Saturday, July 18, 2015

Hiking the Falling Water Trail in White Mountains, Lincoln, New Hampshire

Panoramic view from the top of Little Haystack Mountain
in White Mountains, New Hampshire
The Falling Water trail in White Mountains is located near Franconia Notch State Park off I-93. The trail is about 6 miles, round trip. It passes through three waterfalls - Stair Falls, Swiftwater Falls and Cloudland Falls - and goes all the way to the top of the Little Haystack mountain. After one crosses the Cloudland Falls, the trek becomes very difficult for those without prior trekking experience. The trail, there on, becomes very rocky. However, once we get to the top, the panoramic view of the surrounding mountains is breathtaking.

Falling Water Trail - stream crossing balancing on logs
When we reached the trailhead parking off I-93 north around 10 am on 3rd July (the 4-th July weekend) we found the parking absolutely full. People had already started parking off the road. After some head-scratching and looking for a car-width of space in vain, we decided to try the Lafayette campground parking on the other side of the highway. The campground parking is connected to the trailhead parking through an underpass. We drove on I-93 north few miles, took an exit and drove back south. However, when we reached the Lafayette campground we found that parking full as well. Without other options, we parked off the shoulder of I-93 S following others' footsteps. I went to the campground information office and asked if it was all right to park on the side of the highway. The lady in charge said that was fine as long as the car was not on the road.

We put on our gears and set-off. Weather was fantastic. It was slightly warm. However, the official welcoming us at the entrance told us that it would be windy and cold at the top. He suggested we carry some light jackets, which we did. When we reached the top of Little Haystack Mountain, it really was very windy and one would require some warm clothes to stay more than 15 minutes. Little Haystack is at 4760 ft (1451 m).

After few hundred meters, two trails emerged. The Old Bridle Path went straight, the Falling Water trail turned right to a wooden bridge over a stream, the only bridge in the trail. For all other streams, one has to cross hopping on the rocks rising over the rushing water or balancing on the fallen logs. As we walked on we met with many fellow hikers greeting one another with 'happy fourth'. We were walking slow, with many short breaks. Though I had experiences of high altitude treks in the Himalayas, my wife only did short, easy to moderate treks when we were in the United Kingdom. The trek-up took us almost four and half hours, though on average it should take between three and three and half hours.

Stair Falls, White Mountains
The first waterfall to greet us was the Stair Falls. It is of relatively small height. The water fell over 5 or 6 steps, hence the name. Being summer, the surrounding was lush green. The white water rushing on black rock in a green surrounding was very scenic and serene. The next fall on the trail, a few hundred feet above was the Swiftwater Fall. Here as the water cascades down the rocks, one can see and touch the rushing water to get a feel of the speed. The trek up from here increasingly becomes difficult. There are times when you have to use your all four legs. The Cloudland fall is the last fall on the trail. This one is a 80 ft beautiful horse-tail shaped fall. The top of the fall is only few feets but at the bottom it becomes around 20 ft, which gives it the characteristic fan shape. One can go right to the front of the fall and feel the mist of water on their faces. There is a rocky, relately flat area at the front of the fall. One can sit there for a moment and enjoy the beauty. It also gives any photographer a convenient option to set-up a tripod to take a time lapse photo of the fall.

Swiftwater Falls, White Mountains
Many hikers return after reaching the Cloudland fall. However, we decided to go all the way up to the top of the Little Haystack Mountain. The trail from here goes through a dense forest and, in places, becomes steep and rocky. As we continued up the trail we met with some of the fast trekkers who overtook us a few hours back and now returning from the summit. They encouraged us on. A few hundred feet below the summit a signage points to the Shining Rock, quarter of a mile to the right. We decided to continue on the Falling Water trail and not to take this detour. The Shining Rock, a large exposed rock surface is visible from the Lafayette Campground parking (as well as from the I-93 highway).

Cloudland Falls, White Mountains
As we neared the top, the sky opened up. We surrounding mountains started popping up one by one. Finally we crawled the last few feets to be on the topmost point and took in the 360 degree panoramic view of the mountainous landscape. We chose a rock and rested against it. As warned, it was very windy up there. We put on our jackets. We had our lunch. We spent around 45 minutes there and started the climb down via the same Falling Water trail. One can, however, also take the Franconia Ridge trail from here to Mt Lincoln and to Mt Lafayette and from there descend to the parking lot via Old Bridle Path.

As we headed downhill into the afternoon, the sunlight became very soft. The golden rays penetrated through the forest roof and illuminated the green leaves giving them a more lively look. The same water falls looked wonderful in the golden light. It took us little less than 4 hours on the way down. We headed to our lonely car in the campground. We drove on to our hotel in Lincoln with pained limbs but a sense of achievement.


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