Basch: Chasing cascades at Crawford Notch

  • Beecher Cascades plunge into a welcoming pool. The falls are one of several found by hiking in the Crawford Notch area. MARTY BASCH / Courtesy

For the Monitor
Published: 8/4/2019 6:37:13 PM

In the stillness of the woods, it often began with a quiet trickle. The thin stream would widen and the rushing water would flow and bellow with a symphonic intensity as it continued its meandering adventure.

To talk was to shout.

In the heat, there was welcome coolness, often shade and always refreshing waters, nature’s own version of streaming.

That’s what happens when you spend a day chasing cascades in the White Mountains.

Inspired by a state park blog post about hiking eight Crawford Notch waterfalls in a day, my wife Jan and I upped it to 10 and hiked approximately nine miles in under eight hours as we explored the cascades off U.S. Route 302 in the stunning mountain pass that gave us new looks at a place we thought we knew.

We saw glimpses of the notch – like from Kedron Flume and at a hidden scenic vista across from Flume Cascade – we hadn’t seen before. We appreciated the cold dollar sodas at the air conditioned Willy House gift shop, a place we never visited in Crawford Notch State Park, and its views of Webster Cliffs.

The journey took us briefly on two storied pathways – the Appalachian Trail and 200 year-old Crawford Path. In the bustle of summer, both provided looks at various types of hikers from the pungently scented thoroughly prepared AT thru-hikers to sneaker-wearing, dog-carrying, ain’t-got-no-backpack-on-my-back-or-water-with-me hikers. It took us to trails we’ve hiked before and on others we had never considered.

That’s the beauty of hiking and travel. They provide a new perspective on the ordinary. Instead of focusing on summits, we were cascade-centric. Instead of aching to see blue sky between the trees signaling a mountain top or ledge is ahead, we strained to hear the first dribbles of the flumes indicating they were nearby. The waterfalls weren’t an out-of-the-way detour. They were the peaceful and picturesque headliners; the journey themselves.

They were also teachers. Don’t think hiking to waterfalls, at least to all of these, is a cakewalk. Some are easy like roadside Silver and Flume Cascades. But there’s also plenty of steep stuff that will fry the ill-prepared.

And they are a photographer’s dream when captured with skill.

Starting south and working north, even in summer’s swarm, the early hiker gets the solitude on a 3.2-mile circuit with the Arethusa Falls Trail and sometimes rough Bemis Brook Trail that wraps up three falls – the ledgy steps of Bemis Falls, horsetail of Coliseum Falls, and stunning Arethusa, one of New England’s highest.

“Wow” moments came often we saw each fall as if discovering them for the first time, seeing them narrow and fan, run strong and throw mist. Leaving Arethusa we ran into other hikers and would see many along the trails as we drove amongst trailheads seeking parking.

Another of the state’s highest, Ripley Falls reached along a sometimes narrow Ripley Falls Trail towers high against angled slabs looking like a graceful draped watery sheet. About 1.2 miles roundtrip, Ripley, like many falls, has lots of rock scrambling at its base where visitors seem to vie for best vantage points.

Kedron Flume about a two-mile roundtrip on its namesake trail was the wildest, accessed by sometimes steep and gravelly switchbacks. With an outlook onto Webster Cliffs, the pretty, lengthly and narrow flume is but a playful tease as it drops over a headwall and is hidden from sight with apparently hard to find safe access for viewing.

Kedron’s proximity to the air-conditioned gift shop made a stop for a cold drink imperative before a brief break by driving to plunging Silver Cascades with its pathway that takes you close to the falls and then the uninspiring Flume Cascade. Next was venturing by the Crawford Depot and train for the mile return trek to lovely Beecher and Pearl Cascades off the Avalon Trail and Cascade Loop. Hikers were using Avalon to reach Mount Willard but we had the Cascade Loop to ourselves, entranced by the thunderous roars at each.

Enchanting Gibbs Falls, about a 1.2-mile roundtrip hike off Crawford Path on the north end of the notch, swoops down into a small pool, the waters fluttering and fanning. We had the two-tiered falls to ourselves, a fitting way to end the day of wandering for waterfalls.

But Crawford Notch has more charming cascades best left for another day.

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