25-Falling Waters – Crawford Notch SP

Entering the park from the north, you immediately pass through the notch at its highest and narrowest point.

If Franconia Notch is the best state park in New Hampshire, Crawford Notch comes a close second.  Maybe it should be called Falling Waters for the sheer number of cascades and waterfalls throughout the park.

Crawford Notch in the morning mists from Saco Lake.

Like Franconia, most of the notch is state park while the surrounding mountains are all part of White Mountain National Forest.  Thus many trails start in the state park but extend into the national forest.  One popular exception would be the Mt. Willard trail, which starts north of the park near the AMC’s Highland Center and ascends Mt. Willard, which, thanks to its direct line of sight above the notch, gives a textbook view of a glacial valley.  But that was not to be my destination this day.

One popular trail ascends Mt. Willard (center) for a spectacular view down the valley.

Instead, I drove south past Flume and Silver Cascades, past the Willey House, until I got to Avalanche Brook and the trailhead to Ripley Falls.  I decided I would hike the loop from Ripley Falls to Arethusa Falls via Frankenstein Cliffs, then return on the Saco River Trail on the valley floor.  Great choice!

Ripley Falls in dry season.

The Arethusa-Ripley trail passes by at least two excellent waterfalls, and two more hidden gems.

A view from Frankenstein Cliffs

Arethusa Falls, the highest in New Hampshire, always draws a crowd.

What I was surprised to discover was the Bemis Brook Trail, which parallels the Arethusa falls Trail for a half mile or so and leads to two beautiful little falls: Coliseum and Bemis Falls.  In my opinion, even though they don’t have the height of the more well-known falls, they surpass them for beauty.  The added attraction is that there is almost no one at these two smaller falls so you can probably have them to yourselves, even when Arethusa is crowded.

Pretty little Coliseum Falls

Cascading steps just below Bemis Falls.

To get back to the trailhead where I parked my car I had two options: walk along the train tracks of the Conway Scenic Railroad (another great way to see this park and a fairly direct way back to the parking lot) or cross the highway, go through the campground, and pick up the trail at the far end.  Although some folks followed the train tracks, I chose the longer route.

Note the flower boxes in front of the campground’s bathhouse and the Frankenstein Cliffs behind.

The Dry River Campground was particularly tidy.  I thought the flower boxes in front of the bathrooms were a nice touch.  At the north end of the campground is found the entrance to the Saco River Trail.  I figured that since this generally followed the valley bottom, going north-south, it would be easy walking.  But instead, it was surprisingly rugged, clearly receiving much less use than the east-west mountain trails.  Still, it made for a great loop.

The Frankenstein Cliffs from near the campground.

So there is lots more to explore in this wonderful park: Mt. Willard, Elephant Head, Mt. Webster and Webster Cliff, but I’ll probably save those for a different time of year.  I can’t wait!  Happy travels!

Some more sights that the park has to offer.

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