For John Muir, one of the most seminal experiences of his life was not a climb up a high Sierra peak or a long, solo hike. It was a moment at the precipice of a waterfall. In July 1870 Muir was camped in the Yosemite Creek Basin on the Tuolumne Divide where Yosemite Falls launches itself into the valley. Barefoot for the surest footing on the slippery rocks, he crawled close to the lip of the falls. Teetering like a stone about to drop, he realized it wasn't the view he wanted. A ledge below, just wide enough for his feet, caught his eye. Slowly, carefully, he lowered himself down the rocks until his heels rested on the ledge, and then, clinging to the rock, he worked his way to the farthest point possible. There, precariously hanging on to what must have seemed like the edge of the world, Muir stared down "into the heart of the snowy, chanting throng of the comet-like streamers," his face showered with spray, his ears pounding with the thunder of the falls, his heart racing.
The experience was, Muir recalled, "a most memorable day of days," filled with "enjoyment enough to kill if that were possible." According to his biographer, the encounter was Muir's "first adventure into extreme danger" and would set the tone for much of Muir's vision of nature as beautiful, powerful, and danger-filled.
Many of us who travel the backcountry have similar memories of waterfalls - moments filled with awe and beauty, and tinged with a sense of danger. I recall a hike up to China's sacred Changbai plateau with bolts of lightning cracking the rocks around us and thunder so loud it drowned out the roar of the water. But we kept going, the falling water drawing us. Then there was the unnamed falls in Alaska's Brooks Range that called to us. Like madmen we attacked the slippery, moss-covered rocks, possessed with thoughts of reaching the rushing water we could hear but couldn't see. Luckily, the spell broke long enough for us to notice the grizzly peering down from the edge.
Falling water has, at times, the dramatic qualities of dance and flowing light.
Waterfalls attract people, whether they be honeymooners, daredevils with barrels, or hikers with cameras. Pick any falls within sight of a road and you're sure to find a crowd. Even thru-hikers on the Appalachian Trail who measure every step will venture out of their way to savor a waterfall. But why? What is the lure of this falling water? In a still backcountry pond you sense serenity in the reflections of birch trees. On seashore hikes you ponder the immensity of the universe and the endlessness of possibilities while staring at water that seems to go on forever. But standing in front of a waterfall - although it's made up of those same elements of rock and water - you see something different.
First, there is the simple beauty. Falling water has, at times, the dramatic qualities of dance and flowing light. Naturalist Thomas Ayres described Illilouette Falls in Yosemite as "a gust of living light from Heaven." John Muir called the same falls "a glorious star shower." Watching a waterfall is like watching shooting stars or a hawk riding the wind - it's mesmerizing and endlessly beautiful. Yosemite National Park, CaliforniaPart of the attraction is the motion. Even though mountains are rising and falling and continents are drifting, most of nature seems static. Waterfalls offer a hint of the motion that lies at the heart of nature. Here, we can see nature dance.
The beauty of that dance can be difficult to capture, however. Waterfalls have become almost a cliché on postcards, in landscape photography and art. Anyone who has tried to describe a waterfall in words can understand the frustration of explorer Meriwether Lewis, who sketched the beauty of the Great Falls of the Missouri in his journal and then wrote, "After writing this imperfect description, I again viewed the Falls, and was so much disgusted with the imperfect idea which it conveyed of the scene, that I determined to draw my pen across it and begin again."
Still another part of the allure is power. More than 35 trillion tons of water are released into the world's oceans each year through river channels. Nowhere is the immense power of that weight felt more strongly than at waterfalls. Stand at the lip of the Lower Falls in Yellowstone at high water and the rocks tremble beneath your feet. It is a power that can sculpt landscapes. Geologists say that water flowing just one foot per second can move gravel. At four feet per second it can roll rocks bigger than your fist; 25 feet per second and huge boulders roll like tumbleweeds in the wind. This is the power that has created many of our backcountry waterfalls. Some falls, particularly in the high country, are the result of valleys that were left hanging high above a canyon floor when a glacier barged through. But for other falls it is water, not ice, that does the cutting. As water moves across land, softer rock layers erode more quickly than hard layers. If the soft layers lie downstream of more resistant rock, an inclined riverbed is formed, increasing the speed of the flow, which in turn increases the cutting power of the water. That increases the incline, which in turn again increases the cutting force in the water. A cycle has begun and in time, a waterfall is born.
Each falls has its own voice ..., so distinct that it's possible to know a falls with your eyes closed.
