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Hiking an Arethusa Falls Loop

Arethusa Falls (in winter)
Arethusa Falls (in early winter)

Towering over 100 feet in height, the great Arethusa Falls is one of the most popular waterfalls in the White Mountains. Located in Crawford Notch, the trailhead is located off Rt 302 within easy reach of the other attractions along that scenic route.

While you can just hike 1.2 miles up the Arethusa Falls Trail to see this great cascade, it’s also easy to do a more challenging loop hike that includes Frankenstein Cliff and the Frankenstein railroad trestle. A favorite location for winter ice climbers, there are several jaw-dropping viewpoints on this 5.0-mile loop, but the going is rather steep and slippery in places, so not for the faint of heart.

Getting there: Park at the lower Frankenstein Cliff Lot off Rt 302. Hike Frankenstein Cliff Trail for 2.1 miles, Arethusa-Ripley Falls Trail for 1.4 miles, the Arethusa Falls Trail for 1.5 miles, and finally the Frankenstein Cliff Trail, a short distance back to the lower lot. All of these trails are well signed.
Frankenstein Cliff
Frankenstein Cliff

The hike starts at the huge parking lot on your right, just as you turn onto Arethusa Falls Road off Rt 302 in Crawford Notch. The trail starts at the kiosk on the far end of the lot across from the bathroom, with a sign indicating the Frankenstein Cliff Trail. Hike uphill through open woods until you come to an easy stream crossing with a sign pointing left for the falls (Arethusa Falls) and right for the cliff (Frankenstein Cliff). Proceed right, cross the stream, and continue along the rocky path until you reach the railroad trestle.

There is a covered walkway under the bridge to protect hikers from falling debris. This is still a working bridge, although it’s not in use during the winter months. Observe the huge granite blocks that the trestle is seated upon and the thick iron girders, a product of a bygone era.

Frankenstein railroad trestle
Frankenstein railroad trestle

The trail gets quite steep here and is slippery in places when wet. It switchbacks uphill, a trail construction technique which is seldom used in the White Mountains, running next to and through the largest cliffs rather than climbing them head-on.

The Trail comes to an open ledge with excellent views of Crawford Notch and mighty Mt Bemis
The Trail comes to an open ledge with excellent views of Crawford Notch and mighty Mt Bemis

The trail continues to climb through open woods before coming to an open ledge with excellent views of the southern half of Crawford Notch and mighty Mt Bemis, a trail-less peak overlooking the Mt Crawford and the Saco River far below. There’s even a view of distant Arethusa Falls visible as you continue along the trail which travels along the cliff top.

Continuing, there is a spur trail that heads off to Falcon Cliff, another viewpoint at the top of Frankenstein Cliff with an elevation of 2040′. Returning, you’ll continue to a third viewpoint that looks up the length of the Dry River Valley to the summit of Mt Washington. The summit is often obscured by cloud however you might get lucky and catch a glimpse of it.

Three-way Trail Junction with the Arethusa Falls Trail and Arethusa-Ripley Falls Trail
Three-way Trail Junction with the Arethusa Falls Trail and Arethusa-Ripley Falls Trail

The Frankenstein Cliff Trail ends at the three-way junction with the Arethusa Falls Trail and the Arethusa-Ripley Trail, which runs north to Ripley Falls another famous waterfall nearby. Continue along the Arethusa Falls Trail (by going straight at the junction), which will bring you to the falls and back to your car eventually.

The hiking trails get much easier here as it heads downhill to the falls. You’ll eventually need to turn right and hike down a series of stairs down to the falls and Bemis Brook, but the turn is well signed and you can’t miss it. Hiking back uphill, you’ll continue straight back down to the bottom of the Arethusa Falls Trail to a trailhead parking lot. Look for a sign for the Frankenstein Cliff Trail. You’ll need to get on it for a few tenths of a mile, passing once again the Falls-Cliff Trail sign, before reaching the lower lot where you left your car.

This is a great hike with excellent views, but the Frankenstein Cliff Trail section can be difficult for people without a lot of endurance for climbing steeply uphill.

Total distance: 5 miles with approximately 2000′ of elevation gain.

Arethusa Falls Loop

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  1. Did this hike a few years back, and added a little distance by hiking to the starting point from my campsite in Dry River Campground. It was a beautiful hike, but I was quite nervous about descending the wet stone “steps” from Frankenstein Cliffs. Later in the day, I talked to a Park Ranger about the hike, and he said he always recommends that hikers do the loop in the opposite direction to the one I did. Rookie mistake! But I lived to tell the tale.

    • Exactly. That’s why I climbed up the Frankenstein side first. It’s always easier to climb steeps instead of descending them. :-) Pretty up top of Frankenstein. They should put this one on 52-with-a-view.

      • Hello Philip – we were planning to do this hike along with Mt Willard, but I read a review that said the views from Mt Willard and Frankenstein Cliffs are much the same. Would you agree with this?

  2. Did this hike this past January. It was a pretty amazing site in the winter.


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