Arethusa Falls and Bemis Brook
Note – 10/11/10: In their October issue, Backpacker Magazine inaccurately listed Arethusa Falls as a Virginia destination. The falls are in New Hampshire.
This three mile hike leads to Arethusa Falls, which is (arguably) New Hampshire’s tallest single waterfall. The optional arm along Bemis Brook is challenging in spots, but offers more lovely stream scenery.
We originally planned on combining these two trails with Frankenstein Cliffs to make a loop, but unfortunately we ran short on time and just did the three mile out-and-back.
The trail along Bemis Brook was extremely tough walking! In addition to the roots, rocks and mud, we suffered a full-on mosquito assault. I spent a lot of the walk along the trail cursing and flailing my arms wildly. Even with DEET, the little buggers hovered right around my eyes, ears and nostrils, constantly buzzing in too close and getting caught in my eyelashes.
There were several very pretty small waterfalls along the Bemis trail. Coliseum Falls were especially picturesque. Since it was such a sunny day, I didn’t bother with a tripod. Long exposures weren’t a possibility in the harsh sun, so I just took snapshots along the way. The climb from Bemis Brook back up to the Arethusa Trail was practically vertical. We had to climb, hand-over-hand, grabbing roots and rocks to drag our way up the mountainside. There was one blown down tree that was particularly difficult to negotiate. It was one of those fallen trees that was a little too high to climb over, but a little too low to scramble under. I decided to clamber over it, and ended up getting my boot toe caught on the tree trunk. I took a spectacular fall down onto the roots and rocks. It absolutely left a big black and blue mark! I was really glad when we finally saw the junction with the Arethusa Trail!
The rest of the way to the falls was much easier. It was uphill and muddy in spots, but the trail was well-graded and nice to walk along. The last stretch to Arethusa Falls led downhill into a chasm that opened to an amphitheater like setting. The falls were very impressive! The water falls like lace over the sheer rock face.
On the hike back, Adam and I waffled about whether or not to continue our hike up to Frankenstein Cliffs. We even started down the Cliffs Trail, before turning back in less than a tenth of a mile. We had plans to meet my parents in North Conway, and we just didn’t have time to finish the loop.
Instead, we visited the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Highland Center and got a few Cokes and relaxed in their lobby. After we met up with my parents, we had an amazing lunch at Moat Mountain Brewery & Smokehouse. If you’re ever in the area, don’t miss their barbecue and microbrews!
Arethusa Falls is a gorgeous 160 foot waterfall that is very popular with families. We started on the blue-blazed trail near the railroad tracks at the parking lot. After about .1 miles, you come to a junction with the yellow-blazed Bemis Brook Trail. We decided to do this side trail, since it goes partially along the water, guiding you to a few pools and smaller falls areas. Once you come up to the Coliseum Falls area, you will need to climb up almost vertically up the trail to join back with the Arethusa Falls trail. If you do want to do the Bemis Brook trail you should do this at the start of your trip rather than trying to descend it at the end. This part of the trip was tough and takes a lot of strength out of you in a short distance, so plan appropriately. Once we reached the junction at the top, we took a left to return to the Arethusa Falls trail. The trail continues to go uphill until you reach a junction with the Cliffs Trail. From this point, you continue downhill until you reach the falls in .2 miles. You return the way you came, but you will avoid the Bemis Brook Trail on the way back and just stay on the Arethusa Falls trail to reach your vehicle.
While I was off hunting for a geocache and Christine was taking some photos, she struck up a conversation with a man hiking solo on the trail. When I got back to them (after sliding down the hillside 20 feet on my butt), he wanted to take a look at my map. He was thinking about doing the Frankenstein Cliffs trail and then looping back to make it to his car. He was to meet up with his wife in less than two hours to take a ride up Mount Washington on the cog railroad. We told him that it might be hard to make it in time. He decided to go for it, but I don’t think there was any way he could have made it back in time for his trip up. We both pictured his wife riding solo up the railroad, muttering to herself, and awaiting the moment she could give her husband a piece of her mind.
There are two geocaches you can get on the trail:
We wish we had more time to do the Frankenstein Cliffs trail (these are named after an artist, not the doctor who created a monster), because we have heard that it does give you some nice views from the top. The trail is allegedly muddy and not as well maintained as the Arethusa Falls trail.
- Distance – 3 miles, out-and-back (2.8 if you leave the Bemis Brook Trail off and just stay on the Arethusa Trail the entire way)
- Elevation Change – 650 ft to the falls. There might be a bit more climbing if you do Bemis Brook.
- Difficulty – 3. The Arethusa Trail is squarely moderate. The Bemis Brook trail is more difficult with one killer climb uphill at the end.
- Trail Conditions – 2.5 The Arethusa Trail is in nice condition most of the way. There are some muddy spots and we encountered a flew blow downs. The Bemis Trail is not easy walking. There are numerous fallen trees, tricky footing and if it’s the slightest bit damp, the trail is very slippery.
- Views –0. You’ll be in the woods the entire time.
- Waterfalls/streams – 4. The falls are large and impressive, but not terribly photogenic.
- Wildlife – 0. The heavy human traffic probably scares any wildlife away.
- Ease to Navigate – 5. Trails are marked and easy to follow.
- Solitude – 2. Because the hiking is a little more challenging, you won’t see the same crowds as you do at Flume Gorge or Sabbaday Falls.
Directions to trailhead:
From I-93, follow New Hampshire Route 302 west through Crawford Notch State Park. A few miles past Sawyer Rock Picnic area you will see the Arethusa Falls parking area on the right.