Massachusetts has been inhabited by humans for more than 3000 years, however, the first European explorers to set foot in the state arrived in the 11th century. When John Cabot came in the late 1400s, England officially laid claim to the land. Centuries later, more European settlers arrived in the form of the Pilgrims, a group of people seeking religious freedom. The colony was granted a royal charter in 1629 and the settlers were able to begin governing their area.
The name Massachusetts comes from the Massachuset tribe, who were part of a treaty of peace between the European colonists and themselves in 1620. The word is roughly translated to mean ‘at or about the Great Hill’ or ‘great mountain place’. Despite being settled so early in the history of the United States, Massachusetts was the sixth state to join the Union in 1788. However, the state was the first to introduce a constitution, which became the foundations of the US Constitution still used today.
Boston, the capital of the state, has been its capital since the state was founded and is the largest city in New England. Massachusetts is known for many famous faces, including Steve Carell and President John F. Kennedy, however, one of the states most important figures was a woman from the Revolutionary War. Deborah Samson is the state’s heroine. Samson disguised herself as a man to fight during the war and was heralded as a heroine for bravery and determination.
Massachusetts is also a state filled with historical firsts, including the first Thanksgiving held in Plymouth in 1621 and the first American public secondary school in Boston in 1635. It’s also home to America’s first university, the world-renowned Harvard, built in 1636.
There are also many important natural areas within the state. Appropriately, the state’s flower is the Mayflower, recalling the famous ship that transported the Pilgrims across the Atlantic. Being a harbour state, Massachusetts is famed for its seafood. Cod, the states fish, is particularly popular, as are lobsters that have been enjoyed in the state since the Pilgrims arrived. The state of Massachusetts is an incredible place to visit. Here are 20 natural and historical landmarks in Massachusetts to get you started.
Also read: 20 Things To Do In Boston At Night
- Massachusetts Landmarks
- Natural Landmarks in Massachusetts
- Historical Landmarks in Massachusetts
- 8- Plymouth Rock
- 9- Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House
- 10- Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art
- 11- Hancock Shaker Village Museum
- 12- Nauset Lighthouse
- 13- Veterans War Memorial Tower
- 14- The Mount
- 15- Minute Man National Historical Park
- 16- Naumkeag
- 17- The Witch House
- 18- Plimoth Plantation
- 19- The House of Seven Gables
- 20- Bearskin Neck
Natural Landmarks in Massachusetts
1- Chesterfield Gorge
Chesterfield Gorge is one of the most breathtaking sights in Massachusetts.
The gorge was carved into the bedrock after torrents of glacial meltwater surged through the valley.
Despite its creation millions of years ago, the gorge is still being continually shaped and altered by the waters of the Westfield River.
The gorge’s walls are incredibly steep and reach 30ft (9m) in height, which draws many free climbers to the area.
Such steep walls create a dramatic landscape, with the rock reflected in the water and the cliffs above surrounded by thick pine and hemlock forests.
The gorge is also a haven for the local wildlife, with bears and bobcats roaming freely.
Chesterfield Gorge is at West Chesterfield, MA 01084.
2- Monument Mountain
Monument Mountain is a must-visit natural landmark in Massachusetts.
The mountain peak sits at 1642ft (500m) above sea level and offers spectacular views across the Housatonic River Valley below.
The mountain’s beauty was so powerful that many notable literary figures of the 19th century flocked to its grassy banks to use the mountain for inspiration.
One of the most famous visits was documented on 5th August 1850.
Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville picnicked on the mountain, but the duo sought refuge in a cave when a thunderstorm dampened their trip.
It was here that the two engaged in a deep discussion that sparked Melville’s imagination.
Following the trip, he went on to write Moby-Dick, which he dedicated to his companion Hawthorne.
Monument Mountain is at Stockbridge, MA 01230.
3- Mohawk Trail
Now a famous hiking trail through Massachusetts, the Mohawk Trail was originally a trek made by Native Americans seeking to trade with other tribes in what is now Upstate New York.
The trail covers 63 miles (101 kilometres) of unparalleled beauty and challenge.
The trail passes through 50,000 acres of state parks and forest, and today is dotted with family-friendly campsites.
In 1914 the trail was officially opened as a tourist attraction and is now a popular place for weekends away or day hikes.
There are several activities including outdoor adventure activities and water sports.
Mohawk Trail stretches from the Massachusetts and New York state lines to Millers Falls on the Connecticut River.
4- Cape Cod National Seashore
Cape Cod National Seashore has long been a symbol of Massachusetts and has been written about by many famous Americans.
Henry David Thoreau described the area as such; “A man may stand there and put all America behind him.
This poignant statement, made in the 1800s, is still powerful today, as the area offers a moment of quiet reflection away from the country’s vastness.
The seashore covers 40 miles (64 kilometres) of pristine white sand beaches, marshland and ponds.
It supports numerous species of both animals and fish, as well as varied plant life.
