10 Great Waterfall Hikes

July 31, 2012
10 Great Waterfall Hikes
Jerry and Marcy MonkmanArethusa Falls, in Livermore, N.H., is one of many great waterfall hikes in the Northeast.

Last summer I took a cabin full of 11- and 12-year-old campers on a hike. Most of them had never hiked before, so we went to nearby Sabattus Mountain in Lovell, Maine. The 1.4-mile loop gains just over 1,000 feet of elevation. The hike was so easy that I almost felt guilty for being rewarded with such a beautiful view of Mount Washington and the White Mountains, but we all happily drank it in.

We still had a half-day after the hike, so my co-counselor and I pored over a map to find something nearby. A few blue squiggles marked a waterfall about 8 miles away, so we piled into the van to search for it. After a few wrong turns we found a wooden sign pointing to Kezar Falls, and swung into a little parking lot. The falls are part of the Kezar River Preserve, a series of five lakes. We could hear water running through the trees, and followed a short footpath down into a beautiful gorge. We ate lunch on rocks in the middle of the stream and I had just as much fun scrambling around as my campers did. The water was a deep teal color, and the green, mossy banks were perfect for a mid-afternoon nap.

If you find yourself near Kezar Falls, I suggest you pack a sandwich and go. If you’re elsewhere in the Northeast, take your lunch to any one of the nine other waterfall hikes listed below and enjoy one of nature’s best thrills.

1. Gulf Hagas
Bowdoin College Grant East, Maine

Claim to Fame: Gulf Hagas is known as the Grand Canyon of Maine, and is crisscrossed with challenging trails. Explore Screw Auger Falls, Buttermilk Falls, Billings Falls, and Stairs Falls in one trek. Screw Auger Falls is the highest, at 25 feet. But the others are unique and less visited, so you can choose your adventure here.

Hike: 8-mile loop. From the Gulf Hagas trailhead, follow a spur trail to the Appalachian Trail (AT) about 0.2 mile in. Turn right on the AT, and cross the Pleasant River. After 0.4 mile you will reach the Pleasant River Tote Road and turn left. Another 1.5 miles down the trail, when the AT veers sharply to the right, continue straight over Gulf Hagas Brook and along the Rim Trail. To make an overnight or weekend trip out of Gulf Hagas, check out AMC’s nearby Maine Wilderness Lodges, Little Lyford and Gorman Chairback. Staying at Little Lyford allows direct access to Gulf Hagas from the north via the Pleasant River and Head of the Gulf trails.
More Info: Maine Mountain Guide, 10th ed.; outdoors.org


2. Arethusa Falls
Livermore, N.H.

Claim to Fame: The falls get their name from a Byron Shelley poem in which the water nymph Arethusa turns herself into a fountain to hide from the river god Alpheus. Arethusa Falls, however, aren’t very conspicuously disguised: they plunge almost 200 feet, the highest falls in the state.

Hike: 3 miles out-and-back. Park in the Arethusa Falls lot off US Route 302, in Crawford Notch State Park. Begin by crossing the railroad tracks and turning right into the woods. Cross two bridges to reach a three-way junction. Follow the Arethusa Falls Trail to the left, and descend to the falls. Return the way you came.
More Info: White Mountain Guide, 29th ed.; White Mountain Guide Online; New Hampshire State Parks


3. Franconia Falls
Lincoln, N.H.

Claim to Fame: Natural water slides are the main attraction at Franconia Falls. Bring a bathing suit so you can experience plunging down the chutes into deep pools at the base of this 30-foot waterfall. Year-round access means you can also trade your hiking boots for snowshoes when swimming is no longer an option.

Hike: 6.8 miles out-and-back. Off the Kancamagus Highway, park in the Lincoln Woods lot. Follow the Lincoln Woods Trail for 2.9 mi., then bear to the left before the Franconia Brook footbridge. Follow the Franconia Falls Trail for 0.4 mi. to the base of falls, and continue 0.1 mi. to the end of the trail for the best overlook. For an overnight option, visit the 13 Falls Campsite by backtracking to the junction of the Franconia Falls Trail to find the Franconia Brook Trail. Follow the Franconia Brook Trail. You will find several hidden cascades along the 5.2-mile hike.
More Info: White Mountain Guide, 29th ed.; White Mountain Guide Online; New Hampshire State Parks


4. Bash Bish Falls
Mount Washington, Mass.

Claim to Fame: The most popular waterfall in the Berkshires, and certainly the most photogenic. A large boulder perched at the top of the falls splits Bash Bish into two dramatic gushing streams. Consider extending your hike along the trails to the top of the gorge’s 200-foot cliffs.

