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Avalanche Falls - Flume Gorge - Franconia Notch State Park, White Mountains National Forest

New Hampshire: Franconia Notch State Park – Flume Gorge

The White Mountains of northern New Hampshire are incredibly beautiful and are a year-round destination, whether it be for the fall colours, winter sports or meadows filled with spring flowers. Our journey here took place in the height of summer, which doesn’t have the draw of some of the other seasons but this shouldn’t put you off visiting during this time. Of course, whilst the summer is not the perfect time to visit it is still very busy because this is school vacation time.

There is a large parking lot but as we found out it was not too easy to find a spot to park! So, I would suggest coming early or later in the day. 

We visited during the Covid-19 pandemic, and the New Hampshire park service was doing timed ticket entries to limit numbers. Also, these tickets had to be purchased online. Before you head to the Flume I suggest checking on the website as to what is in place for entry.

The trail begins and ends at the Flume visitors centre which has a great little shop and information about the park itself.

The Flume visitors centre
Inside the Flume Gorge visitors centre

The Flume Trail is a 2-mile loop starting at the check-in booths located in front of the Flume Building. The entire loop takes approximately 1.5 hours and finishes at the Flume Building.

The start of the trail is flat. Along the way, there are signs of how different things were in the past – including some huge boulders that were carried by the glaciers that flowed through the region.

A glacial boulder along the Flume trail
A glacial boulder along the Flume trail
The Flume Covered Bridge

The highlight of the trail is the Flume Gorge. 

The Flume is a natural gorge extending 800 feet at the base of Mount Liberty. The walls of Conway granite rise to a height of 70 to 90 feet and are 12 to 20 feet apart. Nearly 200 million years ago during the Jurassic Period, the Conway granite that forms the walls of the Flume was deeply buried molten rock. Over the millennia erosion formed the gorge as we see it today.

The gorge was covered by glaciers during the Ice Age, but the ice sheet did not greatly change the surface. It partially filled the valley with glacial debris and removed soil and weathered rock from the vicinity. After the Ice Age, Flume Brook began to flow through the valley again.

The Flume was discovered in 1808 by 93-year-old “Aunt” Jess Guernsey when she accidentally came upon it while fishing. She had trouble convincing her family of the marvellous discovery, but eventually persuaded others to come and see for themselves. At that time, a huge egg-shaped boulder hung suspended between the walls. The rock was 10 feet (3m) high and 12 feet (3.6m) long. A heavy rainstorm in June of 1883 started a landslide that swept the boulder from its place. It has never been found. The same storm deepened the gorge and formed Avalanche Falls.

The boardwalk leading up to the head of the gorge, where Avalanche Falls is located is somewhat rickety and not suited for wheelchair access.

The rickety boardwalks in Flume Gorge
Avalanche Falls
Avalanche Falls

From the top of Flume Gorge, the trail turns back towards the park entrance. This is the Ridge Trail, a very pleasant part of the route with small detours to look out on waterfalls and the river flowing below.

The Ridge Trail leads to the Sentinel Pine Bridge and pool.

The Pool is a deep basin in the Pemigewasset River. It was formed at the end of the Ice Age, 14,000 years ago, by a silt-laden stream flowing from the glacier. The Pool is 40 feet (12m) deep and 150 feet (45m) in diameter and is surrounded by cliffs 130 feet (39m) high. A cascade rushes into it over fragments of granite that have fallen from the cliffs above.

On the high cliff above the Pool, the Sentinel Pine stood for centuries. It was one of the largest in the state, nearly 175 feet (53m) high, with a circumference of 16 feet (4.8m). The hurricane of September 1938 uprooted the giant pine whose trunk bridges the river above the Pool and forms the base for the covered bridge. The bridge offers a fine view of the Pool.

From the Sentinel Pine Bridge, it is only a 15-minute walk back to the Visitor Centre where you can do some final souvenir shopping and grab a snack.

The Sentinel Pine Covered Bridge

In Summary …

  • Flume Gorge is a short 2-mile walk along mostly flat trails. It generally takes about 1.5 hours to complete
  • Parking is tight so get here early or later in the day
  • The weather in upstate New Hampshire is hard to predict so come prepared for a bit of everything!