Geologically, the life cycle of a waterfall is short. The very power that creates them also destroys them. As the softer rock below is eroded, the streambed is undercut creating an overhang. But then the overhang breaks off and the falls move upstream where the process begins again. Powerful falls can almost run upstream. Niagara Falls has moved seven miles from where it was first formed and is currently moving at an average rate of nearly four feet a year. Eventually the erosion comes to the end of the hard rock layer and the falls erodes itself away. From a geologic standpoint, the water crashing down the face of a cliff is like sand pouring through an hourglass. It is time measured. All great beauty is fleeting.
Then there is the sound of waterfalls, their music. Each falls has its own voice which varies with water levels and the season, so distinct that it's possible to know a falls with your eyes closed. Muir claimed that Yosemite Falls "has far the richest, as well as the most powerful, voice of all the falls of the valley." Close up, a falls at high water releases the furious roar of a hurricane - real white noise. Farther away, or at low water, it can sound like bells, or even murmuring voices. Sometimes, particularly when you camp alone, the voice-like sounds can be unnerving, always just at the edge of hearing. Once at a solo camp along the falls of the Pigeon River in Manitoba's Atikaki Provincial Park, I kept a fire glowing all night for the voices I thought I heard just behind the falls. They were the Maymaygwayshi, who the Cree Indians say are elfish, round-headed, six-fingered tricksters who live in rapids and cascades.
Maybe we're attracted to moving water because we are mostly water ourselves. Author Peter Steinhart describes it as "the water inside calling to the water outside." Whatever it is, falls play an important role in the natural scheme of things. Many native peoples count falls, cascades, and springs among their sacred spots. Ecologists stress the importance of falls in creating microclimates for rare plants, and the natural boundaries they create for fish and aquatic life.
And hikers continue to seek them out, even though good falls with solitude are getting harder to find. Development, diversion of creeks and streams, creation of reservoirs, and channelization have stilled many of the singing water. There are still great ones out there, though.
Mt. Rainier, Washington
Glaciers, volcanoes, rain and rock. This is a land designed for waterfalls. No other three-state region can claim more falls than Oregon, Washington and Idaho. A good place to start is the Wonderland Trail in Mount Rainier National Park. The 93-mile trail gives you access to dozens of backcountry waterfalls weeping from the 27 glaciers on Mount Rainier. Some, like Garda Falls and Myrtle Falls, are literally on the trail. Others take more effort. Spray Falls, a 300-foot gem, is about two miles off the Wonderland Trail near Mowich Lake. Affi Falls is a few miles north of the Wonderland Trail on the Northern Loop Trail out of Sunrise. This trail also gives the best access to Mary Belle Falls and the string of others along Nickel Creek. Bushwhacking and route-finding skills are required for some of the park's falls, such as those on Twin Falls Creek, the Muddy Fork of the Cowlitz River, and the nearly one dozen falls on the tributaries of Boulder Creek in the Ohanapecosh Park area. The highest falls in the park are situated in the southern, most developed region. Still they are worth the visit. Comet Falls is a classic 300-plus-foot drop. Sluiskin Falls on the Paradise River is 300 feet high.
Season: With healthy snowfalls, the runoff is often higher in the spring, but since many creeks and rivers are also glacier-fed, their flow is relatively high much of the year.
Resources: A Waterfall Lover's Guide to the Pacific Northwest by Gregory A. Plumb, The Mountaineers, 1001 S.W. Klickitat Way, Suite 201, Seattle, WA 98134: (800) 553-4453.
Contact: Mount Rainier National Park, Ashford, Washington 98304: (306) 569-2211.
Nowhere in the world is there a more beautiful collection of waterfalls than in Yosemite National Park. The sculpted cut of the granite peaks, the graceful swirl of the falls, the tinge of color from the trees, the dizzying heights the water travels before meeting the earth, and the uncountable number all combine to make this the finest gallery of waterfall masterpieces in the world.
The problem is, these natural wonders are no secret. Some of the most popular views of the falls at Yosemite are so crowded you can hardly photograph them without the head of a stranger showing up on your film. But it's worth trying. These are the classic falls of the valley: 1,612-foot Ribbon Falls (the highest falls in the country); Bridalveil, where the wind sometimes pushes plumes of water back over the top like smoke; Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls; Illilouette Falls, with its sheets of water sometimes as thin as clouds; Nevada and Silver Strand; and Vernal Falls, renowned for its rainbows.
