The Flume is a spectacular natural gorge at the base of Mt. Liberty between Mt. Flume and Mt. Osseo in Franconia Notch State Park. The main attraction is a 2 mile walking trail including boardwalks through the gorge itself for an incredible close-up view. The trail starts from the visitor center, and the Flume Gorge is 7/10 of a mile out, or just 3/10 of a mile from the shuttle stop at the Boulder Cabin.
The Boulder Cabin was the original starting point to a walk through the Flume Gorge, and the Flume Covered Bridge was built to accommodate coaches coming from New Hampshire’s grand hotels to the cabin. You can read a lot more about the hotels and see a Concord Coach like the ones that might have brought early guests to the Flume at the Visitor’s Center. The scenery becomes most interesting right after the Boulder Cabin, so if you do take the shuttle and start your walk at the cabin you won’t miss much. Just beyond the Boulder Cabin is Table Rock- what could be called the first waterfall on the trail, where the river rushes across a wide stone slab. As the trail winds up through the woods the sound of rushing water begins to become familiar and the mossy woods give a preview of the gorge ahead.
As the trail reaches the Flume Gorge, it moves to a narrow boardwalk at the bottom of the gorge with lots of great views up and down the river. There are a couple wider places on the boardwalk to stop at within the gorge itself, but plan ahead for photos – I got most of my best shots just before the boardwalk actually entered the gorge, where I could look all the way up through.
What I found most amazing about the environment of the gorge was how cool and wet everything was. It was a very refreshing change from the weather even back down the trail at Table Rock and it felt like a very unique kind of place. The tall, mossy rock walls added to the atmosphere and the feeling that everywhere I looked there was something moving and living, ready to be discovered – from trees growing over the chasm and ferns growing straight out of the rock, to the churning water below. Looking up through the gorge it’s easy to see why the discoverer of the gorge, 93-year-old “Aunt” Jess Guernsey initially had trouble convincing her family it was real.
Keep an eye out for attractions like the sign marking the location of the Great Boulder which once hung above the gorge. Early visitors used to walk under it on the original boardwalks, which washed away along with the boulder in a storm in 1883- the boulder has never been found!
The grand finale to a walk through the gorge is Avalanche Falls, the series of cascading waterfalls at the top. The boardwalk goes right up by the falls and comes out at the top, where there are some great photo spots and shady areas to take a break from walking.
The trail does continue past the gorge, and if you have the time and energy there are a few more cool things worth seeing further along. Liberty Cascade is a second waterfall that the trail passes over further up, which isn’t as spectacular as Avalanche Falls but is still impressive. Further along is the Sentinel pine bridge and the Pool. The bridge was first constructed in 1839, but the sides were added later in 1984, hence the two dates written on the far end. Make sure to stop at the lower viewing area past the bridge to get a better view of the calm Pool and the giant pine log that supports the bridge. Also check out the “Wolf’s Den” just past the bridge – a little cave-like area to crawl through made by boulders. The Wolf’s Den just takes a few minutes to get through and is fun for kids to explore, and might make a nice break point in the walk if you’re doing the whole two-mile loop.
The trail continues through some nice, woodsy terrain, and passes a few smaller but notable landmarks including some rather large boulders placed by glacial activity, and a nice view of the mountains that frame the park. There are a few informational signs along the trail to keep things interesting as the walk winds down. I think that the whole loop is definitely worth the time and effort if you have it, but the gorge itself is for sure the most exciting part, and a much shorter walk.
One important note is that the Flume is a well known spot, and it can get very crowded. The best times to go are very early in the year before most schools start to get out, and at the end of the summer but before leaf season.