Waterfalls in winter offer an ephemeral beauty that changes with the weather — from frozen cascades in sub-zero temps to gushing flows over frozen layers during mid-season thaws.
Winter waterfalls also make great destinations for ski and snowshoe adventures, whether a short trek through snow-covered trees or a multi-day outing to a tall wall of frozen water.
Here are seven winter waterfalls worth the effort by ski, (micro)spike, or snowshoe.
Bridal Veil Falls, Franconia
The water that spills over the rock face and into a clear, cool pool along Coppermine Brook in summer freezes into a cascading tower of ice come winter. Snow-covered and frozen, the pool becomes passable, allowing hikers to reach the base of the upper falls more easily.
Bridal Veil Falls is a 2.5-mile hike along the Coppermine Brook Trail (the first half-mile or so is on the Coppermine Road, off Route 116, where there’s a small parking area). This trail is popular year-round, so is usually packed out enough to use microspikes, but snowshoes may be necessary if there’s been significant snowfall recently.
The Flume, Franconia Notch State Park
A busy tourist attraction during the summer and fall, this Franconia Notch State Park gem is a quiet treasure during the snowy season. Stretching a length of 800 feet, the steep granite walls of the Flume Gorge, below the 90-foot-high Avalanche Falls, are bedecked in rugged and intricate ice forms.
While the boardwalk along the gorge is removed and there are no services available at the Flume in winter — when the park shifts its focus to skiing at Cannon Mountain — the roughly 2-mile loop to the falls crosses two covered bridges and provides a wonderland-ish beauty. Trail signs are also absent during winter, but the loop trail along the Flume Path, Rim Path (to the top of Avalanche Falls), Ridge Path, and Wildwood Path is generally well-tracked. Snowshoes or spikes are best on this up-and-down terrain.
Falling Waters Trail, Franconia Notch State Park
There are three waterfalls within about a 1.5 miles of the trailhead on the aptly named Falling Waters Trail. The three-mile out-and-back hike (to the third waterfall) is much quieter in winter than when hordes of summer and fall hikers hit this trail, which eventually leads to Franconia Ridge.
Falling Waters runs alongside Dry Brook, which cascades over three falls near the trail: Stairs Falls, which offers only a glimpse of water behind a lacy curtain of ice if the snow is deep; the 60-foot Swiftwater Falls; and the spectacular 80-foot Cloudland Falls.
Franconia Falls, Lincoln
A summertime favorite, Franconia Falls is considerably more subdued during the winter — at least on the surface.
The river-smoothed chutes that serve as natural water slides on the East Branch of the Pemigewasset River are mostly covered by snow now, but the deep gargle of water is still heard below the ice. Intricate, jagged ice formations materialize around rocks in the places where the river flows openly, and giant, sugary poofs of snow cover the larger boulders.
Although they’re not the most visually impressive winter waterfalls, the journey to Franconia Falls along the Lincoln Woods Trail (off the Kancamagus Highway) makes for a terrific ski outing. This is a main route to a few popular 4,000-foot summits, and steady hiker traffic means the path is usually well-packed — great for snowshoeing, skiing, or even skijoring.
To reach the falls, follow the trail for three miles, then head upstream along the side path. Lincoln Woods Trail follows an old railroad grade, which makes for a steady, but slight, uphill on the way in and a gentle downhill glide on the way out.
Upper Falls of the Ammonoosuc, Crawford’s Purchase
Upper Falls is another favorite summer spot, where intrepid cliff jumpers dare to leap from the huge, river-sculpted boulders into the cool whirlpool below. Come winter, the falls are alternately hushed with ice and roaring with snowmelt.
Located along the Nordic trails system at Bretton Woods, the falls are relatively easy to reach by ski or snowshoe. From the Nordic Center, adjacent to the Mount Washington hotel, the journey to Upper Falls is about 3 kilometers along the B&M trail. The Ammonoosuc, near its source on Mount Washington, is wildly beautiful here, as it tumbles over a base of ice and through the boulders.
There’s a small wooden bridge just off the B&M trail for easy viewing. A sharp right onto the Bridle Path trail on the way back to the Nordic Center brings skiers (or snowshoers) past Middle Falls and follows the Ammonoosuc most of the way back, providing fun skiing along rolling terrain and a pretty view all the way.
Zealand Falls, Bethlehem
Perhaps the most popular way to reach Zealand Falls during the winter is by skiing in. The trek to these falls becomes longer in the winter months, when Zealand Road, which provides summer access to the trailhead, is closed to vehicular traffic. Parking is available just east of Zealand Road on Route 302.
A 2.5-mile ski up the closed road brings skiers to the Zealand Trail, which leads gradually uphill, through forest and wetlands, for another 3.6 miles to the falls. All and all, the journey from car to falls is nearly 6.5 miles. Skiers or snowshoe-ers who aren’t in a hurry have the option of booking a bunk at the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Zealand Falls Hut, but note this is self-service season, which means you’ll need to pack in food and a warm sleeping bag. (www.outdoors.org)
Arethusa Falls, Crawford Notch State Park
New Hampshire’s tallest waterfall — about 160 feet high — is one of the easiest to reach. In winter, the falls become a vast wall of ice and a popular spot for ice climbers. A moderate hike of 1.5 miles along the Arethusa Falls Trail leads to the base of this waterfall along Bemis Brook. On the way in or the way out, looping onto the Bemis Brook Trail, which roughly parallels the Arethusa Falls Trail, leads past other, smaller falls. The trailhead is roughly 6 miles south of the AMC’s Highland Center on Route 302.