Cape Cod National Seashore is at 99 Marconi Site Rd, MA 02667-8142
5- Glacial Potholes
One of the more visually unique natural landmarks in Massachusetts is Glacial Potholes.
The potholes are found in the bed of the Deerfield River.
Created by the vast power of glaciers, rocks, and ice, these unique potholes are one of the world’s largest collections of naturally formed potholes.
The pools are formed from granite and were created when powerful whirlpools of water spun smaller rocks into the riverbed.
These whirlpools still move today, particularly when the snow and ice melt around the smaller potholes.
Glacial Potholes, Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, 01370.
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6- Purgatory Chasm
Purgatory Chasm is a unique rock formation that, like other natural wonders within the state of Massachusetts, have inspired writers and artists with their raw and powerful beauty.
The chasm was declared part of the state reservation in 1919, however, it is not its protected status nor its raw beauty of granite jutting out into green surroundings that draw visitors year on year.
Legend has it that an Algonquin Indian woman killed a white colonial settler and, when fleeing the scene, she ran into another settler who asked her to go on a walk.
The woman was fearful of the settler and tried to run, but he grabbed her by the wrist.
In fright, and scared for her life, the woman called out to Hobomoko, the Native American god, for help and protection.
The god appeared before them and grabbed the settler before flying him off to Purgatory Chasm.
The resulting rock formation is believed to be where Hobomoko threw his captive down and sliced the rocks with his tomahawk.
Purgatory Chasm is at 198 Purgatory Rd, Sutton, MA 01590.
7- Walden Pond
The setting of Thoreau’s book ‘Walden’ is Walden Pond.
The pond is a deep, crystal-clear lake that draws approximately 600,000 visitors every year.
The pond is a magnet for hikers and a pleasant spot for swimming, fishing and canoeing.
When visiting the pond, be sure to hike to the sight of Thoreau’s house, where he lived when writing Walden.
A replica of this cabin has been built within the trees for visitors to explore.
Walden Pond is at Concord, MA 01742.
Historical Landmarks in Massachusetts
8- Plymouth Rock
Perhaps the most famous natural landmark in Massachusetts is Plymouth Rock.
This unassuming stone with ‘1620’ carved into it, remembers the year the Pilgrims reached the New World aboard the Mayflower.
The rock was placed where the boat landed and the Pilgrims disembarked before creating the Plymouth Colony.
Despite this cultural and historical significance being named Plymouth Rock, the earliest mention of this name came nearly 100 years after the Pilgrims arrived in the area.
The rock was infamously cracked in 1744 when the townsfolk attempted to move the stone to the square.
The two halves of the rock remained separate until 1880 when they were rejoined, and the date ‘1620’ was carved.
Plymouth Rock is 79 Water St, Plymouth, MA 02360.
9- Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House
The author of ‘Little Women’, Louisa May Alcott, is one of America’s most famous female writers.
The Orchard House is the setting for Alcott’s famed book and is where the author penned her bestseller. However, the home has a history stretching back for more than 200 years before Alcott put pen to paper.
It’s open to the public and serves as a preserved moment in American history.
Special events at the house are linked to the author and what life was like when she was growing up.
Approximately 80% of the furniture within the home is original and belongs to the Alcott family.
Look out for the shelf desk that Alcott’s father built for her to write her novel.
Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House is at 399 Lexington Rd, Concord, MA 01740-3712.
10- Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art
Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, or MASS MoCA, is a cultural hub in the centre of North Adams.
The gallery exhibits work from both well-known artists and emerging talents.
MASS MoCA focuses on installations that offer immersive experiences, which is aided by its sprawling 25,000 square acres of open space.
It also hosts more traditional, hanging works of art and sculpture and shows films, theatre productions, and dance.
The gallery is driven by creative works that are ‘fresh, forward-looking, and engaging of the mind, body and spirit’.
This ethos is clear in the museum’s layout and the artworks they display.
MASS MoCA is at 1040 MASS MoCA Way, North Adams, MA 01247.
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11- Hancock Shaker Village Museum
Hancock Shaker Village Museum is a living museum, preserving the former Shaker commune that existed in the area.
Hancock was founded in the late 1780s and was an active Shaker community until 1950.
The original circular stone barn built in 1826 became a tourism destination as many flocked to see this unusual structure.
Famous visitors to the barn included Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne.
The village contains 20 buildings, all built in the traditional Shaker style.
Within the buildings are exquisite examples of Shaker craft furniture, and demonstrations to keen-eyed visitors on the craft take place regularly.
Hancock Shaker Village Museum is at W. Housatonic Street, Pittsfield.
12- Nauset Lighthouse
Nauset Lighthouse was built in 1877 and began its life as a tower before being moved to its coastal location to replace three small wooden lighthouses.
The lighthouse was completely white until a repaint in the 1940s gave it its signature red top half.
The clifftop location of the lighthouse meant that by the 1990s it came 50 feet (15m) from toppling over the edge due to coastal erosion.
