79 Water St, Plymouth, MA 02360, USA
Owned By: Commonwealth of Massachusetts
This grassy state park with numerous shade trees extends along Plymouth’s waterfront, offering numerous views of the harbor. Also featured: a pavilion, at least a half mile of paved walking paths, historic markers, and the famed Plymouth Rock. The park is also home to Frazier State Pier and Mayflower II, a replica of the ship the Pilgrims sailed to America.
Across the street, climb the granite steps to the top of Cole’s Hill, to see additional historic markers and enjoy the view. Or take a walk on the 1.5-mile Town Brook Trail, which begins across the street at Brewster Gardens, and continues past the Plimoth Grist Mill, through Town Brook Park, Holmes Playground, Billington Street Park, and along a quiet section of the brook to the Town Brook Patuxet Preserve.
The centerpiece of the park is Plymouth Rock, which is encased in its own small pavilion. According to interpretive signage on site, this large glacial erratic boulder, extracted from the harbor nearby, serves as a symbol of “the courage and faith of the men and women who founded the first new England colony.” The land had long been inhabited by members of the Wampanoag tribe. Their sachem, Massasoit, befriended the Pilgrims. Without the aid of the Wampanoag, the Pilgrims would not likely have survived their first year. Look for a park ranger at the Plymouth Rock pavilion to learn more about local history.
After traveling from England by way of Leyden, Holland, the European settlers known as the Pilgrims chose to settle here around December 21, 1620. They had surveyed the coast for three days, and ultimately chose this location because of its protected bay, as well as the fresh water provided by Town Brook.
Additional interpretive signage nearby shares the following history of Plymouth Rock: “Plymouth Rock became internationally famous as the supposed landing place of the Pilgrims. In 1774, the Rock was split into two pieces during an effort to relocate it to a more prominent site at Town Square. The lower half of Rock remained in place on the waterfront, but the upper half was moved to Plymouth center and later to a fenced enclosure in front of Pilgrim Hall. The upper piece was rejoined with its lower half in 1880 and placed under a Victorian canopy designed by Hammatt Billings. The date 1620 was inscribed on the Rock at this time. The Billings canopy was open at street level and did not protect the Rock from souvenir hunters. The two sections were lowered to their original sea level position under the present canopy in 1921. Plymouth Rock is the centerpiece of Pilgrim Memorial State Park, the smallest park in the Massachusetts State Forest and Park System, but also the most heavily visited.”
A paved pathway extends along the edge of the water from the pavilion area to Frazier State Pier, and then loops back around parallel to Water Street, for a total of about 0.5 miles. There are numerous benches and shade trees along the path, as well as gorgeous views of the harbor. Extend your journey across the street. Climb the granite steps to the top of Cole’s Hill which offers a spectacular view of the harbor.
Habitats and Wildlife
Pilgrim Memorial State Park is located on historic Plymouth Harbor, on the Atlantic Ocean. Look for Town Brook at the southern end of the park. This brook finds its source in the 269-acre freshwater pond known as the Billington Sea, and flows for 1.5 miles before emptying into Plymouth Harbor at this spot.
Town Brook is home to a herring run on the rebound! Every spring, thousands of alewife herring swim upstream, en route to their spawning grounds in the Billington Sea. In 2003, about 7,000 herring were counted here. In 2016, there were nearly 200,000! This is thanks largely to the 21st-century removal of five local dams that impeded fish passage.
Historic Site: Yes
Boat Launch: No
Size: 17 acres
Hours: Dawn to Dusk
Parking: On-site paid parking (2 hours): April 1 thru Nov. 30. Free in the off-season.
Trail Difficulty: Easy
Restrooms, gift shop, trash and pet waste receptacles, benches, picnic tables, historic markers.
Dogs: Dogs must remain on leash. Scoop the poop!
Boat Ramp: No
ADA Access: Yes
Scenic Views: Yes
Waterbody/Watershed: Town Brook/Atlantic Ocean