Location: Royalston, MA Stream : Falls Brook Height : 60 feet (estimated) Finding : Straightforward Access : Requires hiking. About 1.5 miles one way. Terrain easy/moderate. Legal : Owned by the Trustees of Reservations. Public access. Swimming: No Basking : A few spots on the rocks above the falls. Overview: Dramatic waterfall in a deep gorge. Secluded.
I approached this waterfall from the south. I started in the town of Royalston and drove west on MA Rt 68. A short way out of town I turned onto Falls Road to the north. It was the first right hand turn after leaving Royalston. It was marked. I then followed Falls Road for a little over 2 miles. At that point it became an unmaintained road. The change was obvious. There was space here and there for a handful of cars to park along the first part of the unmaintained road. I parked my car and started walking.
The road would have been impassible for a normal vehicle. However, it would have been possible for a four wheel drive vehicle with high clearance to have navigated the road. The road descended to a stream crossing and then climbed the hill on the opposite side of the stream. After about a mile I came to a parking area on the left that was clearly marked as Trustees of Reservations property. It seemed strange to find even a rough parking area attached to such a rough road, but there it was: complete with a nice, neat sign. When I arrived today there was a jeep parked there. I was not alone.
From the back of the parking area I followed a yellow blazed trail through rolling woods for about 0.5 miles. Finally the trail descended toward the sound of rushing water, and I came to the falls. There were quite a few people there today practicing their rock climbing skills in the gorge cut by the stream. It was interesting to see all of their equipment and to look over the edge at the people clinging to the side of the rock face.
The Trustees of Reservations had installed a cable fence along the top of the gorge to prevent people from slipping to their doom. Normally such devices detract from the wild nature of a waterfall, but the secluded location of this falls made it seem wild enough so that it didn't matter. In fact, the extra security was welcome.
Falls Brook flowed over a single, large drop of 60 feet to splash into a round, circular pool below. The walls of the gorge were sheer. Leaning over the cable fence to look down into the pool was thrilling. A bit downstream, a block of rock jutted out over the chasm. Standing on top of that rock (thank goodness for the fence) allowed me to get a decent picture of the falls. However, from that vantage point it was impossible to see the entire drop.
I bushwacked downstream for a few yards to a place where I could scramble down to the stream. I wanted to then walk up the stream at the bottom of the gorge so that I could get a view (and a picture) of the entire falls from below. Alas, a large, deep circular pool blocked the way. Sheer rock walls and deep waters prevented me from even getting close enough to see the falls that way. Perhaps later in the year when the water is lower wading up the stream might prove fruitful.
I noticed that the circular pool that blocked my path looked very similar to the circular pool into which the falls was spilling. I realized that I was looking at an ancient pool that was once filled by the falls. In time the falls cut into the rocks, backing gradually into the hillside. Currently it's creating another pool several yards upstream, leaving the downstream pool to be just a stopping point on the water's seaward path.
Just before leaving I talked for a minute or two with some of the rock climbers. One of them commented on the ice still clinging to the west wall of the gorge. He said that last week when they had come to inspect the gorge for their practice, the entire wall had been covered with ice. "I want to learn ice climbing," he said. "If I had known what this place was like in the winter, I would have come here!" Apparently last week the water was also higher. "A roaring torrent" I was told, "the level was 10 or 15 feet higher at the bottom of the gorge." Neat.
On my way back, I encountered three more groups of people walking to the falls. Despite it's secluded location, it appeared to be a popular spot.
A very nice waterfall.
Roy Sunter emailed me the note below describing an alternative route to Royalston Falls that might be of interest to some of you. Thank you, Roy, for this information!
From the intersection of Routes 119 and 32 in Richmond, NH, take Route 32 S (towards Athol, MA). A mile or two down the road (sorry, I haven't paced it off) look for a left turn onto an unpaved road named Greenwood Road, and take it.
Greenwood Road eventually forks, and the right-hand fork will bring you to the Royalston Falls parking area. I would not attempt this road without a high-clearance 4WD vehicle.
The other thing you overlooked is that part of the Metacomet-Monadnock trail (itself a tributary of the Appalachian Trail) follows the brook upstream from the top of the falls to Greenwood Road. It's a lovely, scenic walk, through some magical places where the water runs underground, out of sight but not out of hearing; past a pool fed by another tiny waterfall; and along a pretty little gorge. It's an easy walk, not too difficult for older children. It's especially charming at the height of foliage season.
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