Overview: A pleasant, well shaded waterfall with a secluded feeling. Location: Royalston, MA Height : 50 feet total (estimate) in two separated drops. Finding : Trail a bit confusing to follow. Access : Requires about 1 mile of hiking. Moderate terrain. Some scrambling required. Swimming: No. Basking : Not much sun. Heavily forested. Legal : Public access.
From the center of Royalston
Follow route 68 west out of town for about 0.6 miles. On the left you will see a small sign for the Jacob Hill Reservation, a property owned by The Trustees of Reservations. There is a small turnout there with space for two or three cars. Some additional cars can park along the road.
At the back of the turnout a yellow blazed trail leads to the falls. It is consistently marked, but the marking is not always obvious. The trail is not heavily travelled and in places it is a bit obscure. About half way to the falls another yellow blazed trail forks to the right. If you are not alert you might miss this fork and end up following the wrong trail. Take the left hand fork to the falls. The right hand fork climbs to the ridge where it joins another trail. Along the ridge to the right (uphill) the trail leads to a nice overlook with a beautiful view of Long Pond and Tully River. Along the ridge to the left (downhill) the trail leads to the falls and loops back to become the left hand fork.
The direct route to the falls keeps more or less level and soon begins to border alongside a marsh. This marsh is part of Little Pond, a spring-fed body of water that is the headwaters for Spirit Falls. The trail then comes to a stream flowing out of the marsh and it turns to follow that stream downhill. After a few yards, the trail makes an abrupt right hand turn to follow the ridge uphill toward the overlook I mentioned above. You should leave the trail at this point and continue following the stream downhill. There is an informal, unmarked trail that you can follow. In a short distance you will come to the upper part of Spirit Falls. A little ways beyond that you will come to the larger, lower part of the falls.
Spirit Falls is a waterfall surrounded by forest. Tall trees grow up on either side of the small stream that flows over the waterfall making the spot very well shaded. Little Pond, the source of the stream, is a swampy body of water without an inlet. The water in the stream flowing out of it is stained brown by the tannic acid liberated by all the decaying vegetation in the swamp. To be honest, I find the color a bit disconcerting. Although it is not due to human pollution, most New England waterfalls have crystal clear streams flowing over them. The brownish water flowing over these falls took some getting used to.
The upper falls are only a few yards below the bend in the trail that I mentioned in the directions. They are about ten feet high and flow over a large, mostly flat outcropping of rock in a single drop. It is a nice waterfall, although not very remarkable.
The lower falls are the main event. They are located about 30 yards or so below the upper falls. To get the best view, however, you should plan to scramble down the steep hillside to the bottom of the cascade. Don't try this scramble unless you have some experience with hiking on rough, steep terrain. The ground is wet and slippery in spots, and it would be easy to have an accident there.
The stream spills over several rock steps and then flows among some rocks and boulders at the bottom of the falls before collecting itself together again. There are some nice places at the bottom of the falls where you can stand on the rocks and get a really good view of the water as it splashes downwards. I imagine that these falls are quite spectacular in the spring although climbing down to the bottom of them would probably be rather treacherous at that time as well.
Spirit Falls is a nice waterfall located in the woods. If you are in Royalston looking at waterfalls (such as Royalston Falls or Doane's Falls), don't forget to check this one out as well. However, my guess is that during low water season these falls might be nearly dry.
Peter Adams, a reader of this web site, visited these falls and sent me an email message with some more information. I quote him below.
I think the trails at the park have been recently reblazed, as it was very easy to follow the trail. We didn't have a map, so we didn't know about the overlook on the right before the falls. Too bad we didn't know about your site beforehand! Another apparent change is that the trail now continues past the falls all the way down to the reservoir on the Tully River. That was a welcome surprise and respite from the heat and mosquitoes! Once at the bottom, though, we couldn't figure out anything to do but trudge back the way we came. The path at the bottom (yellow and orange blazes for hikers and bikes) didn't seem to lead us in a useful direction, though perhaps one would eventually have led us up the ridge.
Today my friend John and I visited these falls. We didn't take the most direct route to them because we weren't quite sure where we were going. We ended up visiting the overlook first. However, it was a worthwhile stop. The sky was clear today (although it was also a bit warm) and the view was great. When we finally found the falls, we spent quite a bit of time scrambling around them and taking pictures. I took several pictures, but I had to go to 1/4 second exposures to get enough light (ASA 200 and ASA 100 film). That should give you some idea of what the spot is like. I'm glad I thought to bring my tripod.
There were plenty of bugs around today. Although strangely there were not very many near the falls. Perhaps I just didn't notice them.
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