Arethusa Falls and Frankenstein Cliffs

Destinations:  Arethusa Falls (2000'), Frankenstein Cliffs (2150')
Trails:  Frankenstein Cliff Trail, Arethusa-Ripley Falls Trail, Arethusa Falls Trail, Bemis Brook Trail
Region:  NH - Central East  
Crawford Notch State Park
Location:  Harts Location, NH
Rating:  Moderate  
Features:  Waterfall, cascades, cliffs, brook, loop hike
Distance:  5.0 miles  
Elevation Gain:  1400 feet (cumulative)  
Hiking Time:  Actual: 5:00   Typical: 3:10  
Outing Duration:  Actual: 6:00   Typical: 5:00  
Season:  Summer
Hike Date:  06/23/2009 (Tuesday)  
Last Updated:  10/28/2009  
Weather:  Partly cloudy, 50-60 degrees
Author:  Bill Mahony
Companions:  Elizabeth, Jennifer, Jessica, Joshua, Jacob, Naomi, Chani, Schneur, Tamar, Mayer, Galli

Route Summary   

This is a loop hike to visit Frankenstein Cliffs which are visible from the upper parking area at the start of this hike. There is a clifftop outlook along the way with views of Crawford Notch. The return portion is made via Arethusa Falls which drop nearly 200 feet and are the highest falls in New Hampshire.

To Arethusa Falls via Frankenstein Cliffs:
  • From either the lower or upper parking area, go to the far right (when facing uphill) to pick up Frankenstein Cliff Trail.
  • Walk for 0.1 mile which will bring you to a junction. If coming from the upper lot, go straight; if starting from the lower parking lot, then turn right.
  • Arethusa Falls: the people in the left
    lower half of the photo give it scale
    (photo by Bill Mahony)
    Arethusa Falls: the people in the left lower half of the photo give it scale (photo by Bill Mahony)
  • Hike for another 0.5 mile, then turn left to stay on Frankenstein Cliff Trail while an old trail heads right down to Route 302.
  • Now climbing uphill, hike for another 0.7 mile which will bring you to an outlook of Crawford Notch from atop Frankenstein Cliffs.
  • Continue on Frankenstein Cliff Trail for another 0.2 mile which will bring you to a junction with Falcon Cliff Trail on the right. This 0.2-mile spur leads to a partial southerly outlook from atop Falcon Cliff.
  • Go straight at this junction, still following Frankenstein Cliff Trail for another 0.6 mile until Frankenstein Cliff Trail ends upon meeting Arethusa-Ripley Falls Trail.
  • Arethusa-Ripley Falls Trail goes both straight and right. Go straight to head towards Arethusa Falls.
  • Follow Arethusa-Ripley Falls Trail, uphill and then downhill, for 1.1 miles where it will end upon meeting Arethusa Falls Trail and the spur to Arethusa Falls.
  • Turn right onto the spur (Arethusa Falls Trail goes straight) and follow it for 0.2 mile as it drops 100 feet in elevation. To get the best views of the falls requires crossing Bemis Brook which can be difficult in high-water conditions.

Return via Bemis Brook:
  • After enjoying Arethusa Falls, climb for 0.2 mile back up the spur path.
  • Next, turn right and follow Arethusa Falls Trail for 0.8 mile until arriving at a junction with Bemis Brook Trail on the right.
  • Turn right onto Bemis Brook Trail which closely follows Bemis Brook.
  • Walk for 0.5 mile on Bemis Brook Trail until it ends upon meeting Arethusa Falls Trails (0.4 mile below where it left it). En route, look for several short spur trails on the right that lead to falls and pools.
  • At the lower junction with Arethusa Falls Trail, turn right and walk for 0.1 mile which will bring you out to the upper parking lot.
  • If you parked in the lower lot, walk down the road to reach the lower lot on the left.

