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UNDER CONSTRUCTION. This will be replaced with the updated version in the next few months.

Ripley Falls Trail

Crawford Notch State Park, New Hampshire.

Ripley Falls
Introduction How to Get There Terrain and Ecosystems Trail Description Plants and Animals Stories In-Page Navigation, Arethusa Falls Page
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Ripley Falls Trail

Crawford Notch State Park, New Hampshire.

Ripley Falls is a rather large waterfall, and quite beautiful. It is not quite as tall as nearby Arethusa Falls, but it carries a similar amount of water. The hike is short, but challenging, and the waterfall is well worth the effort to see it.

The Ripley Falls Trail is a good hike for children who can accept a bit of a physical challenge. It is short, but too steep and rugged for most toddlers. It is also a good hike for adults who are not in the best physical condition. It is difficult, but not long.

I've been hiking to Ripley Falls once or twice a year for the past fifteen years or so. It's a "graduation hike" for my grandchildren, and once in a while I use it as "one last hike" at the end of a camping trip. (Come to think of it, maybe it's not really all that steep. The last couple of times I've hiked it, I was stiff and sore from a long week of hiking!)

The trail climbs straight up the walls of Crawford Notch and parallels Avalanche Brook. At one point, as the trail turns closer to the stream, it goes sideways along the canyon walls, so you are not climbing, but going across a rather steep slope. For the last part of the trail, you climb steeply down to the bottom of the waterfall.

The trail passes through a mixed second-growth forest. Hardwoods dominate in many areas, and are present everywhere.

Ripley Falls is a rather popular hike, and you'll always find a moderate crowd there on a summer afternoon.

I've never been there in winter, but I suspect it would be passable with crampons. The access road to the trail head is not plowed in winter, so you'll have to add a quarter-mile trudge up the access road to the overall hiking distance. Crampons would be essential, as there are a few places where water seeps across the trail on a very steep slope. I also suspect the waterfall would be spectacular when it's frozen.

(I'll update this page if I do hike up there in winter.)

Ripley Falls.

Ripley Falls in spring thaw.

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How to Get There

If you're near the coast of New England, from Rhode Island to Maine, your best approach is probably up the Spaulding Turnpike (go to Portsmouth, NH via I-95 and you'll find it). I hardly ever go this way myself, so here's the best of my recollection. Somewhere along the way, the Spaulding becomes State Route 16. Continue to follow that to North Conway, then start looking for U.S. 302 west (the intersection is actually in Glen, NH, but it's pretty much continuous strip mall from Conway on up). Follow U.S. 302 west for 18 miles or so, and you'll find yourself in the park. In another four miles or so, you'll see the road to the Ripley Falls trail head on the left. If you come to the Willey House on the left and a large parking lot on the right, turn around and go back about a mile.

From almost anywhere else, follow U.S. 3 or I-93 north. Doesn't matter which, as they come together above Manchester. If you're on U.S. 3 north of Nashua, stay on the Everett Turnpike and I-293 as you pass Manchester, and you'll get back to I-93. Once you're on I-93 north of Manchester, stay on it. U.S. 3 will come and go, and cross a few times, but just stay with I-93 until you get to Franconia Notch. A mile or so north of Franconia Notch State Park (and Cannon Mountain ski area), U.S. 3 splits off again. Follow it this time, toward Twin Mountain and Carroll. In Twin Mountain, at the only traffic signal, you'll come to U.S. 302. Turn right (east) toward Bretton Woods. Soon the road will curve around toward the south-southeast. Maybe 15 miles after Twin Mountain, you'll enter Crawford Notch State Park. You'll know it, as the road descends precipitously from the top of the notch. About three miles after the summit of Crawford Notch, you'll see the Willey House on the right. The road to the Ripley Falls trail head is about a mile farther on the right.

The road to the trail head ends in about a quarter of a mile at a small dirt parking lot. Park along the side of the road if the lot is full. The trail starts at a sign at the west end of the parking lot.

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Terrain and Ecosystems

Ripley Falls is at an elevation of about 1,800 feet, and the trail head is at about 1,450 feet above sea level. But don't let that modest 350-foot climb fool you. It's steep.

As steep as the Ripley Falls Trail is, it covers only the bottom part of the "U" of Crawford Notch. The land is glacial till that has filled the valley floor since the last glacier disappeared. This comparatively flat, comparatively thick soil is well watered and supports beech and birch forests, but there are also quite a few hemlock and balsam trees on the steeper slopes.

This mostly hardwood forest supports the usual variety of mountain wildlife. There are chipmunks all over, and a few red squirrels, as well as woodpeckers and songbirds.

The waterfall itself is, of course, bare bedrock. You can see that the water has cut deeply into the glacial till to reach the bedrock of the waterfall. The boulders and smaller stones that fill the stream below the waterfall are the erosion products of Avalanche Brook itself, and not so much the product of the glaciers.

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Trail Description

The first part of the hike to Ripley Falls is actually on the Ethan Pond Trail, which is part of the Appalachian Trail. From the parking lot, you cross the railroad tracks, then begin to climb. The trail goes north, parallel to the railroad, for sixty yards or so, then turns west and climbs even more steeply. After another hundred fifty yards or so, a total of about a tenth of a mile into the hike, the Ripley Falls Trail turns off to the left, and becomes level, while the Ethan Pond Trail continues climbing to the right.

After this split, the trail slowly begins to climb, becoming rather steep again, then levels off again. It goes on like this - level, steep, level again - for three cycles or so over the next 0.4 mile. The trail is rugged, but mostly dry. There are two or three seeps along the way, one quite wide, but these are more slippery wet rocks than mud. During spring thaw, that widest "seep" is a full-blown stream, but still rocky and not very slippery. Then you climb steeply down just as you reach the waterfall.