To get away from the crowds, you must leave the valley and hit the trails. Try the Glen Aulin Trail along the Tuolumne River. A six-mile hike from the Meadows brings you to a string of falls: Tuolumne, California, Le Conte, and Waterwheel. On the other side of the park there are two falls: Tueeulala and Wapama, which drop almost directly into Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. A third, Rancheria, falls just upstream from the lake. North of Lake Vernon, the water source for Wapama Falls, the John Muir Trail follows Falls Creek with its cascades. At the southern end of the park is Chilnualna Falls, and Bunnell Cascade right on the trail along the Merced River. Pyweak Cascade in Tenaya Canyon is in the heart of a trail-less, difficult-to-reach area.
You can always try viewing the classic falls from a different angle. One of the most spectacular places for waterfall watching is Ribbon Falls amphitheater. It's not far off the crowded road but there is no trail, just a scramble up the rocks to the base of the falls.
Season: With little summertime precipitation, spring runoff from deep snows in the high country is what creates the power in the falls. That same spring run-off creates many short-lived but beautiful falls known as "ephemerals."
Resources: California Waterfalls: Where to Hike, Bike, Backpack, Walk, and Drive to 200 of the Golden State's Most Spectacular Falls by Ann Marie Brown, Foghorn Press, P.O. Box 2036, Santa Rosa, CA 95405; (707) 521-3300.
Contacts: Yosemite National Park, P.O. Box 577, Yosemite, CA 95389; (209) 372-0200.
Grand Canyon, Arizona
Water from rock. It seems otherworldly, even miraculous. But near Mile 32, on the Colorado River through Grand Canyon National Park, there it is: a miracle coming out of the wall. It's called Vasey's Paradise, a double waterfall that appears directly out of the canyon wall and then cascades down a series of rock ledges to become what explorer John Wesley Powell called "a wall set with a million brilliant gems."
The Grand Canyon is best known for its rapids and sheer cliffs, but on the many side creeks and in the hidden grottoes of this natural wonder there are dozens of great backcountry waterfalls. Vasey's Paradise, named for the botanist on Powell's expedition, is reachable only by the river and, along with Deer Creek, is one of two places in the canyon where poison ivy can be a problem. Deer Creek Falls is a beautiful slash of white water pouring through a thin slit in the canyon's north wall near Mile 136. A short trail from the river lets you crawl through the narrow, cavern-like passage behind the falls. Deer Creek Falls can be reached from the North Rim on the Thunder River Trail, named after another of the Grand Canyon's impressive water displays. Thunder River Falls literally thunders out of a cave, then tumbles to Tapeats Creek 1,200 feet below and a half-mile away, making it unofficially the shortest river in the world. At low flows you can venture back into the dark, wet cave that spouts the river. A more open and light-filled series of falls can be reached either by hikers or boaters at Elves Chasm on Royal Arch Creek (Mile 116). There the creek is full of swimming holes, pools, cascades, and small falls - all fringed with wildflowers and moss.
There are many other small cascades and falls - at Matakatamiba, Whispering Falls Canyon, Ribbon Falls off the North Rim, Travertine Falls - but the most beautiful are in Havasu Canyon, the largest of the Grand's side canyons. The name itself means "blue green waters" and the creek that meets the Colorado River at Mile 157 is the color of blue sky. Dissolved limestone in the water has sculpted the creek into a series of travertine pools. There is also a string of waterfalls - Beaver, Mooney, Havasu, Navajo, and Supai. Mooney is the most impressive and is five miles up from the river. (Note: Hiking to the falls of Havasu Canyon from the South Rim requires permits because you'll use trails on the Havasupai Reservation; see below for contact information.)
Season: Spring snowmelt brings many of the falls alive, as do thunderstorms. Hiking some remote parts of the heat of summer can be dangerous if you don't know locations of permanent water sources.
Resources: Hiking the Grand Canyon by John Annerino, Sierra Club Books, 730 Polk St., San Francisco, CA 94109; (415) 923-5500. And "Grand Canyon National Park," Trails Illustrated Topo Maps, Ponderosa Publishing Co., P.O. Box 3610, Evergreen, CO 80439; (800) 962-1643.
Contacts: Grand Canyon National Park, Backcountry Office, P.O. Box 129, Grand Canyon, AZ 86023; (520) 638-7888.
Yoho National Park, British Columbia
The story goes like this: In the fall of 1858, part of an exploring party led by James Hector reached the confluence of a pair of rivers deep in the Canadian Rockies. Hector was adjusting some pack straps when his horse kicked him squarely in the ribs and, so his men thought, killed him. Hector eventually came to his senses, however, and remounted his horse a day later. The stream has been known as Kicking Horse River ever since.
