Outdoor Adventures: Waterfall spells relief
On a sweltering tropical day, the towering falls spelled a bit of relief from the heat and humidity of southern Vermont.
Though a rainy summer dampens many planned outdoor adventures, the forecasted isolated showers never found us. But all the rain means not only are water levels high and rivers running amok, so are the waterfalls.
What would normally be a July trickle was a wonderful torrent, the thick horsetail of water plunging some 125 feet or so down the seemingly terraced rocky wall in the Green Mountain National Forest.
Lovely Lye Brooks Falls is one of the tallest waterfalls in Vermont. Fed by Lye Brook, it was once called the Trestle Cascade as a testament to a trestle that spanned near the falls during a time when logging and railroads ruled stylish Manchester.
The fashionable and lively village attracts the outdoor world with its hiking, fly-fishing and proximity to ski areas and is minutes from the nearly 18,000-acre Lye Brook Wilderness.
That’s what makes the moderate trek to the falls so remarkable, that true wilderness is so close to town. The trailhead is just a couple of miles from downtown and its free wifi opportunities and strolling streets for shopping.
The Green Mountain National Forest says the 4.6-mile out-and-back adventure along the blue-blazed Lye Brook and Lye Brook Falls Trails uses old logging railroad grades and old woods roads from a time when the area was heavily logged with sawmills and charcoal kilns scattered about. The way to the falls is generally steady, but there are some pitches where a bit more energy is expended to chug up. Plus, be cognizant of the plentiful stream crossings.
And also know that a small section of the trail passed right through an impressive landslide created by the finicky and powerful fingers of Irene passing through in 2011.
The hike begins easily enough from the circular parking area on level ground through the hardwoods, with signs telling visitors of only foot travel. The trail parallels the brook en route to the falls, though it’s not always possible to see it. Maybe 100 yards into the journey there’s an unmarked trail junction that invites exploration of the waters, giving a bit of a closer look.
Soon enough there’s a trail registry and at about .4 miles the wilderness boundary is reached. The trail is forgiving, showing up smooth and rocky stretches with some interesting rock formations along the way. There are also those multiple stream crossings, the first one not terribly far after entering the wilderness.
In about a mile, the trail shows a bit more bite, heading up into an area known as Lye Brook Hollow with some steepish drop-offs down to the waters. Pass through a hemlock stand and then more intermittent patches of smooth and stones. Along the way are small clusters of rocks that tumbled down the hillside, foreshadowing what is to come.
The trail narrows and begins a slight descent through a wet, rocky area before coming upon the slide. The slide is startling as if an entire piece of the woods was just knocked out. Trees, rocks and more fell some 500 feet or so down the hill, creating a look down across a valley. The trail is easily navigated some 20 yards across, and then, it’s back into the woods.
The falls are soon reached at about 2.2 miles into the hike with its web of trails heading down to a large sunning rock or up along a goat path. Turning left affords fall lovers a fine perch to marvel at the spectacle, so cool during the heat of a hazy, tropical-like summer.
We wallowed in the crispness of the welcome cool air before making the return trip in the late morning, soon coming upon bands of hikers.
At the last brook crossing, we met two visiting couples out for a hike. Clearly crossing the stream made them uneasy. They were concerned about slipping. I could go on about how they were ill prepared, but after offering to help them across, we also realized they would need help when they came back.
So instead, we suggested other routes in the area, continued on and relished that we got back to the truck and were inside when those rains eventually came.
(Marty Basch can be reached through onetankaway.com.)