New England Waterfalls


A real rush:
Every which way from high to low, waterfalls get raves  

By Diane Daniel, Boston Globe Correspondent

Sunday, 7/6/2003

MOXIE GORE TOWNSHIP, Maine - Keep your eyes open along Lake Moxie Road off Route 201 in this remote part of mid-western Maine, and you can spot a little parking area and a simple wooden sign pointing the way to Moxie Falls. A narrow but heavily traveled foot trail winds through the woods for three-quarters of a mile. If the trees have leaves, you may not hear even a hint of the visual feast in store.

Before you reach the last turn, though, the rush of water becomes amplified. Round the corner and you see the rapids of Moxie Stream. Pretty enough, but where are the falls? Make one more turn and - wow! - you are looking down onto the top of one of the tallest waterfalls in New England.

One of the lower viewing platforms gives a clearer view of this 90-foot plunge, where whitewater crashes into a narrow gorge below. A hundred feet downstream, the water flows into a popular swimming hole.

A visit to Moxie Falls is worth the almost five-hour drive from Boston to The Forks, best known for its white-water rafting on the Kennebec, Penobscot, and Dead rivers. But it's not the only impressive waterfall around; you can find versions of nature's easy-to-view action shows all over New England.

Relying on "New England Waterfalls: A Guide to More Than 200 Cascades and Waterfalls" by Greg Parsons and Kate B. Watson (Countryman, $17.95), we visited three easily accessible sites in three states in May and June. Some sites in the book require various degrees of hiking. Obviously, the more strenuous the hike, the less visited the falls are.

We learned firsthand that each waterfall has its own personality, something enthusiasts are quick to point out, especially when asked about their favorites. Size matters, but it's not the only requirement for a great fall. There are also the shape of the flows, the force, and, of course, setting and scenery. Keep in mind, though, that flow and appearance can change according to season and rainfall.

Pam Christopher, who runs C. Moxie Gore Outfitters with her husband, Ken, says the waterfall there in winter is "amazing. It doesn't freeze solid, just on the sides toward the middle, with big, long, thick, thick bluish ice. During fall foliage, it's beyond beautiful," she said.

Last year she and her family opened a sporting camp of five pine cabins they built across from the entrance to the falls.

"We mention the falls to everyone who stays here because they'll often go right by the sign and never see it. When they go, they love it. My grandkids swim there every day when they're here," Christopher said.

"New England Waterfalls" coauthor Parsons has been to Moxie Falls about five times, "every time I go white-water rafting," he said. "I think I've taken 40 people there."

Parsons and Watson are waterfall fans from when they were young, the "young" being relative. The first-time authors will be seniors at Babson College in Wellesley, where they met.

During day hikes all over New England, they realized that many waterfalls were known only to locals, so they decided to divulge the details. Their original findings indicated 300 waterfalls in New England, but the number grew to 500 during their research.

"We started in April 2002 until September and visited 375 falls total, hiking about 600 miles, and put 22,000 miles on our cars combined," said Parsons, an accounting major who lives in Danvers and took all but one of the photographs in the book. (In the book, he shares tips for photographing moving water.) The book provides statistics, directions, hiking time and difficulty level, and ratings of up to five stars. (Moxie gets five.) It also includes lists of New England's top 40 waterfalls and top 20 waterfall swimming holes.

One of Parsons's most exciting finds was Snow Falls in West Paris, Maine, which features a 25-foot plunge and four cascades, smaller drops of slighter decline.

"It was my first waterfall, when I was 6. I remember absolutely falling in love with it," Parsons said. "For years and years I tried to figure out where I'd gone. I recognized it the second I pulled up."

As for coauthor Watson, who lives in Ossipee, N.H., and also studies accounting, Lower Falls along the Kancamagus Highway is her childhood friend.

"I used to slide down the shoots and my father would catch me, and as I got older, I remember jumping off the big rock in the middle of the lower pool," she said.

New Hampshire has the most falls in the book, thanks to the White Mountains, but Connecticut is home to the tallest: Kent Falls in Kent has a whopping 250-foot total drop of cascades and plunges. The authors caution that many Connecticut falls are seasonal. Maine, they say, is the best place to find hidden falls, Rhode Island has but one fall they deem interesting (Stepstone Falls in West Greenwich), and Vermont falls are the best for swimming holes. Though Massachusetts falls are quite spread out, they write, the state is not without its gems.

Parsons called Bash Bish Falls in the Berkshires town of Mount Washington "out of this world. It's the most dramatic and most intimate." This segmented 80-foot drop is also one of the most photographed and publicized.

John Bedard of Lenox, whose online photo gallery specializes in New England scenery, says waterfalls are his third-top sellers (after lighthouses and fall foliage) and that of those, his images of Bash Bish are the best sellers.

"People know it by sight," said Bedard, who is quite fond of the falls himself, though he cautions visitors that sometimes only one side of the split falls runs in the summer.

Coincidentally, Bedard was inspired to shoot waterfalls by his childhood friend Peter Chapin of Vermont, who is also credited by Parsons and Watson for helping to inspire their book. Chapin for years has run a website called Waterfalls of the New England Region. Though he doesn't update it much these days, it's still an excellent resource, including lists with photos and a page of interesting links to falls near and far (Tasmania, the Bavarian Alps, Slovenia).

In Massachusetts, we chose a 4.5-star falls for its proximity to Boston. Trap Falls in Willard Brook State Forest, a little north of Leominster, is about 55 miles from Boston. When we visited, on a sunny Saturday morning, a few small groups of adults and children gathered on the grass near the falls, and a young man sat against a tree sketching the three plunges that make Trap Falls so distinctive. Though the drops are only 10 to 12 feet, the falls are picturesque. You can sit on rocks just at their base, climb above them, or view them from a wooden footbridge that spans the sides of the pool.

New Hampshire and Vermont have dozens of out-of-the-way falls, but we felt compelled to revisit Flume Gorge in Franconia Notch State Park. The fact that it is arguably the most popular and crowded waterfall in New England should not deter you, even though it is also the only one in the book that will cost you admission.

Just as the Old Man of the Mountain has come and gone, so too have sights in the Flume since it was discovered in 1808, including a giant boulder that was wedged between the walls of the gorge. That tourist highlight was washed away in a storm in 1883. On signposts along a two-mile loop walk that follows the flume, you can view photos of the way things were, including images of Victorian-era ladies and gentlemen perched on the wedged rock or walking along the covered bridge, which has been restored several times since it was erected in the 1800s.

The walk, part of which can be shortened by a shuttle ride, passes glacial boulders, falls, covered bridges, the flume gorge itself, and a 40-foot-deep pool surrounded by 130-foot cliffs. Thanks to the design of the stairs and footpaths, you don't just look at the falls. Once inside the gorge, you can feel, smell, and even touch this natural wonder that never rests.

Diane Daniel can be reached at

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