Rafe’s Chasm, a stunning hike in Gloucester, MAOctober 18, 2021 / Good to Know, Outdoor Adventures, Things to Do & See
Edited by Elizabeth Carey with permission from Addison Choate
Looking for a breath of fresh air? The north shore of Massachusetts has an incredible network of trails that are perfect for running, biking, and hiking. Whether visiting Beverly, Essex, Rockport or Gloucester there are trail networks perfect for just about any fitness level and every level of adventure.
Recently, we had the opportunity to explore this incredible landscape and one of the best spots that we discovered is Rafe’s Chasm in Gloucester Massachusetts. This Essex County Hidden Gem is worth sharing!
WHERE IS RAFE’S CHASM LOCATED?
Rafe’s Chasm is located at 138 Hesperus Ave in the Magnolia neighborhood of Gloucester, Massachusetts. There you will find a small parking lot off of Hesperus Ave where you can park and enter the trail. You will notice some signage and a bulletin board with information at the trailhead.
HIKING INTO THE PARK
Rafe’s Chasm Park is a 10-acre park that was sold by the Trustees of the Reservation to the City of Gloucester for $1.00 in 1959.
The trail to the oceanfront outlook is an easy winding woodland trail that is very flat. This section of the trail should be fairly easy for just about anyone. The short trail winds 0.2 miles out to the ocean where hikers are rewarded with some incredible cliff top ocean views.
The total hike is about 0.9 miles but getting to the actual chasm; however, takes some agility. There are a number of rocks to climb over and they can be slippery with water, ice, and other sea life depending on the season.
We wouldn’t recommend this hike for anyone with mobility issues and we would also recommend leaving the dog behind. But once you make it across the rocks, you are rewarded with entry into the chasm. It’s a pretty impressive formation and makes us truly appreciate the natural beauty that is present here on Cape Ann Massachusetts.
HOW DID RAFE’S CHASM GET ITS NAME?
The best evidence of the name’s origins is that there was a freed slave named Ralph who settled near the chasm in the mid-19th century. Ralph built many of the rock walls in the area surrounding the chasm along Hesperus Avenue and the chasm was named after him. The chasm first became a popular tourist attraction after the Civil War.
There were always legends of mysterious deaths surrounding the chasm, including that of a family of four who all perished on a foggy day at the chasm. Pretty eerie stuff. The image above from 1902 features a handwritten note that indicates that there was a girl and her fiancé who may have met their death one day in the chasm as well.
We share this information not to deter you from visiting, but rather to ensure that proper caution is used when climbing on the rocks. Most of the climb is very manageable, but you can definitely get into some tight spots depending on the route that is chosen.
A TRIP FOR THE ADVENTUROUS
For those adventurous visitors seeking some of those tighter spots, Rafe’s Chasm has some good spots for bouldering and rock climbing.
The park is also a popular dive site for more experienced divers and offers some incredible shoreline diving. But, like some of the climbing, the diving in this area can be very dangerous. The swells can build quickly and crash upon the rocky shoreline and trekking the dive equipment up and down the rocks is no easy task.
But diving at Rafe’s Chasm and heading over to Norman’s Woe can offer the experienced diver an exciting adventure. On the dive you will see a variety of sea life including Pollack, Striped Bass, and potentially a lobster or two!
THE HISTORY OF NORMAN’S WOE
Norman’s Woe received its name from the number of shipwrecks that occurred on the rocky reef including the “Rebecca Ann” in an 1823 snowstorm and the “Favorite” from Wiscasset Maine in 1839 which encountered an historic blizzard. The entire crew of the “Favorite” were lost, including one woman who was found tied to a mast floating toward the shore.
These shipwrecks were so prominent that they actually inspired a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow entitled “The Wreck of Hesperus” You can read the poem here: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44654/the-wreck-of-the-hesperus.
WHEN SHOULD I VISIT RAFE’S CHASM?
Well, it depends on the adventure that you seek. If you want to see the ocean crashing upon the rocks, high tide would be a good bet. However, if you want to hike over to the actual chasm and go inside, you really need to visit at low tide. At low tide you can wade over to the chasm and get up close and personal.
If you are thinking of diving, you may want to come some time in between the tides to ensure the best entry. It is also recommended that you wear a thick diving suit to avoid cuts and scratches.
We hope that you enjoyed this exploration of Rafe’s Chasm. We will wrap up this exploration with a quote about the chasm by John James Babson, “The view of the spot, and the hollow, thundering noise of the sea, as it is dashed back from the upper end of the chasm, causes every visitor to feel the presence of a sublime and majestic influence.”