There are a lot of great things about hiking, such as the ability to get out into the woods, explore trails, and stumble upon scenic vistas. And waterfalls. There’s just something about towering cliffs and rushing whitewater plunging from above that can take one’s breath away, with sights and sounds that can range from soothing to downright exhilarating. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of New Hampshire waterfalls — and although there are many that can be reached by car, there’s a certain satisfaction in lacing up your hiking boots and getting out onto the trails in search of beautiful cascades. Here are 10 great hiking trails with waterfalls, rated from easy to difficult and all over a mile in length, that you can find in New Hampshire.
10 Worthwhile Hiking Trails to New Hampshire Waterfalls
Love trails? Love waterfalls? New Hampshire is a great place to find both. Here are some of our favorites:
Basin-Cascades Trail | Lincoln
Length: Up to two miles round-trip
About: The Basin-Cascades Trail is less of a single destination and more of a mile-long display of beautiful waterfalls and cascades. The trail runs parallel to Cascade Brook and leads to several popular features, including a small waterfall located in the Pemigewasset River basin that chutes into a whirlpool, Kinsman Falls, a 15-foot fall that plunges into a swimmable pool, and Rocky Glen Falls, the largest of the bunch at 35 feet. There are unnamed cascades and fun water features throughout the trail, so it’s possible (despite the route’s popularity) for all hikers to find a fine private area where they can enjoy the water and view. The easy, short trail ascends subtly and is a segment of the famous Appalachian Trail. The trailhead can be reached off of I-93 via the Basin parking areas (on either side) in Franconia Notch State Park.
Arethusa Falls | Hart’s Location
Length: Three miles round-trip or five-mile loop
Rating: Moderate to difficult
About: Tucked away within Crawford Notch State Park in the White Mountains, this waterfall from the headwaters of Bemis Brook plunges along a granitic cliff to a rocky pool beneath. Although estimates of the falls’ height vary from 125 to 200 feet, the water rushing from the top seems to be coming right out of the sky. From the parking area off Route 302 in Hart’s Location, hikers can take the Bemis Brook Trail to the Arethusa Falls Trail and out to the waterfall, for a total distance of 1.5 miles (one way). There’s also the option, before or after checking out the waterfall, to hike the Frankenstein Cliff Trail, which forms a loop with the Arethusa Falls Trail, for a total distance of about five miles. Despite the steep trail and tricky terrain you must traverse to get here, some say Arethusa Falls is the best in New England.
Rainbow Falls | Plymouth
Length: 1.5 miles
About: Found in Plymouth’s Walter-Newton Natural Area, Rainbow Falls is a pretty 20-foot waterfall that doesn’t require trekking into the White Mountain National Forest. Fed by Grove Hollow Brook, the waterfall is best visited in spring when the water is rushing most heavily. Hikers can get to the falls by walking up the road from the parking area to the trailhead kiosk on the right and following the Walter Trail up to the waterfall. Although the hike is short and the waterfall consists of just two shorter plunges, the area is beautiful and there are benches for sitting and relaxing or enjoying a snack. There are also more trails at the nature preserve for those looking to do some additional hiking.
Diana’s Baths | Bartlett
Length: One-mile round-trip or up to 10 miles
Rating: Easy to moderate
About: At Diana’s Baths in the White Mountains, both kids and adults can enjoy easy hiking, scrambling over smooth rocks, wading in natural pools, and viewing plunging 12-foot waterfalls. The site’s original Abenaki name meant “water fairies’ spring” — and on a warm summer day, with the sun shining between the trees and reflecting into the rushing water, one can certainly imagine how it could be a fairies’ paradise. The path to Diana’s Baths is flat and easy, and it’s less than a mile to the base of the falls. For those who want to escape the crowds, however, there are just under 10 miles of additional hiking past the waterfalls on the Moat Mountain and Red Ridge trails.
