Crawford Notch Hiking

Looking ahead at the long range forecast did not inspire confidence. Rain – and lots of it – was in the forecast for Friday night and the rest of the weekend was looking damp and dreary. Not the weather I was looking forward to for a fall hike in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. But there’s a saying in our Boy Scout Troop: Real Boy Scouts go camping in the rain! (over and over and over again!)

Our original plan was to head up to Crawford Notch State Park on Friday night to give us an early start for a 9-mile loop hike on Saturday. The weather forecast on Thursday was calling for up to an inch of rain overnight Friday tapering off to showers Saturday morning. As our crew consisted mostly of our younger Scouts (college SATs and assorted high school sporting events conspiring to keep the older boys from attending) I decided to push departure out to Saturday morning.

It was pouring rain on Saturday morning at 6:00 am, but things slowly improved as we drove north. By the time we passed the AMC Highland Center on our way into Crawford Notch the rain had abated, but the clouds were still hanging low in the valleys. By the time we had dropped gear in the campsite and got ready to head out for the trailhead the sky had brightened a bit and things weren’t looking so bad.

Ripley Falls

Ethan Pond TrailheadWe set off from the Ethan Pond trailhead under cloudy skies, but at least we weren’t fogged in! The boys were on a “Photo Scavenger Hunt” (more on that in the next post!) and had cameras at the ready as we headed out on the trail.

Ripley Falls is an easy mile from the trailhead. On the way we passed the junction of the Ethan Pond and Ripley Falls trails where the Appalachian Trail joins with the Ethan Pond trail heading south toward Georgia. The falls themselves were pretty spectacular – featuring a 100′ drop down a sloping wall of granite.

Ripley FallsThe positive thing about hiking after a significant rain is that the falls were flowing near to peak. The negative was that it made rock-hopping to get to the far side of Avalanche Brook a bit more challenging than usual. We managed to get the crew safely across with only a couple of wet feet.

Once on the other side we faced a challenging ascent along the south side of the brook on the Ripley and Arethusa Falls trail. The trail was narrow, steep, muddy and a jumble of slick roots that made the climb a bit more than we had bargained for. The trail followed the brook to the lip of Ripley Falls where we could enjoy watching the water tumbling over the lip. The GuardianSomeone had left a small rock sculpture on one of the rocks near the lip of the falls that we nick-named The Guardian.

From the lip of the falls we ascended again along the Ripley-Arethusa trail, crossing several small streams before the trail leveled out toward the Arethusa Falls. We met a couple hiking down the trail and inquired on conditions ahead. They had come up the Frankenstein Cliffs trail and indicated that the ascent along the cliff was pretty slick after the rain.

Frankenstein Cliffs

The original plan was to hike a “lollipop” down Frankenstein Cliffs and back up to Arethusa falls before returning to the Ethan Pond trailhead. Crawford Notch MapBecause we had started late and had questions about conditions, we decided to forgo Arethusa Falls and opt for a scenic vista along the cliffs before turning around for and out-and-back hike.

The Ripley-Arethusa and upper section of the Frankenstein Cliff trail was a muddy, sloppy mess but as we descended toward the cliffs the trail conditions improved a bit. We even got a few glimpses of blue sky on the way that brightened everyone’s mood. About a mile down the trail we came to a table-top with unrestricted views of the southern end of the notch.

Crawford-036Crawford-022We settled in for a brief rest and to enjoy the surroundings. The fall colors were now past peak, but you could still make out swathes of orange and yellow dotting the landscape below. This would have been a spectacular spot a couple of weeks prior!

Crawford-040 Crawford-023The views were great, but the clock was ticking toward sunset so we reluctantly packed up and headed back on the trail. The return trip was uneventful until we hit the descent along Ripley Falls. Every step down that steep pitch of trail was like walking on ice. The crew was tired after a pretty full day on the trail and we had several slips and slides on the way down. Fortunately, no one was hurt or injured – but we all picked up a little more mud on the way down!

Dry River Campground

We stayed overnight at the Dry River Campground in the park. It was the last full-service weekend of the fall – which meant dry firewood, flush toilets, showers and laundry were at our disposal! Although no one felt compelled to run a load of laundry, being able to wash up after a muddy hike was a welcome luxury at the end of the day. We also had the luxury of bringing coolers and a 2-burner Coleman in the car. That meant Pasta Bolognese with a salad for dinner – and pumpkin pie for desert!

Everyone was asleep by 9:00 with one more hike to go in the morning.

Arethusa Falls

A suspicious looking large golden orb appeared in the sky at breakfast the next day causing much consternation among the Scouts. Might we actually have to hike on a sunny day? We would find out after we had breakfast and packed the gear for the trip home.

Arethusa Falls

We parked at the Arethusa Falls trailhead and began the 2-mile hike to the falls around 10:00. It was a beautiful fall morning although the clouds were starting to form over the notch. The Arethusa Falls trail is a well maintained trail ascending 1200′ from Rt. 302 to the base of the falls. Most of the trail was dry and wide … but sloppy, muddy bits were still to be found after Friday’s rain.

Arethusa VeilsTumbling WaterArethusa Falls is New Hampshire’s highest waterfall with a plunge of 160′ from lip to floor. We were lucky to have a high-water day to visit the falls and were treated to veils of water cascading down the face of the falls. We crossed Bemis Brook to a steep trail up the side of the falls for great views from the lip before descending again to enjoy a leisurely snack at the base of the falls.


On the hike down, we took a detour on the Bemis Brook Trail which descended steeply! from the junction to the bank of the brook. Those hiking straight up and down the Arethusa trail are missing some of the park’s hidden gems.

Bemis Brook CascadeThe Bemis Brook trail follows the brook and stops at several falls, cascades and slides along the way. Although not as grand as the Arethusa Falls, the walk along the brook gives the hiker a lovely variety of water views to enjoy.

As we left the trail, we were treated to one last view of the Frankenstein Cliffs from the parking lot. Frankenstein CliffsThe sky was gray, but a break in the clouds lit up the trees giving us a spectacle of fall color against the granite face of the cliff.

We have another saying in the Troop – “If it wasn’t for camping in the rain, we would never go camping!”

Hiking Out in the Fall Colors

We very seldom cancel a trip due to weather. You never know what’s in store … Sometimes it makes for a wet, miserable weekend, but other times a dreary forecast turns out wrong and you get a bonus of a great weekend in the woods.