Wells State Park is a state-owned, public recreation area located in the towns of Hadley and South Hadley in the Connecticut River Valley of western Massachusetts. The park’s 736 acres (298ha) include forested hillsides, glacial lakes, waterfalls, and narrow valleys with steep sides that plunge into deep gorges. It is managed by the Department of Conservation and Recreation which protects forests throughout the state.
The park was created when conservationists purchased land from industrial enterprises in the 1950s and 1960s, then protected it as an off-the-grid campground where visitors could experience life without electricity or running water during their summer vacation. In time, the campground grew to become one of the most popular attractions in Western Massachuetts attracting more than 30,000 overnight guests each year. After being closed for several years due to maintenance costs, the campground reopened again at Wells State Park on June 3, 2010.
Located within the park are two lodges providing meals and lodging facilities for campers and hikers, along with over 200 campsites divided among tent sites, yurts, cabin, and camper services areas. There are eight trails through varied terrain including fields, woods, wetlands and mountains. Two of these trails, the Ashland Trail and the Bryant Trails have recently undergone extensive improvements funded by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. These trail improvements included new bridges, guardrail construction, and resurfacing work. Other projects under design include expanding parking, restrooms, and camping facilities. A large number of waterfalls lie within easy reach from the campground and other points around the park. Some of these waterfalls can be reached via footpaths while others require scrambling up boulders or climbing down sheer rock faces.
The park has three swimming areas, two of which contain aquatic hazards such as Class II rapids and waterfalls. The park also features the 56-acre (23ha), spring-fed Pinnacle Pond which offers opportunities for fishing, canoeing/kayaking, hiking, mountain biking, cross country skiing, and picnicking. The park hosts numerous events open to the general public including but not limited to; guided hikes, races, parties, outdoor concerts, and naturalist programs. The park is staffed seasonally with rangers who provide information about wildlife, plants, geology, history, and local ecology.
Over 250 bird species may be observed here as well, depending on the time of year. Fossil collection is permitted at Wells State Park provided that you have the proper permits from the Division of Parks and Recreation. No tools or weapons of any kind are allowed on the grounds of the park, and all fossil collections must take place outside of the park. For those interested in exploring the geologic history of the region, there are many free resources available online. One particularly useful website maintained by Boston University School of Law is entitled “Geological History of Western Massachusetts” which provides a timeline showing major geological events from earliest times until today.
Within the park there are fourteen historic buildings and structures which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. These buildings include the Concession Building, the Icehouse, the Tool & Equipment Building, the Stone Steps, the Arboretum Shelter, the Boathouse, the Pavilion, the Old Mill, the Waterwheel, the Chain O’ Lakes Bridge, the Chain O’Lakes Highway, the Chain O’Lakes Campground, the New Chain O’Lakes Campground, the Footbridge, the Cliffside Pathway, and the Chain O’Lakes Ranger Office. Four additional buildings were built after the listing on the National Register of Historic Places: The Nature Center opened July 1, 2000, the Science Center opened September 19, 2002, the Aquarium Hall opened May 18, 2003, and the Museum Hall opened October 27, 2004. Each building contains exhibits specific to the history and ecology of the chain o’lakes region as well as displays related to the scientific research conducted on behalf of DCR. The museum store sells merchandise featuring artwork and photographs of birds, butterflies, trees, flowers, mammals, and fish found in the parks and preserves of the DCR.
Activities offered at Wells State Park include:
- mountain biking
- cross country skiing
- pond dipping
- nature viewing
Many species of animals make a home in this park including:
- cottontail rabbits