The Kicking Horse is one of six major rivers in Yoho National Park, a place filled with peaks, glaciers, water and waterfalls. On the Kicking Horse you'll find Wapta Falls, a 90-foot drop that can roar with water. Takakkaw Falls, one of the highest in Canada, is fed by the Daly Glacier, part of the Waputik Icefield. The name, fitting for the falls, means "magnificent."
Both of these falls, along with the smaller Hamilton Falls, are front-country attractions not far from the roads. But Yoho has many magnificent backcountry falls and cascades. Laughing Falls and Twin Falls are both reachable by a trail that leads up to the Yoho River toward its glacial headwaters. Ottertail Falls is a long hike up the river of the same name toward Goodsir Pass. There are plenty of fine cascades along Cataract Creek on the trail to Lake O'Hara and others on the Amiskwi River Trail.
Season: Winter snowmelt brings a lot of water to the falls, but since many of them are glacier-fed, the hot days of summer can bring peak water flows.
Resources: Yoho Backcountry Guide, available at the information center (see below).
Contacts: Yoho National Park, Box 99, Field, B.C. VOA 1GO (250) 343-6783. Friends of Yoho Tourist Information Centre, Box 100, Field, B.C. VOA 1G0; (250) 343-6393.
When N. P. Langford first saw Lower Yellowstone Falls in the early 1870s he wrote, "A grander scene ... was never witnessed by mortal eyes." Truly, the 308-foot falls, the highest in the park, is one of the continent's grandest, with its deep green tint above, white spray below, and rainbows that often ring the drop with color. But even Langford himself could not have imagined that these falls, along with the 109-foot Upper Falls, would someday be witnessed by more than three million pairs of "mortal eyes" every year.
Yellowstone has more than 100 falls over 15 feet high, and many of them are far from the crowds. There's Knowles Falls in the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone River, accessible only to those willing to get out of their motor home and take a hike. Undine Falls, one of several on Lava Creek in the northern part of the park, is a double drop of 60 and 50 feet, and is named for mythological water creatures. Both Fairy Falls on Fairy Creek and Mystic Falls on the Firehold River can be reached from the Fairy Creek Trail running out of Midway Geyser Basin.
The mother lode of Yellowstone's backcountry waterfalls, however, is in the southwestern corner of the park in a very wet area known as the Bechler District. One look at the names on the map - Cascade Corner and Falls River Basin, for instance - and you know you're in the right place. The Bechler River Trail and its spurs can take you to the Bechler Falls, and get you near Ouzel, Iris, and 100-foot Colonnade Falls, as well as Ragged and Tendoy Falls higher up. Boundary Creek Trail accesses Silver Scarf Falls and 100-foot Dunanda Falls. Union Falls Trail brings you close to Terraced Falls and ends at the second-highest falls in the park, a 250-foot drop on Mountain Ash Creek called Union Falls. Many other falls, named and unnamed, flow down the rivers of the Bechler District, away from the flow of the Yellowstone River with its famous falls, and away from the crowds.
Season: Spring, with its dramatic runoff from the deep winter snows, is the best time. The bigger falls run all year long.
Resources: "Yellowstone National Park," Trails Illustrated Topo Maps, P.O. Box 3610, Evergreen, CO 80439; (800) 962-1643.
Contacts: Yellowstone National Park, P.O. Box 168, Yellowstone, WY 82190; (307) 344-7381.
North Shore, Minnesota
Standing at the rapids below Basswood Falls deep within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area wilderness (BWCA), it's easy to see how French fur traders were tempted to risk running their voyageur canoes through this stretch. It's also easy to see why divers have recovered so many voyageur artifacts from the pools below. Not far to the northeast of Basswood Falls lies the nine-mile Grand Portage where many of the same voyageurs carried their canoes around the falls and rapids of the Pigeon River.
The falls of northeastern Minnesota are steeped in history, power, and isolated beauty. The million-acre BWCA harbors many remote waterfalls and cascades - places accessible only by foot, like the double drop of Wheelbarrow Falls, the Devil's Cascade where the Sioux River slides 75 feet into Loon Lake, Pipestone, and the picturesque Curtain Falls. In the string of state parks along the north shore of Lake Superior, rivers like the Cascade, the Baptism, the Brule, and the Temperance tumble to the lake. Many of the falls are laden with boardwalks, and some are visible from the road. They are beautiful falls - Gooseberry, the Cascades at Cascade River State Park, and the swirling drops at the mouth of the Baptism River in Tettegouche State Park.
