About Arethusa Falls
Arethusa Falls was perhaps our favorite waterfall in the White Mountain area (though we also liked Crystal Cascade almost as much), and it might quite possibly be our favorite waterfall in the New England area so far. The falls was tall at a reported 160ft tall though it was conceivable that it could be as tall as 200ft or as short as 125ft depending on who you talk to. But whatever the case with academic statistics, what really made this waterfall stand out to Julie and I (and even our daughter) was the juxtaposition of beautiful and vibrant Fall colors flanking the tall strandy column of water. Moreover, we did have to work a bit to reach this gem so perhaps that also made the reward of seeing it that much sweeter.
In addition to Arethusa Falls, we also took a detour along the Bemis Brook that allowed us to see two more waterfalls – Bemis Falls and Coliseum Falls. These smaller but attractive waterfalls were merely warm up acts to the main waterfall on the same brook, but it also made an already moderately difficult hike even more difficult for reasons that we’ll get into later in this page. The difficulty rating on this hike was bumped up to reflect our experience of including the Bemis Brook Trail detour.
There were also options to extend the hike to visit Ripley Falls as well as the big bald Frankenstein Cliffs, which towered high above the scene and was visible from the trailhead. However, we didn’t have the time to hike up to the Frankenstein Cliffs (especially with a two-year-old daughter riding the child carrier) and there was a shorter trail from a different car park for Ripley Falls.
Anyhow, the trail began in a large paved clearing area right next to a railroad track as well as what looked like someone’s property on the other side of the track. Since we were one of the first ones at the car park on the morning of our hike, we had no problems finding a spot. Then, after getting our water and snacks packed up while loading our daugher in the child carrier, we proceeded to walk along the railroad track to the left before crossing it and following the signpost indicating that we had now embarked on the trail to the falls.
Barely a few minutes into the hike, we were immediately faced with a decision as we encountered a trail junction. The left path was labeled Bemis Brook while the right path was labeled Arethusa Falls. If we didn’t know any better, we definitely would’ve followed the right side towards the falls, but we had read in the literature that it was worth the detour to go to Bemis Brook and its pair of waterfalls and to do the detour first instead of deferring it for reasons that would become obvious later on (and for the same reason that it would also make the hike harder).
The Bemis Brook detour immediately became a much narrower trail with some parts along the brook that seemed to be a bit eroded while other parts were a little overgrown. With Tahia being carried on my back, I definitely had to be careful not to make a misstep or even accidentally let her get scratched or knocked by the overgrowth. That said, there were yellow blazes or hashes painted on trees that helped us stay the course.
After about 20 minutes on the narrower and rougher trail, we encountered a signpost pointing us to Bemis Falls. This waterfall was diminutive though it did possess some character as the brook fell over small layers in succession giving it a little bit of a rippling appearance. The trail continued beyond the falls as there were more erosion-prone sections as well as the odd overgrowth getting onto the trail as well. After another 10 more minutes on the Bemis Brook Trail, we saw the attractive Coliseum Falls, which featured multiple small steps that gave it a bit more character than Bemis Falls.
After having our fill of Coliseum Falls, we then realized that we had to climb up a very steep hill holding onto roots and even using all four of our limbs in spots where the “trail” was steepest. It essentially felt like an unsanctioned off-trail scramble, and Julie and I were very concerned about inadvertently hurting our daughter who was riding my back the whole time we were engaged in this ascent. If it weren’t for the yellow blazes strategically placed on some of the trees during the ascent, we probably would’ve declared defeat and would backtrack to the junction by the start of the whole hike.
It was also for this very reason that the Bemis Brook Detour was better off done on the way up (as we were doing it) instead of on the way down. After all, it would be much harder to descend trails that were this steep (given how easy it would be to slip and potentially fatally fall down the mountain) even though conventional wisdom would say that going downhill on trails would be far easier than going uphill on trails.
So after a hot and sweaty (as well as nervous) 15 minutes, we finally saw a reassuring sign by another trail junction marking our return to the Arethusa Falls Trail. At this point, we were back to blue hashes instead of yellow ones.
The trail still continued to climb uphill but it was a far gentler grade than the Bemis Brook detour we had taken earlier. The hiking was a lot more straightforward though there were a few muddy spots along the way. We also saw other hikers as apparently the Bemis Brook Trail was not a popular trail so it seemed like we were the only ones who did it.
At the apex of the climb, we reached yet another trail junction. This time, the path on the right led towards Ripley Falls while the path on the left descended towards Arethusa Falls. This descent wasn’t insignificant so we knew it would be a factor on the way out, but it was still somewhat easy to follow until we reached the rocky creek bed of the Bemis Brook once again. At this point, we had to scramble on those rocks and boulders in order to get down to the level of the brook and get a clean look at Arethusa Falls.
We saw numerous other people continue scrambling past the fallen logs and right up to the base of the impressive waterfall. However, given the awkward scrambling on those boulders and rocks as well as the burden of Tahia riding my back (the terrain here was too rough to let her walk on her own), we were content to have our somewhat distant but comprehensive views, which you can see from the photo at the top of this page.
It took us about 45 minutes from the end of the Bemis Brook Detour to the falls (or roughly 90 minutes from the trailhead). However, on the return hike, it was all downhill after the initial climb back out, and it took us just about an hour to return to the car park. So we spent about 3 hours on this excursion with about 2.5 hours of it spent on the trail. The rest of the time was spent taking photos and having a snack.
From where the Hwy 16 and Hwy 302 meet at the southern end of North Conway, follow the White Mountain Hwy (Hwy 302) north for about 8 miles. At the traffic light where Hwy 302 and Hwy 16 split up once again, turn left to stay continue on Hwy 302. Then, follow Hwy 302 due west then north for about 14.5 miles until there’s a signposted turnoff on the left for Arethusa Falls Road.
We followed the Arethusa Falls Road straight to its end by the railroad tracks. However, we noticed that there was also spillover parking on the right side of the turnoff, which we’d imagine would come in handy if the closer car park was full, which we can totally see happen as the closer car park was definitely packed when we finished our hike just before high noon. Overall, this drive was roughly 19 miles total and would require at least 30 minutes of driving.
For geographical context, North Conway was 11 miles west of Fryeburg, Maine, 42 miles (over an hour drive) east of Lincoln, 63 miles (90 minutes drive) northwest of Portland, Maine, 136 miles (over 2.5 hours drive) north of Boston, Massachusetts, and 214 miles (over 3.5 hours drive) southeast of Montreal, QC, Canada.
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