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 hike the fabulous Flume Gorge 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.
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. The hike can be done as an out and back affair as far as Avalanche Falls or you can do the full two mile loop. You can access the hike from May until October (8:30 AM – 5 PM) though you may want to avoid peak foliage season. Adults must pay $US16 and $US14 for kids aged 6-12.
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.
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.
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 and the Pool is 150 feet in diameter. The photo below doesn’t do justice to its size.
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.
There are a few caves in the neighbourhood of the bridge called the Wolf Den that are popular with kids. From there it’s a short walk past a number of glacial erratics, large boulders deposited by glaciers after the last Ice Age.
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 visit Flume Gorge. It’s a beautiful area, geologically interesting and its the sort of hike all ages can enjoy.
Thank you to Visit New Hampshire for hosting my stay and to Chuck for a most informative tour.
Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta
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