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Hiking past 45 foot high Avalanche Falls in Franconia Gorge

Flume Gorge Hike in Franconia Notch

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If you’ve never been to New Hampshire you’re in for a treat, especially if you visit the spectacular White Mountains in the northern part of the state. Years ago I’d driven through on the interstate and what I remembered was mile after mile of pristine forest. On this visit I had time to do the fabulous Flume Gorge hike in Franconia Notch State Park and revel in the beauty of the forest cloaked in fresh spring green foliage.

Franconia Notch, for which the state park is obviously named for, is a spectacular mountain pass that is accessed via the parkway that winds between the Franconia and Kinsmen Mountain Ranges. The parkway (also called I-93) runs for eight miles from Flume Gorge in the south to Echo Lake in the north. The not to be missed easy Flume Gorge hike should be at the top of your list if you visit.

The Flume is a natural granite gorge that’s just 12 – 20 feet wide. It spans 800 feet at the base of Mount Liberty. On the Flume Gorge hike you’ll enjoy stunning waterfalls, a green landscape of mossy Conway granite walls rising 90 feet, a historic covered bridge, the Pool, giant boulders, and some lovely mountain views. 

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TViews of New Hampshire's White Mountains
Views of New Hampshire’s White Mountains

Flume Gorge hike summary

  • Stop at the Flume Gorge Visitor Centre (exit 34A off of I-93) to do the beautiful two mile self-guided nature hike through a natural gorge formed by erosion of a basalt dike in highly fractured Conway granite over several million years.
  • You must do the full two mile loop as the Short Trail – Rim Path is closed. You can access the hike from May until October (9AM – 4 PM) though you may want to avoid peak foliage season. Adults must pay $US18 for online reservations and $21 at the ticket window. The price for kids aged 6-12 is $16 online and $19 at the ticket window. Aged 5 and under are free. Parking fortunately is free.
  • Reservations must be made for a specific arrival window on a specific date. 
  • Allow 90 minutes to two hours with the all the stops to do the hike.
  • The prettiest time to do the Flume Gorge hike is in the fall when the leaves are turning – and with a timed entry, you won’t be fighting crowds quite as much. In winter, it’s open but the hike is at your own risk and the stairs are very slippery. Take icers and poles.
  • You might get a little bit wet from the spray from the waterfalls.
  • There are restrooms at the Visitor Centre – but it’s only open from May until October.
  • The Flume Gorge hike is not stroller friendly.
  • Pets aren’t permitted in Flume Gorge.
  • The Gorge is closed to hikers in the winter and the boardwalks are removed. 
There's a temperature difference of 10F between the Flume Gorge and the Visitor Centre most days
There’s a temperature difference of 10F between the Flume Gorge and the Visitor Centre most days

Getting to the start of the Flume Gorge hike

The 2-mile long Flume Trail starts at the check in booths in front of the Flume Building.

Flume Gorge hike description

The hike follows a well-used catwalk/boardwalk so you’re able to get close up views of the mossy, fern covered walls, the pools and waterfalls. Count on getting a little wet when you scoot by Avalanche Falls, the final fall in the gorge. It was formed in 1883 when a large boulder was dislodged during a massive storm.

Catwalks – that are removed every winter – run up Franconia Gorge
Catwalks – that are removed every winter – run up Franconia Gorge
The Flume Gorge sees some quarter of a million visitors every year
Flume Gorge sees some quarter of a million visitors every year
 Move quickly past this waterfall to avoid the spray
Move quickly past this waterfall to avoid the spray 
 Avalanche Falls is 45 feet high
Avalanche Falls is 45 feet high

Sentinel Pine Covered Bridge

After passing the viewpoint over Avalanche Falls the hike flattens out. Look for the sign pointing to the Liberty Gorge and Sentinel Pine Covered Bridge and continue, stopping at all the viewpoints along the way. This part of the trail offers truly delightful, easy hiking.

The Sentinel Pine was a centuries old tree uprooted during a hurricane in 1938. At the time the tree was one of the biggest in the state, standing almost 175 feet tall and sporting a circumference of 16 feet. Now its trunk bridges the Pemigewasset River above the Pool and also forms the base for the covered bridge.

Walking through forests clothed in fresh green foliage on the Flume Gorge hike is a complete delight
Walking through forests clothed in fresh green foliage on the Flume Gorge hike is a complete delight

Stop at the Pool on the Flume Gorge hike

You’ll want to stop and admire the 30-foot deep Pool, formed according to the Flume Gorge website “at the end of the Ice Age, 14,000 years ago, by a silt-laden stream flowing from the glacier.” 

The cliffs surrounding the Pool are 130 feet high. The Pool is 40 feet deep and 150 feet in diameter, located in a deep basin in the Pemigewasset River. The photo below doesn’t do justice to its size.

View of the pools (30 feet deep) from Liberty Gorge
View of the pools (30 feet deep) from Liberty Gorge

Sentinel Pine Bridge

Continue on, crossing the Sentinel Pine Bridge. The base of the bridge is made from what was called the Sentinel Pine, one of the largest trees in the state that stood 175 feet tall before falling in a 1938 hurricane.

Its wood was put to use as a base for the bridge though I believe, a good part of the bridge was also built from the wood from this single tree.

It wouldn't be New England without a covered bridge
It wouldn’t be New England without a covered bridge
Looking down Liberty Gorge on the Flume Gorge Hike in Franconia Notch State Park
Looking down Liberty Gorge – portions of which were kayaked in the last few years
The Fabulous Flume Gorge Hike in Franconia Notch State Park
Gorgeous view on the Flume Gorge hike

Wolf Den

There are a few caves in the neighbourhood of the bridge called the Wolf Den that are popular with kids. You have to crawl on your knees and squeeze through the rocks on a one-way path.

From there it’s a short walk past a number of glacial erratics, large boulders deposited by glaciers after the last Ice Age.

 Giant boulders bookend the end of the trail
Giant boulders bookend the end of the Flume Gorge trail

Normally I would do a two mile walk in about 40 minutes but with so many stops and the helpful narration of park host Chuck, it was almost 90 minutes to walk the loop with lots of stops for photography and general gawking.

If you’re into biking there is also the option to cycle the Franconia Notch Recreation Path, a one way distance of 8.8 miles with an elevation drop of 800 feet if you bike south. There is a bike shuttle you can pick up at the Flume Gorge Visitor Centre so you can take advantage of the downhill option.

If you’re anywhere near the White Mountains, take the time to do the Flume Gorge hike. It’s in a beautiful area that is geologically interesting and its the sort of hike all ages can enjoy.

The Flume Gorge hike is one of the greenest hikes I've ever done
The Flume Gorge hike is one of the greenest hikes I’ve ever done

Where to stay near Franconia Notch State Park

The Franconia Inn featuring views of the White Mountains in Franconia is rated superb. 

The Best Western White Mountain Inn is 10 minutes from Cannon Mountain and is home to an indoor pool. It’s rated as good.

Franconia Range View, rated exceptional, is a holiday home with three bedrooms. The state park is only 7.5 miles away.

Further reading about New Hampshire

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

The easy Flume Gorge hike in Franconia Notch State Park, NH

Thank you to Visit New Hampshire for hosting my stay and to Chuck for a most informative tour.

 

 

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