Gibbs Falls. Photo: Tim Jones, easternslopes.com
Snowshoes for traction, hiking poles for balance, warm clothes in a backpack, sun protection… Hiking safely to visit New England waterfalls in the spring is a matter of being prepared with snowshoes for safety. Spring is prime time for visiting waterfalls. The steady melting of the deep snows turns streams into torrents, and snowshoeing up the trails gives you prime viewing if they flow over a beautiful waterfall.
If there’s a waterfall beside the road, Tim Jones will almost always stop for a minute. But he especially loves the ones you have to hike to. Read Tim’s classic easternslopes.com review of his favorite New Hampshire waterfalls.
Crawford Notch Waterfall Hikes
By Tim Jones
My sweetheart, Marilyn, and I recently visited northern New Hampshire to samples some of the Crawford Notch Waterfall Hikes in the White Mountain National Forest of New Hampshire. This area is “Waterfall Central.” We stayed overnight at the AMC’s Highland Center, which is a favorite of ours at any time of year, but particularly enjoyable in early spring.
After skiing the soft snow on the last day of lift-serviced skiing at Bretton Woods that morning, we decided to start our waterfall adventure with Arethusa Falls, often called the highest single-drop waterfall in New Hampshire (though Dryad Falls in Success, New Hampshire which runs only after heavy rains is apparently higher). We didn’t leave the road until noon on a warm and brilliantly sunny Spring day.
Arethusa Falls at this time of year is simply spectacular. The water appears out of nowhere, as if falling from blue sky, fanning out over the rocks like lace draped over a fantasy fortress. Just beautiful. Photos:Tim Jones, easternslopes.com
The Arethusa Falls Trail 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 or dayhike 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 smaller waterfalls, Bemis Brook and Coliseum, as a bonus for very little extra effort.
Because of the snow, the trail was slippery everywhere, and, if you slipped off the packed crown, you plunged into knee-deep soft snow, sometimes with rocks and running water beneath. On this day, however, the best walking was on a crown of snow hard-packed by snowshoers through the winter. We had jackets and pants, in our daypacks, water, food, and we carried our Tubbs snowshoes to help us over snowy patches (tricky walking).
Because of the trail conditions, the hike to Arethusa took more time and much more energy than we’d planned, so we decided to save 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), Kendron Flume (1.3 miles) and Beecher and Pearl Cascades (a half mile from the AMC Highland Center Lodge) for another visit.
The next morning, before heading home, we hiked the eight-tenths of a mile to Gibbs Falls on the Crawford Path. Though much smaller than Arethusa, this compact falls was roaring with snowmelt.
Whenever you visit a waterfall, be sure you take time to sit awhile, listen to the voice of the falls–every waterfall looks and sounds different. Most years, you’ve got until mid-June before the torrents diminish.
New England Waterfall Guides
Find New England trail maps and waterfall guides here:
- Greg Parsons and Kate B. Watson’s book New England Waterfalls.
- The Wilderness Map Company offers detailed maps of popular hiking areas that clearly mark major waterfalls.
- New Hampshire State Parks waterfalls guide.
Tim Jones, Founder and Executive Editor of easternslopes.com, started skiing at age 4 and hasn’t stopped since. Tim teaches Advanced Snowshoe Techniques at the VOGA Winter Doe Camp each year. In the summer, he hikes, bikes, paddles and fly fishes. In addition to his work at EasternSlopes.com, Tim also writes a syndicated weekly newspaper column.