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Wild, Wet and Whirling Waterfalls

Kathi Caldwell-Hopper - May 29, 2012

One belonged to a millionaire. One offers a glimpse of a man’s face if the water hits the profile just right. Another is a mere eight feet in height but equally as cooling and stunning.

All of these – and many more – are the waterfalls of New Hampshire. I love each and every one of these tumbling waterfalls and summer (or late spring) just has not arrived for me until I make my annual visits to each water area.

This spring, I was lucky enough to visit beautiful Castle in the Clouds in Moultonboro. If you don’t know the story of the Castle and its owner, Thomas Plant, a quick Internet search of the subject will bring forth tons of photos and information on the mountaintop estate and its visionary builder. It’s a true rags to riches story and it only adds to the fascination I have with this property.

Thomas Plant built the Castle in the early 1900s and lived there until old age; he died penniless but he left behind an estate the likes of which NH had never seen. Today, the Lakes Region Conservation Trust owns the property and it is well protected and upkeep is ongoing.

As many times as I have visited the Castle and walked the trails, I never took the time to stop at the waterfall area on the property. When I finally did so on a recent trip to the estate, I realized just how much I had missed.

Titled the Fall of Song, the waterfall is easily reached, after paying admission at the entrance to the Castle property (there is a gatehouse). The well-paved auto road leads to the Castle, but on the way you can stop in a parking lot and take a very modest hike on a well-kept path to the falls. The Fall of Song is spectacular; there is no other word for it. Located at the end of a wooden walkway, visitors can sit on a deck area and spend as much time as they wish in the spot.

I love this secluded area because it seems sort of hidden away. Large rocks rise all around and the waterfall spills in a forceful stream from way, way up above. The water seems to come out of the sky, because the falls starts so high up. It isn’t a very wide waterfall, but what it hasn’t got in width it sure makes up for in length, spilling about 40 feet in a freefall and ending in a pool near the deck. It is wonderful to get so close up a view of a waterfall and to be able to sit for a long time on the deck. The only sound is that of the waterfall and I speculated that this surely must have been a favorite spot for Thomas Plant.

There are other waterfalls on the trail as well, including Bridal Veil Fall, Roaring Falls and Twin and Whittier Falls.

One can and should plan to spend an entire day at Castle in the Clouds. The waterfalls, the hiking trails, the Castle tour and lunch in the Carriage House Café are all must-do events.

I continued my waterfall day trip with a ride to Bristol in the Newfound Lake area. The Profile Falls area is well known to many, but I always visit on a weekday in the summer and/or fall, which assure fewer people are at the spot. Don’t get me wrong – I like people, but the Profile Falls area has a very old, stepped-back-in-time feel about it, and it’s best enjoyed when it’s uninhabited.

To reach Profile Falls, I took Route 3A south from Bristol. A mere three or so miles from the downtown Bristol area, I turned left on Smith River Road at the Bristol/Hill town line sign and followed the road for a short distance. At the end of the road, I followed the signage and turned right. Not far down this road there is more than ample parking and I was happy to see the area, while still very wooded, was well maintained and nothing like the weed entangled spot of my youth.

The Profile Falls area is now a park maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers. I was seeing the area at its absolute best: the sun was shining, the temperature just right with late spring (May) in full swing. Just a few cars were parked in one of the parking lots; however, on a hot summer’s day the area could be very busy.

I wasted no time in taking the path to the falls (there is good signage). This path is very well maintained. The trek to the falls is short and even those who aren’t hikers will find the path easy to walk. I came across an old cellar hole and I thought I had read somewhere that there had been a mill at this spot over a hundred years ago. At one time this was all part of a thriving Hill Village and many mills sprang up to take advantage of the power of the river so close by.

I must warn readers that the path to Profile Falls became extremely steep near the end of the short trail. I could hear the roar of the falls long before I saw the breathtaking waterfall, but as eager as I was to get to my destination, it was imperative that I watched where I walked. The path follows an embankment and there are tree roots, loose footing areas and the possibility of taking a tumble if one is not careful. (There are other ways to reach Profile Falls by taking a little bridge further along the paved road.)

Soon I reached Profile Falls and it was well worth the effort. I stopped short to view this amazing site made thousands upon thousands of years ago by Mother Nature.

Part of Smith River, the falls tumble about 30 feet and create a photographer’s dream. It’s hard to find words to describe the incredible Profile Falls; this is not a narrow waterfall like so many I have seen elsewhere. It is very wide and if you are lucky enough to stand in just the right spot and the water is flowing correctly, you will see the profile of a man cut in the rock. (I’ve been to the falls and seen the profile in the past, but I must admit on the day I visited the area, no profile was visible to me.)

A giant pool of water is formed at the base of the roaring falls and offers fishing. I am aware that people love to swim in the river, but I would advise caution because the water is quite deep and there are other much more shallow spots to swim elsewhere in the area.

However, with a picnic lunch and a blanket to spread on any of the boulders on the riverbanks, I can’t think of a more beautiful place to spend a day.

For those who would rather enjoy a picnic lunch while seated at a table, there is a wonderful, very large picnic area near the parking lot. It is situated in a pine grove near the river and makes a great place to enjoy an outdoor meal.

Cars are not allowed to take the road to Old Hill Village, near the Profile Falls area. The road, which is not in good shape for vehicles, is however a great trek for bicyclists.

Because I had the entire day to spend on my day trip, I decided to head north on I-93. With no set destination in mind, I just set out to enjoy the rest of the sunny, warm day.

It was getting towards late afternoon when I decided to stop at the Basin area, located a bit down the highway south of Echo Lake. I parked and hiked the well-groomed trail along a very cooling waterway that eventually led to the breathtaking Basin. A granite pothole, 20 feet in diameter, is believed to have been eroded 15,000 years ago while the North American ice sheet was melting. Small stones and sand, whirled around by the Pemigewasset River, have smoothed the Basin. Below the Basin is a water-eroded rock formation called the Old Man’s Foot. Although hikers are not allowed to swim in the water, the fast moving river emits a natural coolness that was most refreshing on this unseasonably hot afternoon.

There are many, many waterfalls in NH, some hidden away and others easier to locate. I decided this would make a fun summer project for a young mother looking for adventures to explore with school-aged children. I well recall the projects I did with my son and daughter when they were elementary school ages, such as visiting every state park one summer or picking blueberries at as many Lakes Region blueberry farms as we could another summer. What a fun project it would be for a family to visit as many NH waterfalls as possible during a summer.

Whatever the reason a person might have, a visit to any of the many NH waterfalls is a project well worth pursuing.

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