Located in the northern part of New Hampshire, the Franconia Notch State Park contains a unique hiking path called the Flume Gorge, filled with scenic wonders and other fascinating geological features. The entire hike through the Flume and back to the visitor’s center is around two miles. Depending on how experienced you are as a hiker, this will take about an hour and a half.
The experience begins at the visitor’s center, watching a very interesting and informative movie about the Gorge and the Franconia Notch region. This only takes about 10 minutes. Tickets are purchased for $15 at the visitor’s center, and then you are free to follow the path behind it directly to the Gorge. The path is paved for the 1st quarter mile, becoming more rugged after that point. Here are just a few of the features that you will encounter on the Flume Gorge path.
The Flume Covered Bridge:
Built in 1886 and restored several times since, this red covered bridge is one of the oldest in the state of New Hampshire. These bridges are often called the kissing bridges due to the darkness and privacy they provide. It’s not unusual to encounter a few couples embracing as you pass by. The bridge is built across the famous and scenic Pemigewasset River. The views of the river currents from the bridge are spectacular. The river originates from Profile Lake and is fed by several small streams that fall from the steep mountains nearby. It ends in the Atlantic Ocean at Newburyport, MA (185 miles from its origin). The name “Pemigewasset” comes from Abenaki Indian word meaning swift.
Fun fact: Do you know why they cover bridges in New England?
Answer: To keep water out of the joints
To keep the roadway dry
To strengthen the structure
To give a bridge a barn appearance
To keep the bridge drying out
To keep the snow off the bridge
Next, you will encounter the Table rock, which is a section of Conway granite. Over time, the rushing waters of the flume had exposed this giant boulder. Please do not try to venture over the rock. It is slippery and dangerous. Follow the path and stay away from the rushing waters, even though it is surely tempting to get your feet wet on a hot summer day.
The Flume Gorge:
You will then enter the Flume Gorge itself, which is a natural gorge extending about 800 feet at the base of Mt. Liberty. The boardwalk allows you to experience the flowers, mosses, ferns, and other wildlife found there. The boardwalk is open throughout the summer, but parts of it do close during the winter and cannot be accessed then. If you need access to that portion of the trail, you have to go back and follow the higher path above. Take the stairs down, and follow it to the bottom, to the bridge, where you can enjoy the waterfalls and the mist coming from it. It feels refreshing just to be near the waterfalls.
This was discovered in 1808 by an elderly woman. She saw a huge, egg shaped boulder (10 feet high and 12 feet long!) hanging suspended between the walls. A heavy mudslide swept the boulder from its place. That same slide had deepened the gorge and created the Avalanche Falls. As you go along you will notice the Flume Woods, especially the yellow birch and maple wood. This is not a virgin forest by any means. Most of the old growth forest has been cut out and hauled to mills. But if you look around, you will notice the big hemlock to your right and the yellow birch to your left. These represent the early forest trees that escaped from lumberman axes to stand here today as a living memory of the once great Franconia Notch forest.
When you walk to the top of the Flume, you will encounter a roaring, majestic, 45 foot waterfall where the Flume brook enters the gorge. Look for a turnoff on the ridge path, follow it, and you will reach the Liberty Gorge. This is a beautiful, cascading mountain stream that flows through the narrow valley and is an incredible place to take pictures.
Centennial Pine Bridge and Pool:
Keep following the path back towards the visitor’s center, and you will then encounter the Centennial pine ridge and pool. The base of the Centennial covered bridge was formed by an uprooted giant pine tree that fell during the hurricane of 1938. The bridge offers a breathtaking view of the pool (the deepest part of the Pemigewasset River) that was formed at the end of an ice age 14,000 years ago. The pool is 40 feet deep, 150 feet in diameter, and is surrounded by 130 feet high cliffs.
This is a great place to relax and enjoy the area. When you are ready to continue, keep climbing the path up and discover the foothills of Franconia Notch. Try to figure out which cliff resembles Thomas Jefferson without peeking at the sign.
This narrow path involves crawling on your hands and knees and squeezing through rocks. Almost done! Finally, you will encounter the Glacial Boulders. As you walk through this area, towards the visitor’s center, you will notice these magnificent, enormous rocks. During the glacial period over 25,000 years ago, a great ice sheet more than a mile thick moved over this area. It was so powerful that it brought large boulders along with it, and when the ice sheet retreated, those were left behind. Those boulder are called “glacial erratics.”
Tips for your visit:
- Stay away from the flume for safety reasons.
- You can shorten the hike by taking the bus from visitor’s center to Boulder Cabin. It is a free ride, operated from late June to mid October.
- Parts of the boardwalk are closed to the public during the winter months.
- If you are even the slightest bit claustrophobic, stay away from this trip (trust me).
- The gift shop is overpriced, so unless you want to buy a post card or two specific to the Flume, don’t plan to spend much there.
- Address: 852 Daniel Webster Highway (Route 3), Lincoln, NH 03251.
- Phone: 603-745-8391
- Franconia Notch State Park info
- Flume Gorge info
* Leave a comment if you find the Jefferson looking cliff without looking the sign 🙂