Flume Gorge Loop
Located in Franconia Notch State Park, this two-mile path around the Flume Gorge showcases a lot of beautiful scenery on a short and easy walk. If you crave solitude, this is not the place for you. But if you don’t mind crowds and want to see some unique scenery, don’t miss a visit to this area.
Last year, when we visited New Hampshire for the first time, we went to Flume Gorge with my parents. It was insanely crowded, unusually hot and glaringly sunny on that visit, so we decided to make a return visit on this trip – hoping that the clouds and cooler weather would keep the crowds at bay. There were definitely fewer people this time, but that’s not to say we had solitude. Flume Gorge is an extremely popular area. There will always be hordes of people, no matter the time of day, week or year you visit.
It’s no surprise the area draws such large crowds – it packs an amazing amount of unique scenery into an easy, two-mile loop. For anyone who doesn’t want to walk the two miles, there is a bus that will take visitors to a drop-off point at the Boulder Cabin. This option substantially shortens the distance and climbing necessary to see the gorge. However, bus riders miss seeing a lot of the other impressive scenery along the loop.
The two-mile loop starts off along a shady, wooded path that climbs down to the Pemigawasset River. In .25 miles, there is a bright, red covered bridge across the water – the bus goes through the bridge, but pedestrians cross a walkway attached to the side of the bridge. After a short uphill, both the bus riders and the walkers arrive at the Boulder Cabin. The building is full of exhibits – both historical and natural.
After passing the cabin, the path follows alongside an area called Table Rock. The water in the river passes thinly over a wide, smooth expanse of granite. A sign announces the beginning of the Flume. The Flume is a fascinating geological area – a narrow slot canyon carved out from thousands of years of river flow over the rock. Wooden walkways are attached to the sheer canyon walls and allow people to climb through the gorge using a series of ramps and steps. Near the top of the Flume, visitors are treated to views of the crashing water of Avalanche Falls. The falls take several directional turns through the Flume – each angle makes it look like a completely different waterfall. After passing the waterfall, be sure to take a quick peek inside Bear Cave.
At the top of the Flume, the trail has two options – one returns people to Boulder Cabin and the bus stop, the other follows a trail for a little over a mile back to the main entry. If you’re able, it’s definitely worth following the longer route to see Liberty Gorge Cascade, the Pool, The Sentinel Pine Covered Bridge, the Wolf’s Den and several impressive erratics along the trail.
One of my favorite views along the trail was looking back at the Pool and the Sentinel Covered Bridge from a little spur trail to an overlook. From this point, the walk back is steeply uphill for a short while. Once you gain the ridge, the path levels off and you get a nice view of Liberty Mountain. A short while later, you arrive back at the visitor’s center – where you can treat yourself to an ice cream cone.
Even though Flume Gorge is crowded and rather expensive to visit, it’s still very worthwhile. Not many short two-mile loops pack in quite so much scenery into a pleasant, easy-to-walk package.
After dropping off our thru-hiker friends, The Traveling Circus, we headed off to hike around Flume Gorge. We did this trip last year with Christine’s parents, but thought it was worth a second trip.
This is a very popular attraction and is definitely one of the highlights of the Franconia Notch State Park. Similar to many areas of New Hampshire, it requires a fee (in 2010, it was $13 for adults). The visitor center has a theatre that shows an informational film throughout the day and a few exhibits around the entrance. The snack bar is also fully equipped to provide enough refreshment and food for a lunch or snack.
This hike packs a lot of features into one short hike. The covered bridge was built in 1886. While you can’t walk inside since it is for bus traffic, it does provide a nice photo opportunity. Table Rock is a large rock outcropping where Flume Brook slowly glides over the water. The rock is 500 feet long and 75 feet wide. The Flume Gorge is quite impressive. You walk along a boardwalk that clings to one side of the gorge. The Conway granite walls rise on either side 70-90 feet as you see the brook rush out of Avalanche Falls and down the brook. We were impressed to see all of the small trees and moss that grows amazingly out of the cliff walls. The Flume was discovered in 1808 by a 93 year-old woman while she was fishing. Signs describe a large boulder that was suspended between the walls of the gorge but a storm in 1883 swept it away and no signs of the boulder have been spotted since. Avalanche Falls is an impressive 45-foot waterfall that you can see from several angles while along the boardwalk.
After walking another .5 miles from Avalanche Falls, Liberty Gorge is your next stop. There is a nice overlook to see the water flow through this gorge. After a few tenths of a mile past Liberty Gorge, you will come across the Pool overlook and another covered bridge. Shortly after the covered bridge, you have an option to join go through the one-way Wolf’s Den, but it does require crawling on your hands and knees to make it through the cave. We continued pass the Wolf’s Den, to catch the additional overlook of the Pool. We thought this was a better view of the covered bridge and the Pool. Continue from here to arrive at the Glacial Boulder garden to view some nice erratics.
While there aren’t any geocaches inside the gorge, there are a few outside the area:
- Distance – 2 miles
- Elevation Change –400 feet
- Difficulty – 1.5. There are some steps and hills, but most people should be able to do this without too much effort.
- Trail Conditions – 4.5 The trail is covered in small crushed gravel, allowing for easy footing.
- Views – 1. You do get one view of Liberty Mountain, but otherwise you won’t see many far-off views.
- Waterfalls/streams – 5. Great views of Avalanche Falls and much of the trip is in sight of water.
- Wildlife – 1. We saw a few red squirrels and chipmunks, but this is so popular with tourists, you won’t see a lot of wildlife.
- Ease to Navigate – 5. The area is secluded from other areas, so you can’t get lost. You just have options to cut distance off of the trail.
- Solitude – 0. You will always find lots of people here.
Directions to trailhead:
From I-93, once you enter the Franconia Notch area, take the Flume Gorge exit. The area is well-marked. Park at the Visitor’s Center. The trail starts from the Visitor’s Center. Purchase tickets and proceed.