Grand Canyon of Massachusetts: Chesterfield Gorge

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While in Massachusetts we had to visit the “grand canyon of Massachusetts:”  Chesterfield Gorge.  Chesterfield Gorge is listed as the “grand canyon of Massachusetts” on the Massachusetts government Facebook page, and we know everything that is posted on Facebook must be the truth.

Most of Massachusetts is relatively flat with lots of bogs, rivers heading to the ocean, and wetlands everywhere.  There are hills in the western part of the state, where the Berkshires start into New York, but this is a small portion of the state.  So, in order to see the “grand canyon of Massachusetts” we headed west.

To get to Chesterfield Gorge, take exit 18, 19, or 20 off I-91 and get on MA State Route 9, the Franklin Pierce Highway.  In Williamsburg, turn west on State Route 143.  Turn south on Ireland Road, and then turn on River Road.  The parking lot and information kiosk is just off this road.  There are clear signs pointing the way at each of the intersections.  There is an admission charge of $2.50 per person.

Chesterfield Gorge is a nature preserve owned by the Trustees of Reservations, a non-profit group which preserves and cares for nearly 100 sites in Massachusetts of special beauty or value.  They maintain trails and kiosks at each of these sites.  One thing we found particularly helpful at the information kiosk was the listing of other Trustees of Reservations sites close to the one you were visiting.  So we went to Chesterfield Gorge and read about another site that looked interesting, went to that, and read about another site that looked interesting.

Chesterfield Gorge is a 70 foot gorge that has sheer rock walls that surround the East Branch of the Westfield River.  There is a half-mile trail that takes you to the beginning of the gorge, over the rim of the gorge, and to the other end.  Through the Gorge there are fences that limit access to the cliffs and river.  The East Branch flows peacefully through flat meadows before and after the gorge, so Chesterfield Gorge itself seems a bit out of place.

There are no bridges over Chesterfield Gorge and the water was too high and swift for us to wade out into the middle, so the pictures don’t really do the gorge justice.  It is a very pretty place surrounded by forest.  But it is also small and easy to miss:  Chesterfield Gorge is less than 1/4 mile long.  We had some friends with us who have lived in Massachusetts for 30 years and they had never been to Chesterfield Gorge.  They have been a lot of places in Massachusetts, and they agreed that it could be “the grand canyon of Massachusetts.”

Chesterfield Gorge runs into the Gilbert Bliss State Forest.  From the rim trail you can see a stone abutment, dating from Colonial times, that once supported a bridge and toll gate that was part of the historic post road linking Boston and Albany.  The Gilbert Bliss State Forest has additional hiking trails if you want to hike a longer trail.

Although not the “grandest” of the grand canyons, Chesterfield Gorge is a pretty spot well worth exploring if you are in western Massachusetts.  It is deserving of the “grand canyon of Massachusetts” title.

The sign at the entrance
A very helpful information kiosk
The East Branch of the Westfield enters Chesterfield Gorge
The stone abutment from Colonial times
The river flows swiftly through
From the rim trail
The cliffs are 70 feet tall
The river exits the Gorge