Purgatory Chasm- Family Bouldering in Massachusetts

What is Purgatory Chasm? And Where is It?

One of our favorite places to hike is Purgatory Chasm in Sutton, Massachusetts. It is in southern Massachusetts, right above Rhode Island. The chasm is located right off of route 146 and is clearly marked. If you are looking for a moderate family hike in Massachusetts, this is a perfect choice!

It was formed in the last ice age when glacier meltwater from an ice dam burst ripping up a path in the slab. The result is a gully, at places 75 feet deep littered with large boulders and flat rock faces. It is not only beautiful but a fabulous place for bigger kids and adults to climb over rocks and have an adventurous hike.

Family bouldering in Massachusetts. moderate hikes for families in Massachusetts
This is the entrance to the gully. My kids love scrambling over the rocks. As you can see it may be too confusing or scary for very small kids.

There is parking right next to the ranger’s station, where there are also bathrooms and picnic tables. In season there is a parking fee, so come with some cash. There is also an ice cream truck at the trailhead.

In the station, there is an educational exhibit with free seminars on the weekends and in the summer. The ranger does guided tours of the chasm on those days. There are many other trails beyond the quarter-mile-long main chasm.

family bouldering massachusetts
Fat Man’s Misery

What are the Trails like, and Is It Appropriate for all Ages?

My boys love bouldering, so we always spend most of our time exploring the caves and climbing up the side of the chasm. We began coming here when my youngest was five. He needed help over the very steep parts. Now my boys are even climbing through Fat Man’s Misery and up cliffs. With permits, people rock climb up Lover’s Leap. This would not be a good place to hike if it is raining at all. It is closed in the winter due to ice. The area is uniquely beautiful in fall and spring. It is not safe for really small kids or strollers.

The park can get very busy in the summer and on the weekends. Most of the people concentrate in the gorge. Luckily, there are many other beautiful trails to explore at Purgatory Chasm.

At the end of the gorge, the trail splits into three flat hikes. Some paths follow the gorge from the top that are worth exploring. Here is a link to the trail map.

How Long Should I Expect to Spend at Purgatory Chasm?

Most people spend only about an hour here, but you could easily spend half a day exploring.

family bouldering Massachusetts
Being silly in Fat Man’s Misery

Myths about Purgatory Chasm

There have been songs and poems written about this geological wonder and legends trying to convert Native Americans to Christianity. There is a story that a Native American woman murdered a white settler, and the devil was so mad that he threw a little devil fit, producing all the breaks in the rocks and the canyon.

If you would like to read these legends yourself in more detail, check out this article.  There are also many legends about Lover’s Leap that have disseminated to similar rock formations across the US. The gist of these is that two people fall in love much to the opposition of their society. Eventually, they plunge themselves over the edge of the cliff so they can be together in the afterlife — a bit of Romeo and Juliet in the wilderness.

Traveling on road trips through the western United States through my childhood, my father made up an epic story to explain the Falling Rock signs, which were a significant part of our family trips. If you run into any of the very helpful park rangers, they will tell you the Lover’s Leap story.

family bouldering massachusetts
Hiking the gorge rim
After our hike we always stop for ice cream at West End Creamery, where there is also miniature golf, a corn maze, and a lake.  This is also a place we plan to come back to for their fall festival. Check out 19 of  New England’s Best Fall Activities for more ideas.
For more great New England hikes, visit our Top 10 New England Family Hikes.

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