1. Freetown-Fall River State Forest (Freetown/Fall River)
If you live in Southeastern Massachusetts, then you’ve probably heard a spooky story or two about Freetown-Fall River State Forest. This relatively isolated area of deep forests and swamps is sometimes called Massachusetts’ most haunted forest. Part of the Southeastern Massachusetts Bioreserve, Freetown-Fall River State Forest is rife with mysterious tales of strange creatures and paranormal activity. Many of these legends originate with the native Wampanoag people, whose tribe owned this land prior to English settlement.
There’s a seemingly endless network of walking trails in this 5,000-plus acre forest, with options for everybody. For an easy stroll, visit Profile Rock, which is said to be the image of Wampanoag Chief Massasoit. Looking for a longer walk? Head to the Ledge, where some visitors have claimed to witness ghosts standing over this abandoned rock quarry. Wherever you go, make sure to keep an eye out for the Pukwudgies: mischievous troll-like creatures who have been said to throw rocks and sand to startle visitors.
2. Fort Taber Park (New Bedford)
Legends of spirits often seem to hang over military forts, and New Bedford’s popular Fort Taber Park is no different. The centerpiece of this beautiful city park is Fort Rodman, a coastal fortification on Buzzards Bay that was built in the mid-1800s and hosted troops from the Civil War through World War II. Some visitors to Fort Taber Park have claimed to witness lights, footsteps, and shadowy figures throughout this abandoned fort and its batteries.
Don’t let those paranormal tales keep you from enjoying one of the most spectacular views of Buzzards Bay’s open waters. You can enjoy the view from the park’s mile-long network of paved paths around the fort.
3. Palmer’s Island (New Bedford)
Located at the entrance to inner New Bedford Harbor, Palmer’s Island is a unique destination to explore on this urban harbor. The six-acre island of rocky outcroppings and scrubby coastal habitats is reachable by foot during low tide from the path along the hurricane barrier behind the New Bedford Harbor Walk.
You wouldn’t know it from looking at it today, but Palmer’s Island once housed a hotel, an amusement park, and a resident lighthouse keeper in the 19th century. That all changed when the Hurricane of 1938 plowed through southeastern New England and destroyed all of the island’s structures – except for its iconic lighthouse. Tragically, the lighthouse keeper’s wife was swept away in the storm. Today, Palmer’s Island is uninhabited by humans, but is open to the public for walking, birdwatching, and appreciating nature in the city.
4. West Island Town Beach & State Reservation (Fairhaven)
The windswept salt marshes of West Island State Reservation and West Island Town Beach in Fairhaven are a year-round destination for people who love the outdoors. The beach and its surrounding protected forest and salt marshes offer many opportunities for wildlife watching and long walks through nature – as well as a few ghostly tales, such as the “Woman in White” who supposedly appears at the beach on foggy June evenings and the “Marsh Men” who slosh through the marsh and woods. You’re much more likely to see West Island’s abundant wildlife, like the migrating birds that stop at this oasis of protected land during their autumn travels.
5. Sacrifice Rock Woods (Bourne)
In the Bournedale section of Bourne sits a large rock formation called Chamber Rock – or, as it was historically known, Sacrifice Rock. (We’ll let you use your imagination as to why it was given that name!) With so many small caves and crevices – including a deep split down the center that looks like lightning sliced the rock in half – “Chamber Rock” seems like a more fitting name for this fascinating remnant of the area’s glacial past.
Despite its haunting name, the protected wooded area around Chamber Rock is a draw for locals who come here for hiking and geocaching. As you climb the steep, hilly trails through neighboring Sacrifice Rock Woods and Carter Beal Conservation Area, you might feel more like you’re in the mountains of New Hampshire than the coastal plain.
6. Beebe Woods (Falmouth)
Falmouth’s popular Beebe Woods was once the elegant summer estate of the Beebe family of Boston. The Beebe family built two mansions on the property – Tanglewood and Highfield Hall – and created a network of bridle paths through the woods that local walkers still enjoy today.
Although Tanglewood is gone, Highfield Hall still stands near the main parking area for Beebe Woods. It’s been said that a member of the Beebe family haunts a second-floor bedroom of Highfield Hall. Try to spot her ghostly figure in the window on your next visit…if you dare!
7. Penikese Island (Gosnold)
The spooky stories of Penikese Island begin with its creation long ago. According to Wampanoag legend, the evil Pukwudgies were said to have killed the five sons of the giant protector Moshup, who buried his sons on Buzzards Bay. Their burial mounds became the five Elizabeth Islands: Naushon, Pasque, Nashawena, Cuttyhunk, and Penikese.
Because of its isolated location, Penikese Island was decided to be the perfect place to establish a leper colony at the turn of the 20th century. From 1905 to 1921, three dozen leprosy patients lived on the island with a handful of caregivers. A small cemetery still sits at the northern edge of the island, overlooking the entrance to Buzzards Bay.
Today, Penikese Island is a state-owned wildlife sanctuary that’s open to the public during daylight hours. If you have access to a boat, we highly recommend you check out this beautiful and fascinating spot for a walk and a history lesson.