Planning your visit to Flume Gorge

Address:Flume Gorge, Daniel Webster Hwy, Lincoln, NH 03251
Website:www.nhstateparks.org
Telephone:T:(603) 823-8800
Hours:

Open Daily 9 am – 4 pm
(closes for the winter)

Admission Fees

Ages 13 and over: $18
Ages 6-12: $16
Ages 5 & Under : FREE

Best time to visit New Hampshire’s White Mountains

The White Mountains region is both a winter and summer destination for mountaineers and skiers. But if you are just looking for sceneries, fresh air and the beauties of the region it’s best to choose summer, late-spring and early-fall periods.

Fall’s foliage – as in other sites of New England – causes many thousands of weekenders to visit the region, so you may want to avoid Autumn’s weekends to avoid the crowds.

Other places to visit around the White Mountains

1. MOUNT WASHINGTON

Mount Washington is the highest peak in the Northeastern United States at 6,288.2 ft and the most topographically prominent mountain east of the Mississippi River.

The weather at the summit is notoriously bad. Mount Washington once held the world record and still holds the Northern Hemisphere and Western Hemisphere record for directly measured surface wind speed, at 231 mph (372 km/h), recorded on the afternoon of April 12, 1934.

At the summit, there are several historical buildings, a visitor centre and a weather station (which you can visit). To get to the top you can hike, drive a car or take the famous cog railway (in our opinion the most fun way to get to the summit)

2. CONWAY SCENIC RAILWAY

Hop aboard this old-fashioned train and embark on a scenic journey through northern New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington Valley. Departing from a beautiful 1874 Victorian Station in North Conway Village, enjoy rides to Conway or Bartlett or the legendary Crawford Notch excursion.

Experience the fun of rail travel in the comforts of open or enclosed restored vintage cars (from the 1920s), and travel in Coach, First Class, or in the elegant Dining Car. Ride past sheer bluffs, cliffs, steep ravines, cascading brooks and streams, panoramic mountain vistas, and bridges on the Conway Railroad.

3. CANNON MOUNTAIN AERIAL TRAMWAY

The first passenger aerial tramway in North America began operation on this site in 1938. Almost seven million passengers were carried to the top by the first tram. Take a scenic eight-minute ride in one of two enclosed cable cars to the 4,080-foot summit of Cannon Mountain and enjoy panoramic views of the distant valleys and mountains. Each tram car has a maximum capacity of 80 persons and ascends 2,180 feet vertically. Walking trails to a summit observation tower leave from the tram station.

In the winter, Cannon Mountain is a favourite among skiers, with 97 trails and slopes for all abilities. Cannon is the home of the New England Ski Museum which is located near the base of the tramway.

Where to stay near Franconia Notch State Park

1. CAMPGROUNDS

In the heart of Franconia Notch State Park, Lafayette Place Campground is the camping and hiking hub for the park. It provides a great base from which to enjoy hiking, biking, fishing, swimming, and many attractions in the White Mountains. Information about hiking trails, safety, and the natural and cultural history of the park is available at the cabin near the campground entrance. A lodge houses a registration desk and offers a selection of camping supplies. Each campsite is wooded and has a picnic table, car parking, and an open fireplace. There are coin-operated showers and a camp store. Lafayette Campground provides 97 wooded tent sites.
 
The seven-site RV park, located on the north shore of scenic Echo Lake in Franconia Notch State Park, is open year-round. Three-way hook-ups are provided during the regular camping season beginning Memorial Day Weekend 2021. However, there is no water or sewer, including dump station, available from mid-October through late May.

2. FRANCONIA INN

Featuring views of the White Mountains, this inn is 10 miles from skiing on Cannon Mountain and 19 minutes’ drive from Flume Gorge, guest can enjoy 25 miles of Cross Country Ski Trails. The property offers onsite horseback riding/sleigh rides, and onsite bike shop. Breakfast is served each morning and there is on-site dining.

Guests staying at the Franconia Inn can enjoy facilities like an outdoor pool, hot tub, tennis courts and more. The property also has a games room with table tennis, pinball and more.

The rooms at Inn Franconia have unique furniture and include views of the mountains. Each room also has an private bathroom.

3. SUGAR HILL INN
Sugar Hill Inn features a restaurant, seasonal outdoor swimming pool, a bar and garden in Sugar Hill. The air-conditioned rooms provide a garden view and come with a closet and free WiFi.Rooms come complete with a private bathroom equipped with a shower and bathrobes, while some units at the inn also provide guests with a seating area. At Sugar Hill Inn every room includes bed linen and towels. Guests at the accommodation can enjoy a à la carte breakfast. Lincoln is 19 miles from Sugar Hill Inn, while Franconia is 0.8 miles away.
 

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