Crawford Notch State Park in Hart’s Location, NH is a beautiful place with lots to see and do. The park protects 5,775 acres of the Saco River’s steep gorge and has an abundance of hiking trails, scenic vistas, and places to visit. It’s great that there’s a lot to do in the park but it’s also great that many of the best things are very easy to get to and can easily be enjoyed in a day.
Many of the most rewarding short hikes in the park are to waterfalls, of which there are an abundance in the Notch. Arethusa Falls is the tallest waterfall in the state at around 200 feet high, and it’s just a 1.4 mile hike to get there. The trail does have some steep and rocky spots but overall it’s an easy hike. Take a detour out the Bemis Brook trail on the way to Arethusa Falls to see several smaller cascades including Bemis and Coliseum Falls. It’s worth note that the Bemis Brook trail does get considerably steeper and more rocky after Bemis Falls.
Ripley Falls is another big, spectacular waterfall in Crawford Notch. While it isn’t as tall as Arethusa Falls, I found it just as spectacular, and the hike is only half a mile of easy walking.
Kedron Flume is another short walk to an interesting waterfall, but though the trail is only .75 miles, it’s very steep and rocky and the flume itself isn’t as rewarding as many of the other waterfalls. The trail is easy to find, starting right by the historic Willey House, but I wouldn’t recommend it for any reason other than that.
The steepness and narrowness of the Saco River’s gorge means that the river is often very close to the road and that means that in driving through the notch, there are a couple other waterfalls visible from the road. A big surprise for me was Silver Cascade, which is right next to Route 302 (and actually flows under the road further down). There’s a small parking area and this is actually a pretty impressive waterfall to check out if you aren’t up for a hike or don’t have time.
Since the Notch is so narrow and steep, it’s impressive driving through but it’s often hard to get a really good look at the whole place. The mountains on either side tower above and the cliffs and ledges are lit up beautifully by the sun, and it’s good to find a place to take it all in. One of the best places to take a quick break and enjoy the scenery for a bit is the Willey House area. There is a nice little visitor’s center with A little background about the Willey House, and a lake with some relaxing walking trails. This is a place where the mountains still tower up on either side, but there is plenty of room to see everything and enjoy it all.
Mt. Willard provides an even more broad view of the whole Notch. Though the trailhead is just outside the park, the 3.4 mile round trip hike really is one of the most rewarding ways to see Crawford Notch. The terrain is somewhat rocky in places but the trail is never very steep, so the hike is very easy. The top of the mountain sneaks right up on you as the trail emerges abruptly from the trees onto a broad rock ledge with an awesome panoramic view all the way down through the valley. At over 2,800 feet, the top of Mt. Willard can be in the clouds, but I went on a cloudy day and it was still spectacular. The cool breeze was great after the hike and the clouds wisping through where very atmospheric.
A great place to stay in Crawford Notch is the Dry River Campground. The campground has 36 wooded campsites including several walk-in sites with elevated tent platforms. There are some very well-maintained facilities including flush toilets, showers, and even laundry machines, and there’s also easy access to the Dry River (which was anything but dry when I was there). The campground is nicely located for a great view of Frankenstein Cliff and the Frankenstein Trestle, which are visible from the campground entrance and from the picnic area near the showers. Keep an eye out for trains – the Conway Scenic Railroad went by while I was there.