This blog post was originally included in 52b452, my hiking blog, back on 4/12/2010. I’ve updated links, and provided a new recommendation for a restaurant, but essentially, the views below reflect our visit just over 10 years ago. I hope you enjoy!
It’s funny to think that back then I felt like I was starting to sound like an old lady. Have I gotten worse in 10 years? Maybe not. Maybe that cranky voice was just the result of our being overwhelmed by our situation. I hope so!
You Take the Low Road, We’ll Take the High Road
We headed out to Worcester and the Swedish Cemetery (aka All Faith’s Cemetery) for Beth’s father’s 80th birthday. The day was beautiful and as we’ve said before, we’ve dedicated this blog and our travels to Ed and his statement to us to get out and do things because you don’t know how much time you have left. So after leaving rose petals, tulips and roses on the gravesites, we traveled a bit south of Worcester to check out Purgatory Chasm State Reservation in Sutton, MA.
A wonderful spot for a day of picnicking and getting outside
This park really is just a hop and a skip from Worcester, and the crowd at the park attests to the fact that it’s a very quick trip to a great place for a bbq, a picnic, and a spot for the kids to run around. BUT the main feature of this park, the chasm, isn’t one you’d want little kids to play around on their own. When we arrived we were surprised by how many people were there. The parking lots are large and we did find a space, and an open picnic table (plenty of those as well) for Lillian to sit at while we explored the area.
- Tucker’s Rating – 2 wags. Way too rocky for his short legs, but if you’ve got a dog who likes to climb, this’d be the park!
- Our Rating – 3 wags (and that’s being generous)
- Accessibility – Not really. While the Visitor’s Center has a ramp, and the trails near the playground are easy to maneuver, Purgatory Chasm is about the chasm, and THAT isn’t accessible at all. Not even for us since we weren’t wearing real hiking boots and it’s made up of all sizes of boulders.
- Fees – When we went 10 years ago it was free, but now it’s $5 for MA residents, and $20 for non-residents for a parking pass.
- Pet Friendly – Yes, on leash
- Other Activities – Top roping (by permit only, year round except Sundays)
Another Citified Park
This park is definitely a favorite with families, couples, and college students. They were everywhere, as was the smell of BBQ lighter fluid, the sound of college students singing obscenity-laden drinking songs, and little children running everywhere! We could tell this was one of the first truly warm and sunny days after a very rainy and raw winter. Everyone seemed to be there, soaking up the sunshine, enjoying the warm breezes and checking the fit on their summer shorts and tank tops. We stopped at the visitor’s center but they haven’t really stocked the brochure or map racks yet (although they did have very faint copies of the trail maps available). To be safe, get yours here. In the center of the room is a case with various displays of nests, eggs, plaster footprint castings, and lots of bugs (on display, not running around the building!), with a guide indicating that all can be found in and around the park. This was a nice addition, but no one seemed interested in looking. Today was all about the picnic!
WARNING: The restrooms were NOT clean. That’s all we’re saying on that account. Hopefully in the summer when they have a full staff (there was a ranger on site involved in cleaning outside) they are better able to keep up with the crowds. I’d just suggest checking before you decide to use it.
When is a Path Not a Path?
When it’s covered with boulders the size of a VW Bug!!!! Beth and I crossed the street from the visitor’s center to find the picnic pavillion (packed with people and with an ice cream truck parked in front!) and lots of bbq grills ringing a parking lot filled with cars… Kind of reminded me of muscle car night at the local Dairy Queen…
The chasm at last!
…but shortly we saw the sign to the chasm. We took one look at the path down to the bottom and decided pretty quickly that today wasn’t the day for this hike. Who knew? I had on my hiking sneakers and Beth had on rubber soled comfort mocs… usually perfectly fine for most of our hikes, but the gravel, stone, rock and on up to full-fledged boulders we’d be hopping, crawling, and climbing across combined with the sheer number of people who were all scrambling across the same, had me picturing a slip and my ankle caught between two rocks with either a sprain or a break lurking just below the surface.
There’s always another option
Never fear! We decided THIS was a “high road” day… as in when you wear ankle supporting hiking boots you take the low road (read “chasm”), and when you wear lightweight walking shoes you take the high road (read “Charlie’s Loop Trail”) which takes you along the northern edge of the chasm. We had plenty of opportunities to climb up on the edge of sheer cliffs, and look down at the people scrambling through the rocks below, and hopping over and around brooks, rivulets, and tiny waterfalls. It was really pretty actually, and it would have been an enjoyable and nature-filled break from the city if it weren’t for the fact that the city had followed us to the park! We had to squeeze past small children chasing each other, excuse ourselves when we happened upon couples looking for a romantic spot alone, and tourists snapping photos of each other on the edge of the chasm… and the random small groups of college kids with their “to-go” cups, their short skirts and sandals, wandering through the woods on a surprise warm day in March. This reminded me of Walden Pond and our thought that it would be a much nicer place if it were less crowded (oh no, am I turning into a crotchety old woman so early???)
Coming back another day (did I know it’d be 10 years later?)
