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Welton Falls via Manning Trail
Welton Falls (1100')
NH - Central West
Cardigan State Park
Waterfall, river, views, slab cave, gorge
350 feet (cumulative)
40-50 degrees; sunny, then overcast
This hike runs along (and across) Fowler River and brings you to the impressive Welton Falls shooting through a gorge. The entire route follows the lower portion of Manning Trail which is blazed in yellow.
Start on (Lower) Manning Trail. Manning Trail goes up to the summit of Firescrew in addition to descending to Welton Falls so make sure you start out on the correct leg of the trail. The trailhead is at the end of the parking lot closest to the entry road. There is a trail sign there, on the right-hand side as you face the lodge. Cross the lodge's lawn, veering to the right so that you enter the woods just to the right of a large stone fireplace.
Descend on Manning Trail for 1.0 mile which will bring you to the crossing of Fowler River just upstream from where it merges with Davis Brook.
Cross the river on rocks which may be difficult during high water flow. At this point, you are only 0.2 mile from the base of the falls.
Follow Manning Trail up a small ridge and then down the other side.
At the base of this pitch, continue down on the left near the edge of the river, ignoring the trail on the right for now, and you will come to a railed area. Follow the railing down and around to the right and you will find yourself in a small cave overlooking the gorge that's just above the falls.
Return to the main trail and continue your descent as the trail curves around, contouring the waterway, to arrive at the base of Welton Falls.
Return to the Cardigan Lodge parking area by retracing your steps.
Manning Trailhead (1390')
Manning Trailhead (1390')
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This was a pleasant trail down to a really neat mini-gorge and waterfall area via (Lower) Manning Trail. The hike starts in AMC's 1,000-acre Cardigan Reservation and is largely contained in Welton Falls State Forest. From the parking area, Mount Cardigan can be viewed.
The trailhead is at the end of the parking lot closest to the entry road. There is a trail sign there, on the right-hand side as you face the lodge. Cross the lodge's lawn, veering to the right so that you enter the woods just to the right of a large stone fireplace.
In spite of the sunny, 50+ degree weather I started out in, there was still quite a bit of snow in the woods. The trail was packed down and slippery and when I stepped off-trail, I often sank down to just above the top of my boots. I was wishing I had worn my snowshoes.
After entering the woods, the trail passes by, on level ground, some camping sites complete with a bear-proof food box. Shortly after that, there was a cellar hole on the left. I also walked by an ample collection of chewed up cones... some squirrels have been feasting. And along most of the trail, along with the various boot prints and snowshoe prints were moose prints.
After a bit, the trail descended at a moderate incline before gentling out with small hills and level sections. The trail followed the Fowler River, a boisterous, rock-strewn, little waterway. The trail alternatively followed a shelf above the river, and then went right next to or close to its banks. The woods are largely hemlock but with quite a few hardwoods thrown in.
After about a mile, the trail crosses the river. With the river a mixture of ice, snow, and raging waters, I was a bit nervous about this part. Crossing where the trail does was out of the question with the rocks being mostly covered with a mixture of water, snow and ice and a large upended ice chunk blocking one of the center boulders, like a boulder itself (albeit a slippery, unstable one). A bit downstream from that was open water, then what appeared to be a snow bridge (although it could have simply been snow-covered ice), and more open water. I eyed that snow bridge for a few moments before getting up the nerve to test the closer, slushier-looking portion. Beyond the open water downstream, the river merged with Davis Brook which looked just as large as the river. It felt like I was standing on a peninsula. Where the two waterways merged, there were some boulders and logs. My plan, if the ice gave way, was to hopefully be immersed in the water only the short ways to these potential obstructions so that I could use them to help haul myself out of the water.
Alas, all that worry for nothing. The snow bridge held with nary a scary shake or crack. If I didn't know there was water surging underneath, it would have been easier than walking on the trail itself. Well, physically it was easier, but the psychology was a bit different.
I climbed up the embankment on the other side and followed a level trail, stepping over some small water flows. Then I ascended a short steep section to arrive at a pleasant little landing. From this spot, if you stand in the right place and look back, you will see Mount Cardigan as well as Firescrew. You can even see the fire tower atop Cardigan's summit.
Next, the trail steeply descends the other side of this knob, and that's where the sights get more intense. At the base of this pitch is a narrow gorge compressing the river, sending it roiling in a small pool, before finally shooting it over the rocks as Welton Falls proper.
With the river, now below you and on your left, you can continue down on the left, ignoring the trail on the right for now, and you will come to a railed area. Follow the railing down and around and you will be in a small cave overlooking the gorge! The falls itself aren't readily visible from this prospect but you can see the water disappearing over the edge of the cliffs.
There were also some interesting frozen "falls" coming down from the side of the rock walls, into the river. These occur just upstream from the gorge, in the gorge, and just downstream from the falls.
What a delightful spot! But there is more to see. Resume the trail for just about 25 yards, and you'll encounter a deep, narrow ravine with moss-covered walls. At the base of this ravine, you can see a side-view of the falls emptying into a pool surrounded by high walls on all but the downstream side.
The trail continues its descent, again with some railings. Stopping when you're facing the waterfall, gives a nice view (still looking down at the falls) of the falls as well as the gorge and smaller cascades above it.
And finally if you descend a bit farther, you are again at the river's level. In summer, I'm sure there's fun rock-hopping and swimming to be enjoyed here but with the precarious winter footing in the river, I decided to enjoy my lunch directly opposite the falls. I found the small, swirling pool just above the falls to be fascinating. And of course watching the always-shifting water tumble over the cliff also provided endless entertainment.
Manning Trail continues downstream for another half mile to meet Old Dicey Road. This route also involves a river crossing. But I simply retraced my steps from the falls upstream back to Cardigan Lodge's parking area.
I'd like to return to this spot in summer and follow the rest of the trail as well as explore the river more closely. I'm certain this relatively short trail can be turned into an all-day exploration. I wasn't up to traipsing through the snow off-trail without snowshoes, but in the summer it would be a delight to sample the banks at various locations and see the various pools, cascades, and potholes up close.
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Manning Trail (along with many others) starts from AMC's Cardigan Lodge in Alexandria, New Hampshire.
From the center of Bristol, head north on Route 3A.
2 miles north of Bristol, turn left onto West Shore Road.
Drive along the shore of Newfound Lake and bear left after 1.8 miles which will put you on Cardigan Mountain Road (or perhaps Fowler River Road?).
After 1.1 miles, bear right to follow Fowler River Road.
After 3.2 miles, turn left onto Brook Road (a dirt road).
After 1.0 mile, at a T-junction, turn right onto Shem Valley Road.
After 0.2 mile, bear right to stay on Shem Valley Road.
After 1.3 miles you will have reached the parking lot for the AMC Cardigan Lodge at the end of Shem Valley Road.
Some of the dirt roads, especially Shem Valley Road can be muddy and narrow. Not a big deal - just use some caution.
AMC Cardigan Lodge: restrooms, lodging, meals during summer, camping. The Cardigan Lodge is a large, clean building.
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