The Pemigewasset River begins at the base of Cannon Mountain in Profile Lake right here in Franconia Notch State Park. For hundreds of years the Old Man was reflected in the waters of Profile Lake until it bore witness to his collapse in May of 2003. From its headwaters, the river flows 70 miles south to meet up with the Winnipesaukee River in Franklin, New Hampshire, forming the Merrimack River. Eventually the Merrimack flows into Massachusetts where it finally drains into the Atlantic Ocean. The Pemigewasset (nicknamed The Pemi) got its name from the Abenaki term for “narrow and shallow swift current” which can be experienced during its journey south.
The Pemi River is narrow for the first 2 or so miles until it begins to widen just south of Lafayette Campground. As it progresses towards the Basin, the swift nature of the river becomes apparent. Along the river, evidence such as tools and trails have been found that indicate Native American tribes like the Algonquin once resided along its banks. When the early settlers came into the area, the trees were used for logging and paper mills. The river made it easier for loggers to ship their cargo downriver to construct various scenic bridges along its path, including the Pumpkin Seed Bridge in Livermore Falls. Several other historic sites can be found along the banks of the Pemi such as the Minot-Sleeper Library and the Grafton County Courthouse.
Today the Pemi River still offers beautiful scenic waterfalls that can be seen throughout Franconia Notch, including the rushing waters of the Basin. Hikers who come to Franconia Notch can use the Pemi Trail that runs alongside the river, thus giving the trail its name. The Pemi Trail begins at Profile Lake, just like the river, and runs about 5 miles south towards Exit 34A. Along the way, hikers can witness the transformation of the Pemigewasset River from a small flow coming off of Profile Lake to the roaring waters at the Basin. The geological history of the Pemi is hard to miss at the Basin where after thousands of years of erosion the rock structures have been carved into smooth pathways leading to the famous 20-foot diameter pothole.
I find it very interesting that some of the most popular attractions at Franconia Notch center around the Pemigewasset. If this seemingly common river didn’t exist, there wouldn’t be a Flume Gorge, Basin, or Pemi Trail! Throughout nearly the entire length of the park, this river can be found nearby. It’s a familiar sight that seems to greet you as you move between the park’s hot spots. Occasionally I’ll find myself smiling when I gaze at the roaring waters at The Basin, mostly because I have seen where the river begins and where it has been up until this point. You can’t help but feel a connection to The Pemi as you follow its course from its humble beginnings at Profile Lake, to when it grows into the impressive surge at The Basin, to when it becomes a big shot down south. From Exit 34B to 34A, the Pemigewasset River brings Franconia Notch together.