Overview: Spectacular waterfall! Location: Crawford Notch State Park, NH. Stream : Bemis Brook. Height : Supposedly 150-200 feet. Finding : Easy. Well marked trailhead. Access : Moderate hike of nearly 2 miles. Swimming: No. Basking : Yes. Privacy : Popular spot. Legal : Public access.
The access road to Arethusa Falls is right along US Route 302 in Crawford Notch. Look for it on the west side of the road just north of the southern park entrance. There is a large parking area just off Route 302 and a smaller one just up the access road. If possible, you should try to park in the smaller parking area. Doing so takes a couple of hundred yards off your hike.
From the back of the lower parking area there is a trail that heads uphill through the woods. Follow the signs to "The Falls." Shortly you will come to the upper parking area where there is a house and a small ice cream shop as well (handy for after returning from the falls).
The main trail leaves from the left (south) side of the upper parking area. In a short distance the Bemis Brook Trail leaves to the left. You can go that way and visit Bemis Brook Falls and Coliseum Falls as well. The Bemis Brook Trail rejoins the main trail farther up. (Note: the ascent from Bemis Brook Falls back to the main trail is quite steep and difficult).
The main trail climbs steadily for some distance. For a while Bemis Brook remains well below the trail and to the left. However, higher up the brook and trail are side by side. Finally the trail crosses the brook on a wooden bridge and then shortly afterwards comes to the falls from below.
Arethusa Falls (pronounced ARA-THUSE-A by the local residents) is supposed to be the highest waterfall in New England. Various values of height are reported in different references, but heights in the 150-200 foot range seem the most reliable. However, when you actually see the waterfall, it does not seem nearly that high. My personal estimate would put it around 100 feet -- not much different than the nearby Ripley Falls.
Arethusa Falls is a spectacular waterfall. The trail comes out immediately below the falls and right away one faces an imposing rock wall over which the water cascades. The drop is nearly vertical. It is difficult to see the top of the falls because of the angle of the rock. It is possible that what appears to be the top might actually just be a rock lip and that there might be significantly more waterfall above that point. If so, that would explain the difference between the reported and apparent height.
There are plenty of flat rocks below the waterfalls for tired hikers to stretch out and enjoy the view. If you want to take pictures, however, you'll need a wide angle lens or you'll have to back down the stream a bit. There is a pool at the bottom of the falls in which people might splash their feet. However, the pool does not look like a very satisfactory swimming spot to me.
Today my wife, Sharon, and I visited these falls for the first time. It turned out to be a longer hike up than we expected, but it was worth it. The stream was not too high so we were easily able to cross to the other side from where the trail ended. That gave us a better angle to view the falls. We had lunch sitting on a rock just below the impressive cascade.
From Arethusa Falls there is a connecting trail that goes to Ripley Falls. We did not follow it.
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© Copyright 1999 by Peter C. Chapin.
Last Revised: September 15, 1999