Purgatory Chasm State Reservation is a park and recreation area in Sutton, Massachusetts, about a twenty-five minute drive south of Worcester. It attracts picnickers, hikers and rock climbers from across the state.
The chasm is believed to have been formed by the buildup and sudden release of glacial meltwater about 14,000 years ago. At their highest point, the granite walls are about 70 feet tall.
The floor of the chasm is the most popular hike, a challenging but short quarter mile, over rocks ranging in size from very tall boulders down to loose gravel. This path is very dangerous in the winter and early spring when there could be ice on the rocks, and when the rocks are wet. It's probably a good idea to wear athletic clothing, and shoes with good rubber tread. Hikers who are looking for a more gentle walk, or think they might not be physically capable of climbing over and crouching and crawling under rocks, will want to take one of the two side trails which also cover the entire length of the chasm, but from the tops of the walls. Rock climbers holding day permits for the area may set up and climb one of the several amenable spots. The bottom of the chasm has signs pointing out rock formations of interest: lover's leap, the devil's pulpit, and the coffin.
At the end of the chasm, the trail fizzles out, but you can scramble up a small cliff through a few yards of trees to the right-hand trail, or follow the beaten path to the left-side trail. To the right, you will find a subdued wooded trail, with plenty of nice views, but seldom coming very close to the edge. At one spot, there is a rock face with a tree against it, and if you position yourself right, you can sit on the rock, with your feet against the tree, and gently sway the tree.
If you go to the left, you will pass over a stream a few times, and through a bit of woods, until you come out to more rock. You will come across the corn crib and fat man's misery, both spots where a large rock has split into two halves, leaving a narrow crevice wide enough for thin adults and most children to pass through. When in doubt, don't attempt it. It's deceivingly difficult to inch yourself out backwards if you can't fit through the center.
All these key locations are accessible to the fleet of foot, by scrambling up the side of the main chasm. Many of the walls have been colonized and broken down by trees, providing a bit of soil and roots to grab onto. It is possible to spend an entire day exploring the caves formed by fallen boulders on the chasm floor, and crawling up and down the walls.
Once you get back to the picnic area/parking area, you will find small stone fireplaces for warmth and barbecueing, a pavillion with picnic tables, a pay phone, swing set, and the occasional ice cream truck, especially on beautiful Saturdays and Sundays in open season- between late spring and early autumn. There is also a visitor's center with indoor flush toilets which is unlocked and available between dawn and dusk during open season. They have pamphlets for minigolf places and some small exhibits about minerals and local fauna.
The atmosphere of the place is very old-timey. All the signs are brown wood with white, carved-in lettering, and the bulletin board shows pictures of the chasm's 19th century dicoverers and little biographies on them. This is a great place for family and friends to gather and spend a summer day, eating, exercising and getting some of that all-too-rare fresh air.
Signs and exhibits in the park.
Some very interesting possible explanations of how the chasm formed, plus a lot of nice pictures of the chasm: