11 Best Waterfalls in New Hampshire
For tourists visiting New Hampshire's White Mountains, the waterfalls provide scenic picnic sites, swimming holes, the reward for a short hike, even natural water parks for kids. Infinite in the ever-changing patterns they make as they drop and splash over stones and ledges, waterfalls have an almost mesmerizing attraction. The water's constant movement catches light in different ways, and sunbeams play into ephemeral rainbows that glimmer suddenly and disappear as quickly.
A few of these waterfalls are visible from the road, including Beaver Brook and Jackson Falls. Some are a short walk, such as Diana's Bath and Sabbaday Falls. Several of them are waterfalls where you can swim in the water. You can picnic on the rocks of the Lower Falls of the Swift River and the Cascades at The Basin. Some are long drops; others are series of cascades like stair-steps, but most New Hampshire waterfalls are a combination of long plunges and foamy cascades. One thing is certain: no two are even remotely alike.
Two of the waterfalls, The Flume and Lost River, are part of larger natural attractions, but apart from these, all are free to visit. Plan your travels in the White Mountains and the Great North Woods with our list of the best waterfalls in New Hampshire.
1. The Flume
The Flume, in Franconia Notch, is an 800-foot-long gorge with vertical walls 90 feet tall, the work of a small stream flowing through a crack in the granite over millennia. Although it is not the biggest of New Hampshire's waterfalls, it has by far the most dramatic setting, plunging in a series of falls and cascades. You can walk through the gorge alongside the stream that hardly seems big enough to have carved this chasm.
The stream flows from the wooded hillside above, sliding across water-smoothed ledges, and plunges over the rim of the gorge. When the water is high, in the spring or after a rain, the water plunges in a 40-foot free fall into the gorge. When water levels are lower, it drops in a series of smaller falls over the stair-step granite formations.
Follow the trail past The Flume to Liberty Gorge Cascades, longer than The Flume's falls, but less spectacular. A covered footbridge spans the top, and the best view of the cascading falls is from a path to the left, just past the bridge. On the trail to The Flume, you'll pass several giant boulders, called glacial erratics, which were dropped as the glaciers retreated at the close of the last Ice Age.
Address: Off I-93 Exit 34A, Lincoln, New Hampshire
Official site: https://www.nhstateparks.org
2. Rocky Gorge and Lower Falls
A pair of waterfalls in the aptly named Swift River, Rocky Gorge and Lower Falls are alongside the Kancamagus Highway in Albany. Although neither has a high drop, they are the most scenic and dramatic spots in a 12-mile stretch of rapids and cascades.
Best yet, you can swim in the pools and sun on the smooth rock ledges of Lower Falls. You won't be alone on a sunny day, as this is a very popular swimming hole. The river rushes through a series of channels and water-worn pools in the granite riverbed, forming shallow wading pools and deeper basins of swirling water for swimming. Rocky Gorge is not safe for swimming, but it's a beautiful series of falls framed by forests, with a mountain backdrop.
Because the Kancamagus Highway runs through the White Mountain National Forest, you'll need a Federal Use Pass to stop anywhere along the road. You can get these at either end, at the White Mountains Attractions office, just off Interstate 93 in Lincoln, or the Ranger station at the Conway end of the road.
Address: The Kancamagus Highway (Route 112), Albany, New Hampshire
3. Arethusa Falls
Arethusa Falls is the tallest in New Hampshire, with a single straight drop of 175 feet. The water falls over a solid wall of rough granite whose shelves and crevices catch and bounce the water into a long and shimmering lacy veil.
Bemis Brook is not very big, so Arethusa is its most impressive in the spring or after rains, when the water rushes over the ledge in a thundering torrent. But even after a dry summer, the height and sheer drop make the falls well worth the hike.
The 1.3-mile trail from Route 302 in Crawford Notch has an altitude gain of about 750 feet, some of it a little rough, so be sure to wear sturdy shoes (it's not a trail for flip-flops). The hike has smaller rewards along the way, including Bemis Brook Falls and Coliseum Falls, which are a little less than halfway to Arethusa. Enthusiastic hikers can continue for another two miles to reach Ripley Falls, a 100-foot cascade across ledges.
Address: US Route 302, Hart's Location, New Hampshire
4. Crystal Cascade
Two falls in one, Crystal Cascade drops in two separate plunges. The uppermost is a broad curtain of water 60 feet in height that splashes over a rough granite face, and the lower is a 20-foot plunge between the cliffs that enclose the falls. At the bottom, the stream makes a dramatic right-angle turn.
This unique bend in the river seems planned for viewers, giving them the perfect vantage point for viewing the falls straight-on. The climb to this spot is about a third of a mile, a 15-minute walk with a steep but short climb on the last bit. The trail begins at the AMC Pinkham Notch Visitors Center, a good place to get more information on the White Mountains.
Address: Route 16, Gorham, New Hampshire
5. Lost River Gorge
Like so much of New Hampshire's rock-strewn and craggy landscape, Lost River Gorge was formed at the end of the last Ice Age, as huge pieces of granite were dislodged and tumbled in the water pouring out of the melting glaciers. The rushing river dug a bed beneath them and broke loose more boulders, eventually hiding the river that tumbled down through the steep ravine.
You can follow the river, climbing wooded walkways alongside cascades and waterfalls that plunge into deep basin-like pools. These giant potholes were carved and scoured by the constant swirling waters filled with sand and stones from above.
In some places, you can climb through the boulder caves the river has formed underneath the surface, through narrow tunnels and passageways. The tightest of these passages, called "the lemon squeezer," is not for anyone with claustrophobia. A suspension bridge at the top leads to a boardwalk through a glacial boulder field. This is a particularly popular attraction for families, with many crevices and caves to explore.
Address: Route 112, Kinsman Notch, New Hampshire
6. Glen Ellis Falls
Narrowed and sped by a slim chute at the head of the falls, the Ellis River seems to erupt from above, pouring out of a rocky spout before dropping over a 60-foot cliff. It lands in a tumult of foam into a deep pool, which is surrounded by large boulders torn by glaciers from the mountainsides above.
Visitors can get a good overview of the falls from a platform, and then descend the wooden stairs for a full-on view of the falls. The falls are formed by the Ellis River, which is fed from the ravines and glacial cirques that form the eastern side of Mt. Washington, the northeast's highest peak. Thanks to its reliable spring-fed sources, this is one waterfall that is dependable for a steady flow.
The parking for Glen Ellis Falls is well marked as you climb through Pinkham Notch, and the falls are accessed by an underpass.
Address: Route 16, Gorham, New Hampshire
7. Sabbaday Falls
A level trail of about a third of a mile leads from the Kancamagus Highway to one of the loveliest of the state's waterfalls. Coming into view first is a flume, where the water surges through a 10-foot gap between walls of moss-covered rock. Below the flume is a pothole scoured out by the swirling water and the debris it carries.
Above, where you can climb via wooded stairs, you can follow the rim to see the rest of the waterfall. Sabbaday Falls provides an interesting illustration on how waterfalls evolve and change over time. Look at the top of the falls to see where potholes are formed by the rushing water. As their downstream rims are eroded, they undercut the ledges before finally breaking through and allowing the falls to migrate farther upstream.
A picnic area is at the roadside trailhead, and as with other sites along the Kancamagus, you'll need a Federal Use Pass to stop here.
Address: The Kancamagus Highway (Route 112), Albany, New Hampshire
8. The Basin and Cascades
The small waterfall that flows into The Basin adds to the beauty of the site and is one of the few on this list that is accessible by wheelchair. Although it is less remarkable as a waterfall, the attraction of The Basin for tourists is its undulating shape, carved out by swirling waters of a much larger waterfall of glacial meltwater. The round hole in the granite is more than 30 feet in diameter, over 15 feet deep, and it looks as though it has been shaped by giant hands.
For a grander waterfall (and a delightful picnic spot), follow the trail a short way through the woods to the Cascades. Descending over a long set of flat ledges, Cascade Brook creates places for youngsters to splash safely, leaving the shaded edges dry for picnics.
Address: Off I-93 Exit 34B, Lincoln, New Hampshire
9. Beaver Brook Falls
One of very few waterfalls in the state visible from the roadside (Silver Cascade in Crawford Notch is another) Beaver Brook Falls is also one of the few not in the White Mountains. Through North of Colebrook, in the Great North Woods Region, the waterfall comes as a roadside surprise, a 35-foot sheet of water appearing suddenly from the surrounding forest.
Below the sheer drop of the upper falls, a series of cascades splash from pool to pool. At the foot of the falls is a picnic area.
While you are traveling in this thinly populated northern region, you will see signs alerting you to the presence of moose. These are meant as a warning to look out for them in the road, as they are large animals with no fear of motor vehicles. But the signs also tell you that these are places where you have a fair chance of spotting these impressive animals in marshy places alongside the road, an unforgettable experience.
Address: Route 145, Colebrook, New Hampshire
10. Diana's Bath
A series of water features combine to create one of the state's prettiest and most interesting waterfalls. The first of these you see is an eight-foot falls issuing from a chute in the bedrock and ending in a 15-foot cascade down a sloping rock surface. Above is a wide granite face about 20 feet tall, with a series of little waterfalls spread across its face. These drop onto a succession of small shelves, carving small potholes at each level. Water flows continuously through these basins, falling to the next level and finally to falls below.
As you climb higher, these shelves become flatter and closer together, but the basins become more pronounced. The effect is that of a free-form fountain.
Address: West Side Road, North Conway, New Hampshire
11. Jackson Falls
Although Jackson Falls may not get a lot of points for spectacular, it makes up for it in fun. This is a waterfall where kids are safe to play, a long stairstep of falls no more than a few feet high, with small shallow pools and lots of dry places at the edges for picnics or simply sitting in the sun.
Flowing alongside the road as it climbs out of the pretty village of Jackson, the falls slide over pink granite that has been smoothed by Wildcat Brook. Here the water has carved potholes, chutes, pools, showers, and natural waterslides. For kids, it's a water park built by nature.
The falls face south, so in the afternoon, they are bathed in sunlight that turns the pink granite an even warmer shade.
Address: Carter Notch Road, Jackson, New Hampshire