Place         Split
Upper parking area (1240') 0.0 0.0
Outlook from atop Frankenstein Cliff (2150') 1.3 1.3
Jct. Frankenstein Cliff Trail / Falcon Cliff Trail (2300') 0.2 1.5
Jct. Arethusa-Ripley Falls Trail / Frankenstein Cliff Trail (2420') 0.6 2.1
Arethusa Falls (2000') 1.3 3.4
Upper parking area (1240') 1.6 5.0



Trail map of hike route to Arethusa Falls and Frankenstein Cliffs (map by Webmaster)

Trail Guide   

This was a trip to get the family ready for some hiking. We had some friends up at the house for the weekend who were looking forward to some nice hiking too. I picked this route from seeing a trail report listed on and decided that it was the right length and interesting enough for nine kids (ages six to sixteen).

Since this is a long trip report, I've divided it into sections:

Preparation    |    To Frankenstein Cliffs    |    To Arethusa Falls and Return

Some ledges of Frankenstein Cliffs
(photo by Bill Mahony)
Some ledges of Frankenstein Cliffs (photo by Bill Mahony)

Unfortunately for me, I have to gear everyone up for the hike, pack the packs with the proper gear, and ensure that we have enough (and the right kinds of) food. My son Joshua (the only one who seems to want to hike with me – aside from my wife) did manage to pack up his new pack with water and some food items. This packing plus trying to motivate a group who had been up until 2:00 or 3:00 a.m. the night before (not me) got us out of the house well after 10:00 a.m.

The trip to the hike would have been uneventful except for the fact that on the way down West Side Road outside of Conway, just before we hit route 302 in Bartlett, we saw a bear crossing the road. I had to stop the van not to hit it and I just pointed out front and yelled, "bear, bear, bear!" The lone bear was not large, but not cub size either. It moved from the middle of the road, meandering along, and then went up and over the guardrail and then down the steep bank on the side of the road. Everyone in both cars got to see the bear fairly closely (we had come upon it around a curve) and since it moved slowly we all got a good look. The trip was off to a good start! Now I just need to see a moose. Seeing wildlife from the car, while safer, feels a little like the zoo.

The rain started just as we got near the trailhead. We stopped at the log cabin store on Route 302 to use the toilets and get some soda, since now we were in less of a hurry due to the rain. We got to the trailhead right around noon, and sure enough the rain stopped, so we hopped out of the cars and began the hike.

To Frankenstein Cliffs   

Outlook atop Frankenstein Cliffs
(photo by Bill Mahony)
Outlook atop Frankenstein Cliffs (photo by Bill Mahony)
The hike started in the forest at the end of the parking area through a nice wooded area. The trail was well marked and made its way up the "hill" slowly at first, then more steeply after crossing a stream and moving up toward the tracks for the Conway Railroad. We took some time getting adjusted to the start, but made our way up under the tracks at a train bridge.

The kids were in the lead and took a wrong turn up a short herd path that led to a large rock face. This would have all been fine except that the footing was very loose and the "slide" down was very steep. I had to walk a "height-frightened" member of the party along the face of the cliff to a gentler slope before he could continue on his own. I know how he felt – as a kid, I could never have done half of the trails I do now – I had a terrible fear of heights (for instance, open staircases terrified me).

We made it past this first adventure and then came to the first cliff face on the actual trail. We stopped for some snacks and to let the kids climb onto the rocks. The rain had left most of the cliff pretty wet and the kids had trouble staying dry and climbing the slick rocks. We did see a baby bird on the ledge (not in a nest though) just a few feet from where we were climbing and the bird parents were flying back and forth feeding it. It was very open so we could see the baby open wide and the mom "burp" up whatever was in her throat and feed it to the baby. I couldn't get a close picture with the phone camera though. One person in our group went up to the top of the cliff and looked over the edge, but this was off trail so no one else did that.

We moved on up the trail, which was quite steep with loose footing in places. As we rose you could just start to see across the notch and the views of the cliffs and mountains on the other side. The woods changed from deciduous to pine and very soon we found ourselves at the top of Frankenstein Cliffs (at the outlook point). We decided to have lunch here. Most of the kids would climb right up to the edge, but a few stayed well back. I can get close, but I prefer not to look too closely. The dog always makes me nervous because he runs back and forth and goes right up to the edge and is not very good about avoiding bumping into people.

