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Active Outdoors: Prime waterfall time

Last modified: 4/21/2015 2:36:09 AM
Snow is a double blessing for Active Outdoors enthusiasts. Think back to late January and February, when, much to the joy of skiers and snowshoers, one snowstorm followed another and the hills of New England were covered with a deep, deep blanket of white. (You can still find snow in places if you want to look).

All that snow was just flowing water waiting to happen, and it’s happening now. The cold spring has let the snow melt slowly, sparing us any major flooding. But it has raised river and stream levels nicely, water is flowing everywhere and it’s suddenly prime time for whitewater kayaking, or, if you aren’t a boater, it’s waterfall time.

Perhaps it’s because I spent some of my happiest hours as a kid fishing for native brook trout in tiny streams in the hills of New England that I absolutely love of waterfalls, even tiny ones. I love the sight and sound, especially the sound. Little ones to me sound like laughter. The deep-throated rumble of bigger ones (they often have “great” or “grand” in their names) sound like the very voice of the universe to me. I feel it to my core.

If there’s a waterfall beside the road, I’ll almost always stop for a minute and look and listen. But I especially love the waterfalls you have to hike to. Spring hiking often means trails covered in snow and ice or mud, but that’s just part of the fun. You for sure need waterproof hiking boots and trekking poles. Traction aids are often handy when the trails are icy. But the point is to get out and take a walk, now, while spring is just getting started

Whenever you visit a waterfall, be sure you take time to sit awhile to really look, and listen to the voice of the falls – every waterfall looks and sounds different. Don’t just snap a selfie and leave.

You’ve got another month or so before all that snow water makes its way to the sea. So take some time to visit a waterfall – even a small one. If you have to walk to it, all the better. Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!

Crawford Notch

If you want to make waterfalls a weekend adventure, I’d suggest basing yourself near Crawford Notch in New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest. You’ve got a weekend’s worth of waterfall hikes right in the neighborhood, and several to visit on your way to or from.

We usually stay at the AMC Highland Center (outdoors.org/lodging/lodges/highland), right in the notch. It’s very comfortable, the meals are great, and the people you meet there are all outdoor-loving kindred souls. Of course there are other places to stay, too. If you want total luxury, the Omni Mount Washington Hotel (omnihotels.com/hotels/bretton-woods-mount-washington) is at the western gateway to the notch, while Notchland Inn (notchland.com), which is the very epitome of the “romantic country inn,” is to the east.

The gem of the area is Arethusa Falls (outdoors.org/recreation/tripplanner/ideas/arethusa-falls.cfm), the highest and, I think, most beautiful waterfall in New Hampshire. This isn’t a great thundering torrent, it’s a tracery of delicate, lace-like patterns across a broad rock face that towers over you. Spectacular is an overused word, but Arethusa truly is.

The trail to Arethusa is about 1.5 miles long to the base of the falls. It climbs pretty steadily but isn’t particularly steep or rough, which makes it a great starter hike for the season or a day hike with a family. You have a choice of going directly to Arethusa or adding a tenth of a mile along Bemis Brook. Take the latter – you get two bonus smaller waterfalls, Bemis Brook and Coliseum, for very little extra effort.

In the same neighborhood, you can also hike to Ripley FallS (which you can visit with a half-mile walk from the end of the Ripley Falls Road or do as part of a 4-mile loop back to 302 from Arethusa), Kedron Flume (1.3 miles), Beecher and Pearl Cascades (a half mile from the Highland Center), and Gibbs Falls, eight-tenths of a mile from the road on the Crawford Path.

Summer waterfall plans

Late last summer (the worst time for most waterfalls), Marilyn and I hiked to Grand Falls Hut in the Maine Huts and Trails system (mainehuts.org), which is, not surprisingly, very close to Grand Fall on the Dead River. While you can drive to within a mile of the hut from The Forks, the 8-hike to the hut from Big Eddy takes you right past the falls. The Dead here is dam-controlled, so some flow is maintained all summer and there are scheduled water releases (amcbostonpaddlers.org/DeadRiverReleases), which should set the fall to really rumbling. The Grand Falls Hut is a wonderful getaway at any time. The falls are just a bonus.

If you happen to access Grand Falls via The Forks, you are right near Moxie Falls, said to be the highest in Maine. It’s a flat six-tenths of a mile from the road and worth every step.

Finding more waterfalls

Apparently, I’m not the only person in the world enamored of waterfalls. There’s a fine little book called New England Waterfalls by Greg Parsons and Kate B. Watson that will help you find many of the best ones. They also have a website, newenglandwaterfalls.com. Their list of “Best Of New England” is a great starting point for exploring, but they also have state-by-state listings so you can start with the one closest to your house.



(Tim Jones can be reached at timjones@easternslopes.com.)


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