Waterfalls in the Whites

I am beginning this post with a question- What is the most hare-brained adventure you have ever experienced? If you want my answer, just scroll to the bottom of this post. But if you can wait, you’ll view some of the most amazing waterfalls and glacial formations in New England.

The Basin
The Basin

My son and I visited Franconia Notch State Park recently, spending a chilly August night at the Lafayette Place Campground on the banks of the Pemigewassett (Indian Head) River.


After setting up camp, we drove 2 miles to the Basin. There are many hiking and biking trails starting from the campground, including one to the Basin, but it was late afternoon and we wanted to get to the water before dark.


Clearly this area is popular with families with young children!

Every time I explore the Basin it seems new to me. We began directly off I-93 in Lincoln with paved trails for biking and accessibility, quickly reaching the river and boulders. Trails guided us further, but the temptation to walk upriver on these massive structures took us in and out of the woods.


We walked about a mile up (or in!) the Pemi.  The Cascade Trail goes all the way to Lonesome Lake and beyond. Storm damage a few years ago has made most of the upper trail impassable. In high water, crossing the river to continue following the trail pictured below would not be recommended!


The White Mountains are a great place to lose time. All the immediacy of 2013 quickly becomes engulfed by the perspective of thousands of years of motion, growth and decay. Then the realization that this is not a stagnant, ancient museum, that the land is still moving, growing and changing.

This very old tree seems to be swallowing the boulder beneath.

I have to continually come back to a word I’ve used many times in previous posts…gift.  That our ancestors had the foresight to protect these spaces, and we are invited to join them in caring for the land, is truly a gift.

Ok, so now on to the crackpot part of our adventure, which too began with a gift- a birthday gift.

My son turned 20 this summer, and while wracking my brains for a suitable gift, I found  a Groupon from North Ridge Mountain Guides for an afternoon of waterfall rappelling at Cloudland Falls.  Perfect!

The trip gathered right at the campground, so we took our time cleaning up in the morning and met up with our 8-person group; two guides, a family with two teens, and another adventurous gentleman. Our ages ranged from 14 to mid-40’s.

Stairs Falls

Rule number 1 if you are middle-aged and out-of-shape and hiking a mountain with excited adventurers…bring a camera! I quickly let the group know to not wait up for me, as I was NOT rappelling, so I could ‘take lots of pictures’ and ‘experience the journey’.  I truly did both, but mostly to let my heart rate slow down!



We ascended the Falling Waters Trail directly from the Lafayette Campground parking area. From the trailhead, there is a sign saying Cloudland Falls is 1.3 miles.  It is the first leg of a popular AT route crossing the Franconia Ridge. What the sign does not tell you is that climbing this trail changes you.

The trail starts off easy, and quickly guides you to beautiful small falls. The entire trail up Little Haystack is beside the river, so it is highly recommended if you are traversing the Ridge to take this portion on the ascent- the descent is very steep and wet.

butterfly on harness

Because I was able to ‘experience the journey’, I had opportunity to say hi to some of the other hikers. A troupe from Quebec was on our same route, having slept at Lafayette the night before as well.  I also met a man who was determined to summit the mountain solo and complete the ridge trail, against his girlfriend’s wishes. Then there was a man with a similar camera to mine who spent 15 minutes with me teaching me some nuances of water images. Though the trail was not at all crowded, sharing the journey with strangers seems important to me. I love people’s stories.

Cloudland Falls

Eventually I reached Cloudland Falls, scrambling over rocks and roots and crossing the water itself a few times.

Randall with a Thumbs Up!
Randall with a Thumbs Up!

The guides began setting up their ropes safely and unobtrusively. They were well organized and clearly loved and respected this space.  There are only a handful of guided New England waterfall rappelling opportunities, with few waterfalls as glorious as this 80′ drop.

We stayed at the falls about 5 hours, setting up gear and getting instructions.  It was an extraordinary mix of resting on sun-soaked rocks in the roar of the water and exhilarating adrenalin rushes.

CloudlandFalls2FranconiaMy son Ben rappelling down Cloudland Falls!

Here’s a link to a video of Ben rappelling!

If you continue above the falls toward the summit of Little Haystack, the water and views continue to impress.



I mentioned earlier that the trail changes you. Before this trip, I had little confidence in my body’s capabilities for strenuous hiking, now I trust it more and want to see what else it can accomplish.  I also got the opportunity to witness my son challenge himself in remarkable ways; safely, smartly, and with an open heart and mind. Yet again the phrase reverberates…What a gift.

So your turn, any crackpot adventures lately?


Lisa Wiley

My name is Lisa Wiley and I am native to mid-New England, but a NH transplant once my husband and I started a family. We have five children and multiple pets, including a bassett named Rue who will be featured in many of my posts! I work in two academic libraries and recently completed a Bachelors in Education and Training through Granite State College. My husband and I are both educators and love outdoor adventures on a shoestring budget! On the side, we garden and raise chickens and angora rabbits. I enjoy spinning the angora fiber from these gentle animals into beautiful yarns. I can't wait to share the adventures of the 'Wiley Rangers' as we explore NH!

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