Massachusettsis the 7th smalleststate in the United States with an area of 10,555 square miles (27,340 km2). It is bordered to the north by New Hampshire and Vermont, to the west by New York, to the south by Connecticut and Rhode Island, and to the east by the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Maine. Massachusetts is the most populous New England state.
Massachusetts is nicknamed “The Bay State” because of several large bays, which distinctly shape its coast: Massachusetts Bay and Cape Cod Bay, to the east; Buzzards Bay, to the south; and several cities and towns on the Massachusetts–Rhode Island border sit adjacent to Mount Hope Bay. At the southeastern corner of the state is a large, sandy, arm-shaped peninsula, Cape Cod, which forms the southern boundary of the Gulf of Maine to the north. The islands Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket lie south of Cape Cod, across Nantucket Sound. Central Massachusetts features rolling, rocky hills, while Western Massachusetts encompasses a fertile valley and mountains surrounding the Connecticut River, as well as the Berkshire Mountains.
Boston is Massachusetts’ largest city, at the inmost point of Massachusetts Bay, the mouth of the Charles River. Most Bay Staters live in the Boston area, which covers most of eastern Massachusetts. Eastern Massachusetts is fairly densely populated and mostly suburban. Western Massachusetts features both the Connecticut River Valley—a fairly even mix of urban enclaves (e.g. Springfield, Northampton), and rural college towns (Amherst, South Hadley)—and the Berkshire Mountains, (a branch of the Appalachian Mountains) that remains mostly rural.
Massachusetts has 351 cities and towns. Every part of the state is within an incorporated city or town, but many towns include large rural areas. The state’s 14 counties have few government functions and serve as little more than judicial districts.
In Eastern Massachusetts, Boston is located at the innermost point of Massachusetts Bay, at the mouth of the Charles River. The Charles River is longest river located entirely within Massachusetts, (although the Westfield River can be considered longer if one combines its upper and lower branches); however, the Connecticut River is the Commonwealth’s—and New England’s—longest, and most significant river. Most of the population of the Boston metropolitan area (approximately 4.4 million) lives outside of the city proper. The City of Boston itself is densely urban. Generally, Eastern Massachusetts, including and surrounding Boston, is densely populated. Boston’s suburbs stretch as far west as the City of Worcester in Central Massachusetts.
Central Massachusetts encompasses Worcester County, which is hilly and rocky. It features the urban city of Worcester, and the smaller cities of Fitchburg, Leominster, Gardner, and Southbridge. Central Massachusetts also includes many rural hill towns, forests, and small farms. The geographic center of Massachusetts is in the town of Rutland, in central Worcester County. The Quabbin Reservoir (formed by the dammed Swift River—a former Connecticut River tributary), borders the western side of the county; it is the main water supply for Greater Boston.
The Connecticut River Valley features Massachusetts’—and some of the northeastern United States’—richest soil, due to Ice Age deposits by glacial Lake Hitchcock. The lower (southern) Connecticut River Valley features the city of Springfield, which sits a mere five miles (8.0 km) north of the Connecticut border at the confluence of three of Massachusetts’ most significant rivers: the Connecticut (flowing north–south); the Westfield (flowing into the Connecticut from the west); and the Chicopee (flowing into the Connecticut from the east). Only 24 miles (39 km) separate Springfield from the State of Connecticut’s capital city, Hartford—the Springfield-Hartford region is the second most populous region in New England (with approximately 1.9 million residents). Other cities in the Massachusetts portion of the New Haven–Hartford–Springfield arm of the Northeast megapolis include: Chicopee, Agawam, West Springfield, Westfield, Holyoke, and the college towns of Northampton, Amherst, and South Hadley.
Further west rises a range of rolling, purple mountains known as the Berkshires. Near the New York border, the Taconic and Hoosac Ranges cross into Massachusetts; however, in general, the area is known as The Berkshires. The region was populated by Native Americans until the 18th century when Scotch-Irish settlers arrived, after having found the fertile lowlands along the Connecticut River settled. On reaching the Berkshires, settlers found poor soil for farming, but discovered numerous fast-moving rivers for industry. Pittsfield and North Adams grew into small, albeit prosperous cities. A number of smaller mill towns exist along the Westfield and Housatonic Rivers, interspersed with wealthy vacation resort towns.
The National Park Service administers a number of natural and historical sites in Massachusetts. Along with twelve national historic sites, areas, and corridors, the National Park Service also manages the Cape Cod National Seashore and the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area. In addition, the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation maintains a number of parks, trails, and beaches throughout the commonwealth.