Nancy Cascades | Livermore
Length: Five to 10 miles round-trip
Rating: Moderate to difficult
About: Between the main upper and lower falls, Nancy Cascades trickle through chutes, slides, plunges, and horsetails for up to 300 feet, fed by water from Nancy Pond (another worthwhile destination). The trailhead can be found off of Route 302, and the lower cascades and pool are a bit less than 2.5 miles into the hike on Nancy Pond Trail. Many hikers opt to continue on, as beautiful Nancy Pond can be found another mile up the trail, and Norcross Pond yet another mile from there. The trail connects to Mount Nancy Trail for those looking to summit the 3,926-foot mountain. The hike out to Nancy Cascades is relatively short and easy; however, the more you add on (to the ponds and summit), the trickier the terrain and navigation becomes.
Falling Waters Trail | Franconia
Length: Six miles round-trip or nine-mile loop
Rating: Moderate to difficult
About: This lovely but tricky trail takes you to the summit of Little Haystack Mountain, a 4,840-footer in the White Mountains. The very popular route has long stretches of maneuverable terrain and takes hikers past a series of fantastic waterfalls — including the smaller Stairs Falls, the 60-foot Swiftwater Falls, and the 80-foot Cloudland Falls. The hike to the summit, however, does include some rocky and steep climbing, in addition to hopping across boulders in streams and traversing large, slippery slabs of rock. In just under nine miles of hiking, those looking for a longer trip can tackle the popular Franconia Ridge Loop by continuing on from Little Haystack to Mount Lincoln (5,089) and Mount Lafayette (5,260) and down the Old Bridle Path Trail back to the parking lot.
Ripley Falls | Hart’s Location
Length: 1.2 miles round-trip
Rating: Easy to moderate
About: Ripley Falls is another gorgeous site in the White Mountains’ waterfall-rich Crawford Notch State Park. In one of the steepest-angled slides in all of New England (60 degrees), water from Avalanche Brook plunges over the top of the 100-foot waterfall and maintains contact with the wall almost the entire way down. This creates the picturesque sight of a long sheet of whitewater smoothly plunging downward. Although short, the trail is rather steep and does require careful footing. The Ripley Falls parking area is well marked and located off of Route 302. From the parking lot, take the Ethan Pond Trail, which leads to the Ripley Falls Trail.
Flume Gorge | Franconia
Length: Two-mile loop
About: If you’re looking for a popular spot where you can see waterfalls up close, the gorge at the base of Mount Liberty that extends 800 feet, known as the Flume, is a great option. For those seeking a bit of hiking, there’s a two-mile loop, a largely uphill walk with plenty of stairs. The gorge features towering Conway granite walls that rise to 90 feet and one of the deepest pools below a waterfall in New England, in addition to boasting a 500-foot-long waterslide called Table Rock; Avalanche Falls, a 45-foot plunge; and the photographer’s dream that is the 70-foot Liberty Cascade. The Flume is a great short trip to waterfalls before or after doing some additional hiking in Franconia Notch State Park.
Zealand Falls | Bethlehem
Length: Six to 10 miles round-trip
About: The great thing about Zealand Falls is that the surrounding area is rich with outdoor activities, thanks to the proximity of Zealand Pond, Zealand Mountain (and Zeacliff — for views), and the Zealand Falls AMC Hut. Zealand Trail can be found at the end of, yes, Zealand Road in Bethlehem. Follow the trail 2.5 miles to the end to reach the pond, then bear right and follow the Appalachian Trail (Twinway) less than a quarter mile to the AMC hut, where you can stop for a break, water, or snacks, or stay overnight. The falls are just a quick walk from the hut. Those looking for a longer hike can hop back onto the main trail and continue on for a little over a mile before reaching the Zeacliff outlook (a short hike off the main trail). Additionally, it’s possible to continue on to the wooded summit of Zealand Mountain — just be aware that there are no views.
Bridal Veil Falls | Franconia
Length: Five miles round-trip
About: Widely considered one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the state, the 80-foot Bridal Veil Falls got its name due to its shape: The water from Coppermine Brook flows through a narrow point in a high ledge and flares as it plunges downward, creating an illusion of a bride’s long, lacy veil. The trail, which starts from a dirt parking area on Coppermine Road off of Route 116, is kid-friendly, with easier terrain and a gradual elevation gain of just over 1,100 feet. Following the trail along the open forest and rushing brook is a great experience at any time of the year.
What are some of your favorite New Hampshire waterfalls? Let us know!
This post was first published in 2017 and has been updated.