Third time is a charm…. Our first attempt to visit Doane’s Falls in Royalston, MA was a complete failure. The February weather had turned to the path to ice alongside the trail to the three waterfalls of this beautiful Trustees of Reservations property. Our second try was in the early days of the pandemic, and the parking area at the corner of Athol Road and Doane Hill Road in Royalston was stuffed full of cars. Visitors seeking the safety of the outdoors had squeezed themselves into the relatively narrow corridor next to the river. Too crowded for us! But a recent trip to Royalston provided all the conditions we were hoping for. A cool but not cold day, lots of shade (until the leaves fall), very few other visitors, and no ice!
The intial approach to the highest waterfall is relatively easy walking, but my hiking poles still got a workout.
The path alongside the middle waterfall presented some serious challenges and required that I get constant support to navigate both the rocks on the trail and the extreme slopes that had been created from years of the river rushing through this beautiful gorge.
To reach the bottom most waterfall, in contrast, required only a simple walk along an access route, with the caveat that you park at the bottom of the hill on Doane Hill below the main parking area. A wide, mostly level but uphill gravelled path provides an Easy Walk for visitors to within sight of this waterfall at the bottom of the gorge.
The sign to the level area that offers great views indicates handicapped access, but I would caution those who use wheelchairs that this is somewhat misleading. The bench in this area gave my weary feet a rest after we had descended the entire trail from the top trailhead. The open area surrounding the bench has some roots, so care is needed to avoid tripping.
Property boundaries are always a challenge in developing trail systems, and this area is no exception. The Trustees and the Army Corps of Engineers have shared jurisdiction of the area (which is beyond the scope of this article to explain the details), and worked together to bring in equipment to make this handicapped friendly trail to the lowest waterfall.
We were so appreciative of this easier access that after we walked on the road back to our car at the top of the hill, (avoiding the return trip through the boulder filled trail), we drove back to the lower parking area then walked to the lower waterfall and enjoyed our picnic lunch on the bench we now knew was waiting for us.
When leaves start falling this will be a more treacherous trail since the multiple rocks and roots on the path maybe hidden from sight. Winter may offer extremely icy condiitons so that may not be a good time to plan a visit. Regardless of the weather, this property is worth the visit. If we had known of the lower path and parking area when we first visited, we would have tried using it.
A tributary of the Miller’s River, Lawrence Brook, creates these beautiful falls and empties out eventually into Tully Lake, an Army Corps of Engineers property. We made a brief stop at the dammed river to see what was available and found picnic tables, a playground, and a boat ramp. The water seemed quite low on our visit since the summer had been so dry. We visited before the fall rains had begun, so the water levels may be at a more normal level as I write.
We made an additional side trip to Jacob’s Hill, another Trustees property also in Royalston. By that time I was worn out, but those with more nimble feet headed down the relatively short (rough) trail and got some beautiful overlook vistas and views of Spirit Falls.
A little off the beaten track for many of us, this area is worth visiting. The Trustees has multiple other properties quite nearby. Perhaps you’ll want to take an entire weekend to explore. Happy trails!
Marjorie Turner Hollman is a writer who loves the outdoors, and is the author of Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, More Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, Easy Walks and Paddles in the Ten Mile River Watershed, and Finding Easy Walks Wherever You Are. Her memoir, the backstory of Easy Walks, is My Liturgy of Easy Walks, Finding the Sacred in Everyday (and some very strange) Places.
She has written for numerous local, regional, and national publications over the past 20+ years, has helped many families save their stories, and has recorded multiple veterans oral histories, now housed at the Library of Congress.