Friday, September 28, 2012

Hiking Ripley and Arethusa Falls, New Hampshire

An easier hike brings you to the highest or second highest waterfalls in New Hampshire. A longer hike could bring you to both waterfalls and to the summit of Frankenstein Cliff. Its a wonderful place to hike in New Hampshire!
Ripley Falls, second highest in New Hampshire
Well its about that time of year to start writing about some great fall hikes in New England. This last Saturday, I figured the first day of fall should be kicked off properly. I had even more of an excuse to get out and hike because my favorite college football team had a bye week! The day's destination was Mt Willey which I was unable to climb when I did Mt Field and Mt Tom on a winter trip

However, I did discover that Frankenstein Cliff, Arethusa Falls and Ripley Falls can be hiked in the same trip! The hike is strenuous but passes by three of New Hampshire's most iconic natural landmarks.

The parking lot for Ripley Falls is where the Appalachian Trail crosses Highway 302 near Bartlett, New Hampshire. There's a paved road that ascends to a small parking lot which fills up quickly in the summer and fall. You can also park at the bottom of the road near the intersection with 302. The parking lot for Arethusa Falls is just before (or past) the Ripley Falls parking lot and is well marked. Both falls can be accessed from either parking lot. 

View Hiking New Hampshire's Waterfalls in a larger map

So as you can see from the map, there are plenty of options for hiking in this relatively small area. Ripley and Arethusa Falls can be hiked separately or together depending on how adventurous you're feeling. Ripley Falls is the easier of the two hikes. Its a moderately strenuous, 1 mile round-trip hike from the Appalachian Trail Parking Lot. Arethusa Falls is a strenuous 2.8 mile round-trip hike from the Arethusa Falls Parking Lot. This is a somewhat steep trail- it ascends about 1,000 feet in 1.4 miles. However all the hard work of getting there is made enjoyable with views of the cascades of Bemis Brook before getting to the waterfall. 

For those looking to bag both waterfalls in the same trip, there is a grueling side trail that connects the two over Frankenstein Cliff. Its a steep 2.4 miles one-way between the falls so be prepared for a much longer day if this is your plan. However Frankenstein Cliff can be seen from this trail if you add another 0.5 miles to the total distance. This is one of the most spectacular views in the state and a mecca for ice climbing.
Arethusa Falls in the Winter
Arethusa Falls is just as impressive in the winter as it is in the summer and the hike is frequently done in all seasons. In the winter, you might catch a glimpse of some ice climbers tediously ascending its frozen slopes. Ripley Falls isn't as impressive in the winter but Frankenstein Cliff is ever so gorgeous.

I've always wanted to come out here in the early morning to photograph the falls- they are east-facing falls and can be completely shaded by early afternoon. Nevertheless, its a serene place to visit any time of year at any time. 
Ripley Falls and the little pool at the bottom
So there are many options and many seasons to hike in this place! Whether you're looking for a short jaunt or a long-day hike, you're bound to see something beautiful. 

Read. Plan. Get Out There!


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  2. I want to do this hike tomorrow. I want to see both falls, Frankenstein cliff and the summit. I don't mind difficult hikes, what route do you recommend? I really appreciate your help. Not finding anything on the Internet as detailed as yours. Which trail to start? What is the name of the trail connecting the falls via Frankenstein cliff? How long should it take? I have to factor in drive time plus good old daylight savings time.

    1. Its not evident on the map, but there's a trail that basically parallels the railroad tracks skirting the east side of Frankenstein Cliff and they make Ripley and Arethusa Falls into a nice loop hike- here's a good map of it- The train tracks are predominantly flat and you cross a gorgeous high bridge on the way (no danger of trains). I would start at the Arethusa Parking lot (the south lot on the map) and do Arethusa first. You'll notice the train tracks from here. Arethusa is much more gorgeous than Ripley Falls so if you only do one, do Arethusa. The trail from Arethusa up Frankenstein Cliff is steep but wonderful. It leads to the two or three viewpoints which can be a little overgrown earlier in the season but not now. Turn around to get back to the original trail. Heading north takes you to Ripley Falls and then the Wiley House Station which is close to Rt 302/Crawford Notch Road. From there, you can take the train tracks back or literally just hike on the road back. Taking the saco river trail wouldn't be a bad idea either but I'm less familiar with that myself.

      Hope that helps, have a wonderful hike! Should take about 4-5 hours or up to 6 depending on your pace and how many pictures to take. I'd add another hour just to take in the sights at Arethusa as its the prettiest waterfall in New England.

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  4. Arethusa Falls in the winter is amazing. We did the hike this past January.