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.
Drive from Boston: 45 minutes
Hike difficulty: From easy to challenging
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.
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)
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.
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: email@example.com. 413-623-2100; becketlandtrust.org
3/FREETOWN-FALL RIVER STATE FOREST /ASSONET
Drive from Boston: 50 minutes
Hike difficulty: Fairly easy, but damp
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.