Hike: 2 mile out-and-back. Off Falls Road in Mount Washington, follow the Bash Bish Falls Trail from the upper parking area. To extend your hike, connect to the Bash Bish Gorge Trail beyond the falls. It’s marked with blue blazes. This steep mile-long trail leads to Bash Bish Mountain (1,858 feet). You can then continue on to Alander Mountain (2,230 feet). Enjoy the view before heading back on the Bash Bish Gorge Trail, totaling 5.6 miles out and back.
More Info: AMC’s Best Day Hikes in the Berkshires; AMC Trip Planner


5. Blackledge Falls
Glastonbury, Conn.

Claim to Fame: This popular 24-foot fall is most dramatic in early spring. At the height of its glory, Blackledge Falls is actually two or three neighboring falls, with the middle one being the most impressive. Thanks to an overhanging ledge, it features an uninterrupted vertical drop, somewhat rare in New England.

Hike: 1 mile out-and-back. From the Blackledge Falls trailhead on Hebron Ave., follow the blue and white blazed trail to the falls, about half a mile in.
More Info: Town of Glastonbury


6. Kaaterskill Falls
Haines Falls, N.Y.

Claim to Fame: Kaaterskill Falls is New York’s tallest waterfall, with a total drop of 260 feet. Its highest continuous drop is 175 feet, 10 feet higher than Niagara Falls. A popular destination for artists in the 1800s, Kaaterskill was visited and described by writers Washington Irving, Henry David Thoreau, James Fenimore Cooper, and countless others. The falls are also the focus of many paintings by artists of the Hudson River School.

Hike: 2.8 miles out-and-back. This is the most popular day hike in the Catskills. A parking area is located off NY Route 23A, between the towns of Haines and Palenville. Walk down the road across the highway bridge, the bear left to reach the trailhead, then follow the yellow blazes to the falls.
More Info: Best Day Hikes In The Catskills & Hudson Valley, 2nd ed.


7. Buttermilk Falls
Branchville, N.J.

Claim to Fame: There are three falls located along this hike, the first and largest of which, at 85 feet, is the highest in New Jersey. Natural stairs surrounding Buttermilk Falls provide for excellent scrambling and great views.

Hike: 5.3 mile loop. The first set of falls are viewable from the parking lot. From the left of the falls, follow the blue blazes. Hike 1.2 miles to the Woods Trail. Continue along the Buttermilk Falls Trail, still following the blue blazes. At 1.5 miles, merge with the AT for about a mile. When you reach the Hemlock Pond Trail, turn right and follow the orange blazes. At 4.3 miles, merge back onto the Woods Trail.
More Info: Mohican Outdoor Center Hiking Guide


8. Glen Onoko Falls
Jim Thorpe, Pa.

Claim to Fame: The cascades of Glen Onoko Falls flow down a total of 860 feet. You can choose the short hike to the falls, or continue on through the Lehigh Gorge State Park for a little-known but wonderfully diverse hike. Either way the inviting pools are great for cooling off in hot weather.

Hike: 2-miles out-and-back or 10-mile loop. From the state park parking lot, you will see signs for the Glen Onoko Falls access. Climb the stone steps to the left at the fork. Red and orange blazes mark the trail. A mile in you will scramble over some boulders to find the falls. If you choose to continue on for the full loop, the trail runs to the right into the woods. When you reach the fire road after the overlook (about 4.3 miles in), continue along the road for 1.0 mile. Be careful that you do not follow the fire road all the way to the intersection, but return to the trail on the right before the fork at 5.3 miles. The last 3.5 miles follow the Delaware & Lehigh Trail back to the parking lot.
More Info: Best Day Hikes Near Philadelphia


9. Hawk Falls
White Haven, Pa.

Claim To Fame: Located in Hickory Run State Park, which boasts 44 miles of trails. Hawk Falls plunges 25 feet through a rhododendron thicket, ending in a shady ravine great for exploring on a hot day. Swimming holes provide even more chances to cool off. The calmer waters nearby are a popular fishing spot and give these falls a more relaxed atmosphere.

Hike: 2 miles out-and-back. A difficult but short trail leads directly to the falls. Park east of the overpass off of PA 534. Follow the Hawk Falls Trail, hugging the side of the hill. Cross the footbridge, and soon the falls will be in sight. Marked areas allow swimming. Bring a map to extend your day on the park’s extensive trail network.
More Info: Best Day Hikes Near Philadelphia; Pennsylvania DCNR

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Kelly Greenwood

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