To Arethusa Falls and Return   

After lunch we moved on and made our way up to the height of land, and via some open spots, (much to the horror of those "height-frightened" people) you could see the top of Arethusa Falls. Despite being less than one mile away the distance looks daunting from this perspective. We made it to the "top", which has a small outlook to the north, but did not stay long.

We made our way down the wet trail toward the falls. The kids were starting to wilt a little, but at least it wasn't raining. We made good time downhill to the waterfall spur and the kids moved quickly ahead of us at the sound of the falling water. We got to the falls and I had to feel bad for the photographer who was there getting some nice scenery photos. The kids ran like the Mongol Hordes across the rocks and into the face of the falls. The dog of course joined in the fun and was climbing right into the base of the falls.

Bemis Brook (photo by Bill Mahony)
Bemis Brook (photo by Bill Mahony)
The rain of the previous week (it has been a wet summer thus far) made the water coming down quite cold and plentiful. The photographer (Jonathan Doster) made the best of it using the kids as subjects to get some perspective. The shrieking ("ah it's cold", "I fell in", "don't splash me" etc.) made for a different atmosphere than I am used to out here in the woods, but fortunately the sound of the water drowned out the noise, if not the spirits, of the kids.

The play in the water lasted some time and eventually devolved into water fights as the kids got wetter and wetter. I had planned the loop in this direction knowing that a 1.6-mile downhill hike with wet shoes was better than 3.4 miles up and downhill in wet shoes. The kids came out of the water freezing and at around 5:15 p.m. the temperatures were dropping into the 50's... hey it was only the end of June! Fortunately (again) I had planned for cold and had a nice warm fleece and raincoat for each of the kids to change into.

Now everyone had a more comfortable hike down. We took Bemis Brook Trail which forms a loop with Arethusa Falls Trail. Bemis Brook Trail drops quite steeply as it approaches the stream. The kids were interested in being done and did not want to get wet again. The adults took a few moments to enjoy the scenery and snap some photos. We quickly finished the hike and got into the cars to get warmed up. The kids could not have been too hypothermic though, because they all managed to handle a large slurpee (which are surprisingly kosher – who'd have thought?) from 7-11 on the way home.

Gear Notes: Packing sufficient water for nine kids and three adults was a challenge (didn't really have enough). Also need to bring more bags for trash to carry everything out. Need a better water solution for big groups.

Joshua's new backpack worked well. It was light so he was able to carry it most of the way by himself without getting overly tired. Four to five miles with a pack seems to be about his limit for now.


NH - Central East

  Driving Directions   

A pool at the base of Arethusa Falls
(photo by Bill Mahony)
A pool at the base of Arethusa Falls (photo by Bill Mahony)
The Arethusa Falls and Frankenstein Cliff trailheads are within Crawford Notch State Park. They are located in Harts Location, New Hampshire, on a spur road, signed for Arethusa Falls, off of Rt. 302.

Overnight parking is not allowed.

Coming from the west:
  • The side road is about 14.4 miles east of the junction of Rt. 3 and Rt. 302. It's also about 9.3 miles east of the Mount Washington Hotel.
  • Turn right onto the side road.
  • The lower parking lot will be on your right; or continue to the top of the short road to the upper parking lot.

Coming from the east:
  • The side road is about 14.5 miles west of the junction of Rt. 16 and Rt. 302. It's also about 8.5 miles west of Bear Notch Road which is on the left-hand side of Rt. 302 in Bartlett.
  • Turn left onto the side road.
  • The lower parking lot will be on your right; or continue to the top of the short road to the upper parking lot.


Toilet at the parking area.

More Arethusa Falls and Frankenstein Cliff Trail Reports   

Standing in the spray of Arethusa Falls (photos by Bill Mahony)
Standing in the spray of Arethusa Falls (photo by Bill Mahony) Standing in the spray of Arethusa Falls (photo by Bill Mahony)


Website by Logo

© 1998-2024
Page copy-protected against website content infringement by Copyscape
The information on this site may freely be used for personal purposes but may not be replicated on other websites or publications. If you want to reference some content on this site, please link to us.