshire will get your heart racing . . . one way or another.

Dogtown trails traverse marsh and woods.

Webb Chappell

Dogtown trails traverse marsh and woods.

1/DOGTOWN/GLOUCESTER

Drive from Boston: 45 minutes

Hike difficulty: From easy to challenging

Webb Chappell

Look for inspirational sayings carved in rocks on the Dogtown trails.

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MARSDEN HARTLEY — whom some consider America’s first great modern painter of the 20th century — visited Dogtown in the 1930s and found plenty of inspiration in the long-abandoned settlement in the center of Cape Ann. With its boulders and rock formations, he called it “a cross between Easter Island and Stonehenge.” Established in the 1600s and first named Commons Settlement, the approximately 5-square-mile community was far enough from the sea that residents didn’t have to stress out over pirates, and it became quite prosperous. Eventually, though, it residents drifted away, and by the 1830s it was abandoned. Legend has it that the name Dogtown came from the number of dogs owned by the Revolutionary War widows who lived there and that in its last years the place was home to colorful characters like Tammy Younger, who indulged all manner of eccentricities. Like engaging in witchcraft and threatening those who dared pass her house.

What remains today, accessed off Cherry Street, are cellar holes where houses once stood and boulders that in the early 20th century had inspirational sayings carved into them. Paths wind through marshland, blueberry bushes, and thick woods and past Babson Reservoir. This is a birder’s haven: Jays, cardinals, finches, mourning doves, red-tailed hawks, wood ducks, and downy woodpeckers are common, and if you get there early enough, you may also see foxes and fishers. This can be a serene, calm place, but a bit spooky, too. No matter how many times I have tried, my photos of some locations just will not come out, and it’s easy to get lost here. You’re going to want to bring a trail map, which you can obtain at some local shops and from dogtownecologywalks.com or gloucester-ma.gov/index.aspx?NID=721.  

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2/BECKET LAND TRUST HISTORIC QUARRY AND FOREST /BECKET

Drive from Boston: 2 hours

Hike difficulty: Easy (the grounds were meant to be well traveled)

H. David Stein

Water now fills the Becket Land Trust’s Quarry.

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QUARRIES WERE ONCE BOOMING BUSINESS in Massachusetts, and the next time you’re out in Boston and come across a granite structure, be reasonably assured that it came from a place like the 300-plus-acre Becket Land Trust Historic Quarry and Forest in Western Massachusetts. The quarry was in use from the 1860s to the 1960s; commerce has been replaced with nettles, vegetal carpets, and slinking brown snakes.

Many hikers report hearing the distant sound of men still a-quarrying. I originally set the odd noises that filter through the trees down to the time of year for my first visits — winter. But now that I’ve made summertime trips, I believe the sounds are more boisterous then, especially late in the afternoon. Perhaps on account of that having been quitting time.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Katie Harper

Abandoned equipment reminds hikers of its earlier use at the Becket Land Trust’s Quarry.

The trails gently slope and bring you round from bend to bend, though you can jam your feet on chunks of granite spilled from long-ago wheelbarrows. At the parking lot and online you can find a trail map that takes you past rusted trucks and quarry equipment. The sight of an abandoned wood stove in a grove of trees has a kind of gracefully creepy poetry to it.

To learn about granite quarrying and current uses of the property, you can join a guided hike on September 21 or October 4 at 10 a.m. The program, sponsored by the group Housatonic Heritage, is free and expected to cover 2 to 3 miles and take two hours. Preregistration is suggested by e-mail: landtrust@becketlandtrust.org. 413-623-2100; becketlandtrust.org

3/FREETOWN-FALL RIVER STATE FOREST /ASSONET

Drive from Boston: 50 minutes

Hike difficulty: Fairly easy, but damp

Freetown, mass. 10/3/2007-Profile Rock at Freetown State Park. (Boston Globe staff photo by John Tlumacki) -- Library Tag 09072008 Travel

John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/File

The Wampanoags believed Profile Rock in Freetown-Fall River State Forest looked like Chief Massasoit.

IF YOU’RE FROM HERE and your parents got sick of taking you to Blue Hills, you might have spent some time at Freetown-Fall River State Forest, which stretches across 5,441 acres in the southeastern corner of the state. It is the site of a Wampanoag reservation and Profile Rock, which the tribe believed to be a profile of Chief Massasoit. It is also part of an area of alleged paranormal activity called the Bridgewater Triangle, which, naturally, suggests the name of another more famous triangle. And not without reason. The place is — if we’re talking reams of anecdotes, testimonies, and reports of overall bad mojo — Massachusetts’s most-haunted forest. There have been claims of UFO sightings, satanic rituals, animal sacrifices, balls of fire floating in the air, and ghost lights in the wetter, boggier areas.

Near the entrance is a seasonal wading pool, picnic area, and fields; beyond are 50 miles of unpaved roads and trails. The forest offers lots of opportunities to teach your kids about nature without having to go too far: Bend down and gaze at a garter snake, and keep your eyes open for an Eastern screech-owl. 508-644-5522; mass.gov/eea/agencies/dcr/massparks

 4/DEVIL’S DEN /NEW DURHAM, NEW HAMPSHIRE

Drive from Boston: Less than 2 hours

Hike difficulty: Moderately difficult to arduous

WEIRD, ENORMOUS ROCKS are common in New England, and here they are weirder than most, with monstrous crags seemingly dumped where they lie by, in this case, Old Scratch himself. Devil’s Den sits east of Lake Winnipesaukee and offers hiking trails, cliff areas popular with climbers, and caves better described as massive slabs of granite perched against each other, making inverted V’s. Legend has it that the devil would sit here, mulling whatever devils mull. Probably the killer views, in this case. For detailed driving directions, go to mountainproject.com and search for Devil’s Den.

 

5/OLD NARROW GAUGE VOLUNTEER TRAIL / RANDOLPH, MAINE

Drive from Boston: 2 hours, 40 minutes

Hike difficulty: Variable — easy in places, harder if you’re seeking a challenge

MAINE’S OLD NARROW GAUGE VOLUNTEER TRAIL follows a portion of the Kennebec Central Railroad, which from the 1890s to 1920s brought passengers and goods to and from a veterans’ home. It offers a starting point to explore the woods of Randolph, a tiny town south of Augusta. This place brings out ghost hunters as well as nonbelievers looking for some peace and quiet. You’ll spot lots of junked cars, which add to the mysterious mood. The sounds of footsteps are commonly reported, intruding upon the silence, and while his moniker might not suggest the stuff of eminent haunting, there is the legend of one Bicycle Eddie, a ghost-cum-cyclist. oldnarrowgaugetrail.org

More coverage:

- A real haunted house in New England

- A new fan’s guide to NASCAR

- Essex, Conn.: ‘Perfect Small American Town’ has it all

- More from the Magazine

Colin Fleming is a freelance writer based in Boston. His third book,“The Anglerfish Comedy Troupe: Stories from the Abyss,” will be out in April. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.

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