6 Treks to Frozen Waterfalls

December 23, 2015
Frozen Waterfalls
Jerry and Marcy MonkmanFrozen waterfalls accessible by foot include Zealand Falls, in New Hampshire.

There’s something magical about frozen waterfalls. Streams that fed swimming holes only months before have become icy fortresses, with intricate layers paused midcascade, sharp spikes dangling from rocks and sparkling like chandeliers. In a word, mesmerizing. These six snowshoe and ski routes showcase some of the region’s finest frozen formations.

1. Jewell Falls | Portland, Maine
Fore River Sanctuary Trail offers a quick change of pace for residents and visitors to Maine’s biggest city. It’s easily accessible from downtown Portland, is home to a variety of birds, and provides a direct route to the city’s only natural waterfall. Park in the lot at 1601 Congress Street and walk a few hundred feet west to the trailhead, marked by a Portland Trails sign. A half-mile down the trail the route turns north, crosses a boardwalk through a marsh, and eventually climbs to the 30-foot Jewell Falls. Grab a spot on the wooden bridge above the falls or the stone bench at the base to view the small ice flumes spread across the rocks. Use caution on the stairs by the waterfall, as they may be icy. From the falls, you can connect to other trails in the Portland Trails System or follow the same route back to your car.

Distance: 4 miles round trip
Info: Best Day Hikes Along the Maine Coast (AMC Books); Portland Trails

2. Zealand Falls | White Mountain National Forest, N.H.

Former logging railroad corridors now provide a path to tranquility beneath a tunnel of snowy evergreens leading into the Pemigewasset Wilderness. This popular summer hike is even more of an adventure in winter, as Zealand Road isn’t plowed. Winter parking is located on the north side of U.S. Route 302, a quarter-mile east of the road. Follow Zealand Road 3.5 miles to the Zealand Trail. After 2.5 miles, the Zealand Trail ends at the junction with the Ethan Pond Trail and the Twinway. A right onto the Twinway leads you up a steep climb to Zealand Falls Hut and the falls. Take in a wide view of the Pemigewasset Wilderness from the hut’s front porch or from the ledges of the adjacent falls. The broad, multilevel falls are strewn with big boulders, making them fun to explore—or a good place to sit and enjoy the surroundings. If you feel like an overnight, the hut serves as an access point for several day-trips, such as Thoreau Falls via the Ethan Pond Trail. Reservations are required; self-service season.

Distance: 12.4 miles round trip
Info: Best Backcountry Skiing in the Northeast (AMC Books); White Mountain Guide (AMC Books); White Mountain National Forest,Zealand Falls Hut

3. Lye Brook Falls | Manchester, Vt.
At 125 feet, the icy chute of Lye Brook Falls is one of the higher in Vermont. Lye Brook Trail provides a fun, straightforward ski route into the falls. Look closely and you might see evidence of the moose and bobcat that have reclaimed an area once home to sawmills and railways. Park in the Lye Brook Wilderness parking area on the Lye Brook Access Road. At the first trail junction, follow the small brown arrow onto a trail alongside the ravine. At 2.1 miles, you will cut across a landslide, a reminder of 2011’s Hurricane Irene. Keep left on the trail to reach the best view of the steep, jagged falls, where the ice hangs in sheets along the edges of the ravine. Hike back the way you came.

Distance: 4.6 miles round trip
Info: Best Day Hikes in Vermont (AMC Books); USDA Forest Service

4. Doane’s Falls | Royalston, Mass.
An ideal winter excursion, the Tully Lake Trail leads to a charming set of chutes called Doane’s Falls. To reach them, follow the trail about halfway around the lake and listen for the boisterous falls grumbling below the ice. After a rest, continue around the lake until you arrive back where you began. If the lake is frozen, you can also head out to explore several islands and inlets. Keep your eyes peeled for any animal tracks, such as snowshoe hare, alongside your own. The trailhead is located near the Tully Lake Campground parking lot.

Distance: 4 miles round trip
Info: Outdoors with Kids Boston (AMC Books);  The Trustees of Reservations

5. Ashley Falls | Haines Falls, N.Y.
Mary’s Glen Trail offers a quick jaunt with a big payoff: the alluring, crystal castle-like cascade of Ashley Falls. Find the trailhead a half-mile from the North-South Lake Campground’s picnic area and follow the yellow blazes through a spruce fir forest. Mary’s Glen Trail ascends gradually and reaches the falls after 0.3 mile. The frozen stream drapes over a series of ledges, often freezing into lacey leaflets of ice. Experienced snowshoers looking for a longer hike can take the Escarpment Trail over Newman’s Ledge to North Point, then follow the Mary’s Glen Trail back, saving Ashley Falls until the end of the trip.

Distance: 0.6 mile round trip via Mary’s Glen Trail; 14 miles round trip via the Escarpment Trail
Info: Best Day Hikes in the Catskills & Hudson Valley 2nd ed. (AMC Books); New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

6. Hemlock and Maple Falls | Millburn, N.J.
Travel back in time to the American Revolution with a stop at Washington Rock on your way to Hemlock and Maple falls. This was once a beacon signal station built by George Washington to observe British troop movements. Follow the Lenape Trail past a campsite, shelter, and residential area. The trail emerges on Crest Drive, home of the rock, with a view of downtown Millburn. Continue on the Lenape Trail through open, grassy woods to Maple Falls Cascade, about 1 mile in, and Hemlock Falls, 1.5 miles farther on. Be sure to follow the yellow blazes, as the network of side trails can be confusing. Return via the River Trail; it’s about 2.25 miles back to the parking lot. The South Mountain Reservation, where you’ll park, was one of the first projects undertaken by the Essex County Park Commission, the first county park agency in the United States.

Distance: 4.75 miles round trip
Info: Best Day Hikes near New York City (AMC Books); South Mountain Reservation 



Want to document your winter hike? Learn how to take great winter photos with these seven tips from photographer Jerry Monkman.

Search AMC Outdoors and Blogs

Search for:

Mae Toohey

AMC Outdoors, the magazine of the Appalachian Mountain Club, inspires readers to get outside and get engaged. Learn more.

Most Recent