There’s nothing quite like ending up at a swimming hole or waterfall after a sweat-inducing hike; the trick is finding a hike that’s hard enough to make you sweat before you get there. Sure, you can walk a few hundred feet to one of the state’s many swimming holes located in close proximity to a main road. But if you’d rather do a little bit of work first (“little” still being the key word), the Hippo found a couple of options up north that are worth the drive.
So if you’re looking to cool off in a natural swimming hole or snap a few photos from the bottom of our state’s tallest waterfall with your feet in its stream, Welton Falls and Arethusa Falls are your perfect picks. The Hippo talked to a couple of hiking experts who have all the details on how to get there.
Take a dip in Welton Falls
Tom Fisher has spent a great deal of his time hiking to Welton Falls and splashing around. Fisher is the manager of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Cardigan Lodge, and over the years he’s experienced just how popular this hike is with touring families.
“It’s one of our favorite hikes on a hot August day. It’s a family favorite; they just love this hike,” Fisher said.
Hiking to the falls is easier than you might think.
“The easiest way to get to the falls is to start at the lodge, where we have a trailhead,” said Fisher. “For most of the hike, about 80 percent, you are on level with the stream, so it’s very pretty and you see it the whole way. It’s a pretty easy hike. The trail is well maintained and there are a few steps built to help.”
In all, Fisher said the hike is an easy 1.1 miles in and should take you around 45 minutes. However, there is one spot on the trail that requires you to take a leap of faith.
“At about 9/10 of a mile you will need to cross a stream. When it rains, or if it has just rained, the water is going to be about a foot deep. Sometimes you can cross the stream with stepping stones, but sometimes you just have to wade through. When you hike down you end up at the top of the falls and you have to continue downward.”
Fisher said there’s nothing like taking a dip in the waterfall on a hot summer day, and usually the falls’ temperature is about 60 degrees.
“Welton Falls is very pretty. It’s about 15 feet high and it’s more of a spout through beautiful smoothed rock down into a pool,” said Fisher. “The whole pool I’d say is about 30 to 40 feet long and 20 feet wide. The stream turns and runs through two other smaller pools as well.”
The two smaller pools, he estimated, are about 5 feet deep, while the bigger pool he estimated to be somewhere around 14 feet deep.
“You can swim at least three to four strokes in the big pool. To get in there’s a smooth ledge so it’s really very easy,” he said.
Fisher noted that before jumping into the pools for a swim, you should take a closer look at what’s in them. He said there’s often trout swimming around the pools, though if it’s heavily populated that day the trout are farther down the stream. If you’re lucky, you can spot a few.
Throughout the summer the lodge has naturalists on site that sometimes hike out and take groups with them. Fisher said to check in at the lodge and see what might be going on that day. While this is a popular swimming hole, Fisher said you always need to be careful.
“It’s part of New England, there’s always rocks underwater that you don’t see,” he said.
Fisher noted that what he loves about Welton Falls is that it’s easy enough to get to but isn’t right off the highway.
“Although it’s fairly well known, it has a bit of mystery to it. It has the fun of hiking down and back, and that’s what makes it special. It lets you interact with the stream and get that experience,” he said.
You can turn this day hike into a few nights by staying at the lodge. You don’t need to be an AMC member to stay the night, and Fisher said that kids stay for free during the summer. They’ll have programs going on during the day and bonfires outside on summer nights.
Photo ops at Arethusa Falls
If swimming isn’t your main goal, visit Arethusa Falls to take photos of its breathtaking beauty. Standing tall at 180 feet, Arethusa Falls is the tallest waterfall in the state, hidden in Crawford Notch State Park.
“It’s spectacular in the springtime and summer and in the winter a lot of people go ice climbing on it. It’s one of the best places in the east,” said John Dickerman, manager of Crawford Notch State Park.
Arethusa Falls is located just off Route 302 at the east end of the park, and you should be able to see the trailhead from the road.
“The trail is about 1.4 to 1.5 miles. It’s a moderate hike. It climbs steadily, but it’s not steep,” Dickerman said. “Around 1998 to 2000, we rebuilt the upper part of the trail so that it has new steps, and it’s groomed well.”
The main trail, Arethusa Falls Trail, will take you a couple hours there and back. But there are hidden adventures with other trails spouting off the main one.
“You’ll come to a fork in the trail where the Arethusa Falls Trail veers to your left and Bemis Brook Trail is on your right with waterfall pools down at the bottom off to the side. That trail loops back up and connects to the Arethusa Falls trail again,” Dickerman said. “At 1.2 miles, it’s junctioned with Arethusa Ripley Falls Trail. If you veer left again, you continue down to the falls. Arethusa Falls Trail also connects with Frankenstein Cliffs, which has some nice views. The whole loop is about 4.5 miles and takes around 3 to 4 hours to do.”
Dickerman said that sticking your feet in the icy water at the bottom of the falls is as close as you’ll get to cooling off here. He said that the pools farther down the waterfall stream after following the Bemis Brook Trail are easier to play in. He noted that people should check out Fawn Pool and Coliseum Pool.
Families are welcome to stop into the Willey House, about 3 miles east of the trailhead, to check out the history of the falls, discovered in 1840, at the visitor center. It has snacks and trail guide maps.
“I would say kids over 5 years old wouldn’t have a problem with [the hike]. But you need good footwear. It’s a beautiful hike and it’s spectacular there. It’s a popular trail, and we work to keep it in good shape.” Dickerman said. “It’s one of the top 10 hikes in the White Mountains.”