1 to 1.5 hours
Difficulty: Nature Walk
Let’s first make one thing clear: Flume Gorge is a bonafide nature walk, not a hike. Hiking requires a trail that’s not navigable by a golf cart with at least the threat of breaking a sweat. Not to mention the optional shuttle bus, which shortens the “trek” to .7 of a mile round trip, is an automatic disqualification.
To further the point, please see Exhibit A —->
As far as nature walk’s go, Flume Gorge is exceptional. A perfect retreat for tourists looking to take in New Hampshire’s natural and historic beauty with minimal risk of rolling an ankle or missing dinner reservations. For residents it’s a great starter activity for piquing children’s interest in outdoor activities. We simply told our son we were going waterfall hunting. He practically packed himself into the car.
There is an admission fee to experience the Flume (as of May 2012, it’s $14 per adult [ages 13+], $11 per child, under five and senior residents are free), which can seem pricey for a White Mountain activity that doesn’t feature train rides, water slides, bear shows (at least, hopefully not), or fairy princesses. Don’t worry, there’s a gift shop. Try to think of the experience as a charitable donation to the New Hampshire Division of Parks and Recreation, and the wondrous flume seems like a value-add.
The two-mile loop begins at the Gilman Visitor Center with the Flume Path. Before leaving the Vistor Center, make sure to check out the gravity-defying image of the boulder lodged in the Flume until a titanic rainstorm swept it away in 1883. Once on the trail, your first photo-opp with the kiddos will arrive in the enlarged form of Glacial Boulder. The trail then circles down to the the Pemigewasset River and crosses the cherry-red Flume Covered Bridge. From here Flume Path gradually climbs past Boulder Cabin (the drop-off point for shuttle bus visitors) and soon parallels Flume Brook. The connection with Flume Brook is highlighted by Table Rock, an exposed section of granite worn smooth by the swift current.
At this point you’re merely a hop, skip and a jump from the Flume Gorge, for which passage is made possible by a wooden boardwalk with railings. Children from one to a hundred will enjoy eyeballing the gorge walls, a mesmerizing 70 to 90 feet high, as well as running their hands along the slick, moss-covered granite. In places it appears as though the gorge’s plumbing has sprung a leak with spouts of water shooting from the rock walls.
The Flume’s grande finale will delight waterfall hunters with the roaring 45-foot Avalanche Falls. Prepare to get a little wet as the boardwalk passes close enough to the falls for visitors to be showered in mist. Note to parents: it can get a little chilly in this section of the Flume, so you might want to pack a layer for little ones. The walkway circles past Bear Cave and above the falls to a nice rest spot, a viewpoint and a rain shelter.
Once above the falls there’s the option of taking the Rim Path back to the Flume Path and the shuttle pickup, or continuing along the Ridge Path to complete the two-mile loop. The Ridge Path delivers a pleasant downhill jaunt ‘neath a forest canopy that glows like a lampshade on a sunny morning. The trail soon crosses Cascade Brook with a couple viewpoints of Liberty Gorge. If placed anywhere along the Appalachian Trail, Liberty Gorge would be a waypoint worth marking. Having just traversed Flume Gorge, it’s a sprinkle of ho with a dash of hum.
Liberty Gorge is also dwarfed by the neighboring Sentinel Pine Bridge crossing the Pemigewasset River and The Pool, a forty-foot-deep basin surrounded by 130-foot cliffs. Once across the bridge brave children, and even braver parents, have the option of entering the Wolf Den, a narrow cave that involves crawling. Anyone over six feet tall need not enter.
The last leg of the loop from Sentinel Pine Bridge follows the Wildwood Path uphill past a scenic viewpoint of Mt. Liberty and Mt. Flume, and back down through a garden of boulders before reconnecting with the Flume Path. All in all the loop takes roughly an hour. With a three year old who refuses to be carried, insists on snack breaks and stops frequently to compare his hand size to leafs, it took us about two and a half hours. It was well worth it.
Take I-93 in New Hampshire to Franconia Notch and take the exit for the Flume Visitor Center. There’s plenty of parking available at the Visitor Center. Even so, it can get busy quick. It’s best to arrive as close to the 9 a.m. opening time as possible to take photos of the Flume that aren’t half filled with tourists.
I wasn’t kidding about the trail being navigable by a golf cart. On the plus side the open, meticulously maintained path is perfect for people of all ages. If it weren’t for the (necessary) stairs in the Flume, it would be handicap accessible.
Table Rock on Flume Brook. Signage warns visitors to stay off the rocks. Otherwise it would be tempting to give it a go as a water slide.
The boardwalk hugs the walls of Flume Gorge and is wide enough for parent and child to walk side by side.
The boardwalk can get a little slippery near the falls.
Avalanche Falls was formed and aptly named in 1883 when a severe storm rerouted Flume Brook.
A cool peek up into the trees on the Ridge Path.
Looking down into the algae colored Pool below Sentinel Pine Bridge.
One covered bridge ain’t enough Jack, better make it two.
The one thing to be cautious of on this outing are the bears: