Spring is the perfect season for a waterfall tour in New Hampshire's Mt. Washington Valley. With a dozen accessible waterfalls, this picturesque region is one of New England's best places to view and photograph dramatic cascades. In April and May, as snow melts and spring water levels rise, these waterfalls are at their most spectacular.
And here's a real rush... seeing the falls is free, with just one caveat.
A recreation pass ($3 for a day pass at one location, $5 for a one- to seven-day access pass) is required for stops within the White Mountain National Forest. Passes may be purchased at self-serve fee stations at sites that require a daily pass or at any ranger station, as well as at a variety of places throughout the Mt. Washington Valley.
Here, with help from the Mt. Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce and Visitor's Bureau, is a guide to the waterfalls within this popular New Hampshire region. Use these directions and descriptions to plan your own self-guided drive to one or all of these scenic falls.
- Sabbaday Falls: Sabbaday Falls lies just a short hike off New Hampshire's famed Kancamagus Highway. This waterfall features three drops, pretty pools and a pothole formed by swirling waters and sand. Although you can't swim in the falls, this is an ideal spot for picnics on warm spring days. Directions: Take the Kancamagus Highway from Conway. The Sabbaday Falls Picnic Area is about 3.5 miles west of where Bear Notch Road joins the Kancamagus. The falls are a short, 0.33-mile hike in.
- Glen Ellis Falls: The Ellis River plummets 64 feet to the basin below in a torrent of white water at this scenic spot. Nearby signs describe the geology and history of the area. Directions: The turn-off to the falls is 0.7 miles south of Pinkham Notch on Route 16. This is also the parking area for the Glen Boulder and Wildcat Ridge Trails. A tunnel takes you to the other side of the highway, where you turn right to reach the falls. It is an easy, 0.2-mile walk to the falls.
- Crystal Cascade: This is a spectacular, two-tiered waterfall with a dramatic, 60-foot wall of water, followed by a 20-foot plunge, ending with the river making a 90-degree turn. Directions: Park at the AMC Pinkham Notch Camp and take the path on the left of the Trading Post--the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. The falls are a 0.3-mile, uphill walk. For the adventurous at heart, keep going up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, and watch the spectacle of skiers in Tuckerman Ravine on a sunny day in May.
- Thompson Falls: You'll actually encounter a series of falls along Thompson Brook at Wildcat Ski Area. The views of Mt. Washington from the highest ledge are worth the trip. Directions: Take Route 16 to Wildcat Ski Area. To reach the falls, take the "Way of Wildcat" Nature Trail from the ski area's parking lot. At the far end of the trail loop, you'll find the path to the falls. It's an easy, 0.7-mile trek to the falls.
- Arethusa Falls: Measuring about 176 feet, this is one of the highest single waterfalls in New Hampshire. As a bonus, you can also view Bemis Brook Falls, Fawn Pool and Coliseum Falls while you're there. Directions: Take Route 302 toward Bretton Woods and look for the entrance to Crawford Notch State Park. Turn onto a paved road just beyond the park, and park on the short side road below the railroad tracks. The trail starts to the left of the private road above the tracks, and it's about 1.3 miles to the falls (2 miles if you take the trail to Bemis Brook Falls, Coliseum Falls and Fawn Pool).
- Flume Cascade and Silver Cascade: These two waterfalls with cool names are viewable from the car, but you can get close for a better look if you'd like. Directions: You'll find these waterfalls on Route 302, just below Crawford Notch Depot.
- Ripley Falls and Kendron Flume: Enjoy an easy hike to the top of these waterfalls, where you'll discover swimming holes and pools upstream where you can take a cool splash when the weather is warm. Keep in mind that it is not safe to climb the face of the falls. And you swim at your own risk. Directions: The Arethusa-Ripley Falls trail is located off Route 302 in Crawford Notch at the old Wiley House station.
- Jackson Falls: Local folks head to Jackson Falls on hot summer days. Easily accessible, you'll find wonderful pools and small, cooling falls under which to drench yourself. A few picnic tables nearby offer the perfect spot for lunch, dinner or a cocktail to toast a successful waterfall hunt. Directions: Take Carter Notch Road about 3/10 of a mile from Route 16A in Jackson.
- Diana's Baths: On a full moon night, this is one of the most romantic places on Earth. The water supply for the area is located above this waterfall, so no access is allowed above, but the collection of small falls and pools offers the perfect place to relax and cool off. You'll need to hike about a half-mile, following a well-marked trail, to find this special place. Directions: Access the trail head from West Side Road, about a half-mile beyond the point where West Side Road turns toward Conway.
To request a free Mt. Washington Valley Vacation Guide, call toll free, 877-948-6867, or complete the Mt. Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce and Visitor's Bureau's online request form.