As a result, Nauset Lighthouse was briefly decommissioned, but a locals’ petition saw it relocated and reinstated at a more secure location on the clifftop.
Nauset Lighthouse is at120 Nauset Light Beach Rd, Eastham, MA 02642.
13- Veterans War Memorial Tower
Veterans War Memorial Tower is a monument that sits atop Massachusetts’ highest peak, Mount Greylock.
The tower is a beacon that stands out and can be seen from afar. When it was first built, many locals mistook the memorial for a lighthouse on top of the mountain.
The tower was completed in 1932 and was topped with a beacon that would light up the sky in remembrance.
Sadly over the following decades, the tower would become condemned and was completely rebuilt. As a result, the light is the only original part of the tower left.
Veterans War Memorial Tower is at Mount Greylock State Reservation, Adams, MA 01220.
14- The Mount
Edith Wharton, Ogden Codman Jr and Francis L.V. Hoppin designed the Mount as a home and literary escape for Wharton.
The home’s design is based on Belton House, a 17th-century English country home in Lincolnshire.
The house features a large terrace designed in Italian style.
Inside the home, each room is decorated and influenced by classic French and stately Italian homes.
The design focuses on functionality and symmetry.
Edith Wharton’s love of books is evident throughout the home, with her extensive personal collection on display.
The Mount is at 2 Plunkett St, Lenox, MA 01240.
15- Minute Man National Historical Park
Minute Man National Historical Park brings to life the Revolutionary War for modern-day visitors.
When entering the park, visitors can explore the battlefields and replica structures that resemble what life was like in the 1770s.
The park celebrates and remembers the first battle of the Revolutionary War, which took place on 19th April 1775.
Head to North Bridge, where the militia fired back at British troops for the first time, or trek along the Battle Road Trail.
The trail covers five miles (8km) between Lexington and Concord and is where the British and militia battled.
This is also the site where Paul Revere was captured on his now-famous midnight ride.
Minute Man National Historical Park is at 250 N Great Rd, Lincoln, MA 01773.
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Naumkeag is a 44-room former home of Joseph Choate, a New York attorney and US Ambassador to Great Briton.
Architecture firm McKim, Mead and White designed the home as a summer retreat for Choate and his family in 1884.
The home is exquisitely furnished and decorated, however, it is the gardens that are the biggest draw.
Fletcher Steele, a landscape architect, and Mabel Choate, designed the gardens.
Be sure to stop by the Blue Steps, a cascading series of stepped fountain pools tiled in brilliant blues.
Naumkeag is at 5 Prospect Hill Rd, Stockbridge, MA 01262.
17- The Witch House
It is nearly impossible to think of Salem without recalling the infamous Salem Witch Trials.
The Witch House is a historical home and now museum which reflects on this harrowing history.
The home belonged to Jonathan Corbin, a judge who presided over many witch trials in the late 1600s.
The home is the only structure in Salem which dates from the trials and is open to the public.
The Salem Witch trials was a horrific event that began in 1692 and would see 19 people from the colony hanged.
The home aims to share how these accusations and eventual deaths began and how the crisis ended before more lives were needlessly lost.
The Witch House is at 310 Essex St, Salem, MA 01970.
18- Plimoth Plantation
Plimoth Patuxet, formerly known as Plimoth Plantation, is a living history museum.
The museum aims to educate visitors on colonial life at the time of the Pilgrims.
The buildings on the land are all timber-framed and filled with reproduced versions of the furniture and other belongings that the Pilgrims would have had.
Surrounding the buildings is farmland and gardens filled with livestock, vegetable patches and smaller kitchen gardens.
The grounds are dotted with people dressed in traditional clothing from the 1600s carrying out traditional daily tasks.
These guides share their stories with the visitors to open a window into what life was like in the American colonies.
Plimoth Plantation is at 137 Warren Ave, Plymouth, MA 02360.
19- The House of Seven Gables
John Turner, a merchant and shipowner, built the House of Seven Gables in 1668.
This harbour house became famous when it became the setting of a book of the same name, written by Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1851.
The home is Jacobean and Georgian in style, thanks to additions made to the building by Turner’s son.
This beautiful harbour-side home was restored in 1910 and opened to the public as a museum.
Tours of both the home and grounds are available.
The House of Seven Gables is at 115 Derby St, Salem, MA 01970.
20- Bearskin Neck
Many places with unusual names have similarly unique stories behind them. Bearskin Neck in Rockport is no different.
This quaint area of Rockport gets its name from a tragic tale dating back to the 1700s.
A bear fishing in the harbour was caught in the tide and was tragically killed. Yet, despite this grizzly history, Bearskin Neck is a must-visit location in Massachusetts.
The area is a colourful and charming location packed with independent shops, galleries and cafes in an old-world setting.
Make sure to visit one of Bearskin Neck’s many seafood restaurants. A must when by the coast!
Bearskin Neck is at Rockport, MA 01966.
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