Stream flowing along the trail
A sizeable stream flows across the Ripley Falls Trail in spring.
Cascade
Above the trail, this swollen seep is a rather impressive waterfall in its own right.

There is not very much room to spread out and still have a view of the waterfall. You can find a perch among the boulders on the north side of the stream, or sit among the trees a little way downstream. There's even less room on the south side of the brook.

Alternative Return Routes

I'll describe these trails in more detail on other pages at some point in the future. For now, I'll simply present these as alternative routes, in case you want to make a circuit hike. Either of these alternatives will turn the short Ripley Falls hike into nearly an all-day hike.

From the waterfall, I always return the same way I got there. There are a couple of other ways out, either of which makes this nearly an all-day hike, not recommended for small children. Also, these alternatives bring you back to the road about four miles away from where you parked your car. If you want to take either of these routes, I'd recommend that you have two cars and leave one at each trail head. Unless you want to walk along the road for four miles.

  1. Across Avalanche Brook at the base of Ripley Falls, find the Arethusa-Ripley Falls Trail. Follow it about 2.5 miles to Arethusa Falls. Return to U.S. 302 via Arethusa Falls Trail and/or Bemis Brook Trail. Estimated total time: 4 hours. This includes Ripley Falls Trail, Arethusa-Ripley Falls Trail, and Arethusa Falls Trail. Add about ten minutes for the Bemis Brook Trail.
  2. Across Avalanche Brook at the base of Ripley Falls, find the Arethusa-Ripley Falls Trail. Follow it about 1.2 miles to the Frankenstein Cliff Trail. Return to U.S. 302 via Frankenstein Cliff Trail. Estimated total time: 3.5 hours. This includes Ripley Falls Trail, Arethusa-Ripley Falls Trail, and Frankenstein Cliff Trail.

Estimates are for adults in reasonable physical condition. Estimates do not include "loiter time" at the waterfalls and cliff-tops or other major stops along the way. Estimates do not include time to walk four miles along the road to get from one trail head to the other.

Another recommendation: If you want to make this loop hike, I'd suggest you start up the Arethusa Falls Trail, and come out the Ripley Falls Trail. You can even take a side-trip to Frankenstein Cliff, but don't go down that way. I plan to do exactly this hike, maybe some time this fall. Stay tuned, and I'll provide more detailed descriptions of the Frankenstein Cliff Trail and the portion of the Arethusa-Ripley Falls Trail that I've never hiked before.





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Plants and Animals

This is not meant to be a comprehensive list, by any means. This is just a list of the most common things you might see there, and some of the more interesting things you might see there.

Mammals

  • Squirrels. Red squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) are very common in the evergreen areas, and chipmunks (Tamias striatus) are just about everywhere in the White Mountains.

Birds

  • Black-capped chickadee (Poecile atricapillus). Just about everywhere.
  • Woodpeckers. Downy woodpeckers (Picoides pubescens) and hairy woodpeckers (P. villosus) are fairly common.

Other Creatures

  • Toads. American toad (Bufo americanus americanus) and Fowler's toad (B. fowleri) are rather common. In mid summer, there are little dime-sized toadlets everywhere.

Trees

  • American beech (Fagus grandifolia). Dominant in the hardwood areas, very common in the mixed areas.
  • White birch (Betula papyrifera). More abundant here than in most parts of Crawford Notch.
  • Eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis). Common in the mixed areas.

Shrubs

  • Hobblebush (Viburnum alnifolium). Common in hardwood areas, less so in the mixed areas.

Wildflowers

  • Trillium, including white (or large-flowered) trillium (Trillium grandiflorum), painted trillium (T. undulatum), and purple trillium (T. erectum). Fairly common, flowering in late spring through mid-summer. Most trilliums (trillia? Plants of the genus Trillium) have practically no aroma, but the purple trillium has a strong scent of rotten meat. Great fun for the kids to smell!
  • Bluebead lily (Clintonia borealis). Very common in the hardwood areas. Flowers in mid spring. The distinctive "blue bead" fruits can be seen all summer long.
  • Trout lily (Erythronium americanum). Somewhat rare, and you have to go in exactly the right week in early spring to see them blooming.
  • Asters, including white wood aster (Aster divaricatus) and New England aster (A. novi-angliae). Common in the parking lot and along the railroad, rare in the woods.
  • Eastern roundleaf yellow violet (Viola rotundifolia), also called early yellow violet, is quite abundant on the higher parts of the trail, just in the first week of May.
  • Eastern roundleaf yellow violet.

    Eastern roundleaf yellow violet (Viola rotundifolia).

Other Plants

  • Wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis). Very common, especially in the hardwood areas.
  • Shining clubmoss (Lycopodium lucidulum). Common everywhere, and frequently larger than in most other places I know.
  • Ground cedar (Lycopodium complanatum). Very common in large patches along the lower slopes, forming an ankle-high "forest" of clubmoss. These patches include the largest ground cedar clubmoss I have ever seen.
  • Ground pine (Lycopodium clavatum). Rare, usually found with other clubmosses, especially ground cedar (L. complanatum).
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    Tall Ground Pine Clubmoss
    A very tall ground pine clubmoss (Lycopodium clavatum), over a foot high, flanked by shining
    clubmoss (L. lucidulum), mostly to the right, and ground cedar clubmoss (L. complanatum)
    to the left. There is also a small patch of true moss at left center.
    clubmoss Forest
    This stand of various clubmosses is just about the largest and densest that I know of. It forms
    a veritable ankle-high forest, and it contains all three species of clubmoss that I know, ground
    pine (Lycopodium clavatum), ground cedar (L. complanatum), and shining clubmoss
    (L. lucidulum). It also contains the largest specimens I know of ground pine and ground
    cedar clubmosses.

    Stories

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