We’re definitely coming back to this park but no doubt off-season. Maybe in the fall, although mostly we saw oak trees so not sure how much color there’d be. It would be a nice place for a cool autumn bbq, and there are plenty of open areas for Frisbee, blankets and a nice nap or a book to read, and if you’re quiet and still long enough I’m sure you’d see some of the birds showcased in the visitor’s center.
We caught plenty of good shots along our route, but the park is very monotone at this time of year (mud season), and due to the height of the trail, and the heaviness of the underbrush and the trees, it was difficult to get a photo of the chasm itself that actually shows it’s size. At some points the gorge is 60 feet wide, with some walls rising to 70 feet (wouldn’t want to fall from THERE!) and there are also small caves and channels with water running through (although that may be more the result of all the rain we’ve had lately). It also appears to be a good place for beginner level rock climbing since you’ve got some sheer rock faces, but height is manageable.
Kids and Rock Climbing
This park is recommended in the Best Hikes with Children series however 10 years later, the book is still available, but the review is not. Still I won’t forget the quote I found in their book on this reservation. To quote, “Families with small children may need a good deal of time and effort to get from one end of the gorge to the other, but you will enjoy every minute. You will no doubt meet a number of folks following the same trail but somehow, on this adventure, it doesn’t matter. In fact, it’s fun to trade incredulous comments with other, equally awestruck people.” I did find a similar recommendation in TripAdvisor. But we’re thinking if your kids aren’t the rough and tumble type, or don’t have on rugged clothing and good shoes, you may want to pick one of the other parks we’ve recommended. I know I’d have a heart attack keeping kids away from the edges of the chasm, and every excitement filled shriek would sound to me like someone had fallen and broken a leg! Maybe I AM turning into an old lady!
This park also has a Healthy Heart Trail which in length is definitely healthy and do-able, but in difficulty, we’d judge this one to be more “medium” than “easy”. And there are websites that list this park as a good destination for top roping. This requires a permit from the park’s visitor’s center. See the link above. Permits are free, and are good for a full year but no climbing is allowed on Sundays.
What Else is in the Area?
Colleges! Worcester is home to College of the Holy Cross, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Anna Maria College, Clark University (Beth’s Dad’s alma mater), Assumption College, Worcester State College, and UMass. No wonder we found some guides that stated this was primarily a picnic site for urbanites and suburbanites. That’s definitely what we felt, and while it is a beautiful space, it’s just plain not our idea of a place to enjoy nature’s beauty, except perhaps in the true off-season when most people are home staying warm and dry.
A sad goodbye to our favorite bakery
Sadly – We discovered that this recommended bakery has gone out of business. It had been sold to new owners in 2017 after having been in business for years, but I did want to include our description in homage to our regular go-to spot for Christmas breads, delicious coffee, big wheels of cheese and potato sausage as well as more swedish butter cookies and princess cakes than you could ever eat! We’ll miss you Crown Bakery.
We do have a recommendation for a great place to grab a cup of coffee and something sweet though, the Crown Bakery an authentic Swedish bakery that also sells yummy sandwiches and soup. If you go near a holiday, don’t be surprised to find the place filled with people standing in line to buy their marzipan and fruit cakes, fruit pies, irish soda bread, cookies, and more! We always get the twisted rolls with saffron and cinammon! So make sure to stop on your way out to the park so you’ve have some energy for the climb!
While we haven’t tried it, I know that at some point this month we are heading out to the Swedish Cemetery and to visit family and we will be checking out this recommended bakery in Worcester. If you know it, let me know what you think. Is it as good as Crown? The European Bakery, 29 Millbury St., Worcester, MA
But now for a recipe that you can make ahead to take on a hike at Purgatory Chasm, or any day you need a boost of energy and a quick breakfast that will stick with you right through to lunch time!
Healthy Nutty Breakfast Bars
- 1 1/2 cups quick cook oats
- 1/4 cup hemp hearts
- 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
- 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
- 1/4 cup white corn meal
- 1/4 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
- 3 TB protein powder (optional)
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 ripe bananas, mashed
- 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
- 1/2 cup peanut butter (chunky or smooth, your choice)
- 2 TB honey
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- Grease an 8″ x 8″ square pan
- mix dry ingredients together in a small bowl
- mash bananas and mix together with applesauce, honey and 1/4 cup peanut butter
- Combine both bowls of ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon until well blended. The mixture should be moist but not runny.
- Spread evenly in the pan
- Bake for 20 – 25 minutes until just browned on the edges
- Remove from oven and spread 1/4 cup peanut butter across the top with a flexible spatula (careful not to scrape up the mixture)
- Bake for an additional 10 minutes then remove from oven and cool.
- Once cool to the touch, cover with aluminum foil and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.
- Once completely chilled, you can cut into bars and wrap individually in an airtight container. Keep refrigerated.
Other optional additions:
- mini chocolate chips
- chopped walnuts or almonds
- raisins, craisins or chopped dried fruit
As with my other past blog posts, this one is dedicated to our traveling companions (my mother, Lillian, and our ready to rumble corgi, Tucker) from back then, and Beth’s Dad, Ed. We hope he sees that we are continuing to take advantage of the time we have to get out and explore the world (even during lockdown!)