Hiking: Wachusett Mountain Via Bolton Pond, Semuhenna and Old Indian Trails | Princeton, Massachusetts
The Wachusett Mountain State Reservation contains about 3,000 acres of protected land, including the summit of the mountain, along with about 17 miles of hiking trails. The Wachusett Ski Area is also located on the mountain and there is an automobile road to the top for those who wish to drive instead of hike the mountain.
Getting to Wachusett Mountain
Access to the Wachusett Mountain State Reservation is mostly from Mountain Road, located in Princeton, Massachusetts. The road runs along the base of Wachusett Mountain and provides access to a number of trails, the automobile road to the summit and the ski area. There is also a visitor center located at 345 Mountain Road to introduce visitors to the area. Fees are required during the summer season to access the auto road.
Wachusett Mountain Trails
With 17 miles of trails, you can find several different ways to climb to the summit of Wachusett Mountain from a number of different starting points Our trip began in the north at the Bolton Pond Trailhead, but there are at least five other trailheads you could begin at.
Trails are generally well maintained and easy to follow, though compared to other locations there is little signage and the trail makers are not always easy to follow. We were turned around at one trail junction because of a lack of signage and clear trail markers that we didn't realize until we had been walking for several minutes on the wrong trail.
The park publishes a simple brochure and map for the area that all hikers should have. It provides trail descriptions, park information and the map provides enough detail for average hikers to enjoy the area. Hiking without a map while never advisable, would be a big mistake here due to the lack of clear trail signage on the trails.
Wachusett Mountain trails are described in the Appalachian Mountain Club's Massachusetts Trail Guide guidebook. This book makes a good reference and guide to the area's many hiking opportunities.
Wachusett Mountain via Bolton Pond, Balance Rock, Semuhenna, Harrington and Old Indian Trails
As you can tell from the list of trails above, in order to do a loop on Wachusett Mountain, you will likely be hiking on several different trails. We began our hike at the Bolton Pond Trailhead, which is located at the north side of the reservation and is off of Bolton Road. The trail begins on the south side of Bolton Road and begins by climbing steadily upward to Bolton Pond. Bolton Pond is reached at about 0.3 miles and the trail turns to the left (sharply) before reaching the pond's edge. Be sure to watch for the trail markers and the small sign, otherwise you may end up descending on another unofficial trail that leaves from the same area. Bolton Pond is a small pond that offers some wildlife viewing and a nice spot for a picnic, especially on the northern shore, which is less wet and offers some open areas for relaxing.
From Bolton Rock, the trail continues climbing at a reasonable pace another 0.3 miles to Balance Rock. This large balanced rock is left from the times when glaciers covered this area. At this point, the Bolton Pond Trail ends and you now follow the Balance Rock Trail a short distance to Balance Rock Road (a non-public, dirt roadway used by the park). There the Balance Rock Road ends and you are now on the co-located Old Indian Trail and the Semuhenna Trail.
From the second crossing of the auto road to the Semuhenna Trail's end at its intersection with the Harrington Trail, the hike is almost level as you follow a shelf on Wachusett Mountain. To your right the mountain slopes down and to your left there are increasingly large rock formations as the mountain slopes steeply up to the summit.
You'll reach the end of the Semuhenna Trail at about 1.8 miles from your start. Here you head up Wachusett Mountain on the Harrinton Trail. The Trail begins to climb very steeply almost immedietely, climbing through and over several boulders and very rocky areas. The steepness of the Harrington Trail moderates signficantly as you cross the auto road and make the short climb to the actual summit of Wachusett Mountain.
There is a small visitor center, parking area for the auto road and observation platform at the summit of Wachusett Mountain. We found it to be a great place to have lunch. On a clear day you can see from Boston to the mountains of New Hampshire.
From the summit, we followed the Old Indian Trail northward, slowly descending off the broad summit of Wachusett and then descendign more steeply just before you cross the auto road. Following the auto road crossing, the trail crosses several of the ski area's ski slopes. The trail can be difficult to follow in this area and we ended up having to walk up and down the ski slopes in a few places to figure out where the trail re-entered the woods to ensure we were on the right path.
Once back in the woods, the trail continues descedning and comes to the trail junction with teh Semuhenna Trail. Follow the co-located trails down the mountain to Balance Rock Road and then follow the Balance Rock Trail to Balance Rock. There take the Bolton Pond Trail to return to your vehicle at the Bolton Pond Trailhead.
All in all this loop offers about 4.5 miles of hiking in a loop with very little backtracking on trails that you have already hiked. We found it to be a really enjoyable way to spend about half the day and the summit of Wachusett made for a great place to enjoy our sandwiches and have lunch.
For more Information on Hikes and Walks in Eastern Massachusetts and the Boston Region
For more hiking and walking options in Massachusetts and the Boston region, the Appalachian Mountain Club publishes a Trail Guide for Trails in Massachusetts and a Trail Guide for the 60 Best Hikes Near Boston.