But get beyond the sound of the road and there is much more to see. It's only a short walk to the Devil's Kettle in Judge Magney State Park, where the Brule River splits around an anvil-like chunk of volcanic rock, half of it plunging over Upper Falls and half of it disappearing forever into a bottomless pothole. Although the trail stops at the Kettle, the Brule River continues and with a little bushwhacking you can enjoy some beautiful views. The Cascade River drops 900 feet in its last three miles - most of it in Cascade River State Park - but the trails continue up the river and into Superior National Forest, passing many beautiful rapids and cascades that car tourists never see. High Falls, with an 80-foot drop (the highest in Minnesota), is several miles from the crowded roadside attractions in Tettegouche State Park. The trails of Temperance River State Park also continue beyond the scenic overlooks, and connect not only with Superior National Forest, but with the wild, 2,500-acre Cross River state lands, which has its own falls to explore. A lot of people tour the lighthouse at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, but few head up the park's namesake river on the split Rock Trail, which is lined with cascades and interesting rock formations. The trail hooks up with the Superior Hiking Trail stretching the length of Minnesota's north shore.
Many of the area's falls that are crowded in summer are accessible in winter by snowshoe or cross-country skis, and you'll have them to yourself. Look soon for the opening of a new state park surrounding the 120-foot High Falls at Pigeon River on the Minnesota-Ontario border. This spot is sure to be crowded, but it will be worth braving the masses for a quick visit on your way into or out of backcountry waterfall hikes.
Season: Spring is best for dramatic flows, although winter can offer the best solitude and beautiful ice formations. Fall color along the north shore can be breathtaking against the backdrop of a setting sun.
Resources: Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, and Lake Superior's North Shore, all by Kate Crowley and Mike Link, Voyageur Press, P.O. Box 138, 123 North Second St., Stillwater, MN 55082; (800) 888-9653.
Contacts: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Information Center, 500 Lafayette Rd., St. Paul, MN 55155; (651) 296-6157. Superior National Forest, P.O. Box 338, Duluth, MN 55801; (218) 626-4300.
Michigan's Upper Peninsula
Stand next to Shining Cloud Falls in spring and the falling water drowns out all other sounds. That's good because then you won't hear all the foolishness about Michigan not having enough topography for great waterfalls. The Porcupine Mountains rise above 1,900 feet. Sturgeon River Gorge drops 300 feet into volcanic rock. Add snowfall amounts that can reach 300 inches, and you end up with more than 150 falls in Upper Michigan alone.
Ottawa National Forest is home to at least 46 waterfalls. Many, like the five-star string along the Black River, are lined with highly developed boardwalks and spur trails. But Ottawa National Forest has a policy of keeping some destinations secluded, remote, and all but trail-less. O-Kun-Dee-Kun Falls on the Baltimore Branch of the Ontonagon River is so wild even the guidebook says, "We would not recommend travel into this area." Or there's Sturgeon River Falls, a 20-foot drop in the heart of a 14,139-acre wilderness area that has no established and maintained trails. "For a real challenging hike to a unique falls," says Jim Somerville of Ottawa National Forest, "try East and North Falls on the McCormick Wilderness that was recently added to the wild and Scenic Rivers System." A hike to these falls requires bushwhacking, orienteering, and a bit of luck.
Porcupine Wilderness State Park is one of the wildest state parks in the country. It includes many falls, some deep in the interior such as Trap Falls off Government Peak Trail, and Trappers, Explorers, and Traders Falls on the Little Carp River Trail. Perhaps the most beautiful in the park is Shining Cloud Falls on the Big Carp River Trail.
Spray Falls and Bridal Veil Falls in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore connect the park to Lake Superior. Both drop directly into the lake. Spray Falls is a 70-foot drop, and Bridal Veil is a 100-foot slide. Perched as they are on the edge of the lake, both can be reached via the Lakeshore Trail that stretches the length of the park, or by sea kayak.
Season: Because of the huge snowfall amounts, most Upper Peninsula falls are best seen in spring.
Resources: A Guide to 199 Michigan Waterfalls by Laurie Penrose, Friede Publications, 2339 Venezia Dr., Davison, MI 48423; (800) 824-4618.
Contacts: Ottawa National Forest, 2100 East Cloverland Dr., Ironwood, MI 49938; (906) 932-1330. Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, 599 M-107, Ontonagon, MI 49953; (906) 885-5275. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, P.O. Box 40, Munising, MI 49862; (906) 387-3700.
Smoky Mountains, North Carolina/Tennessee
What I was doing far off trail knee-deep in an unnamed creek of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is another story (something about a friend of a friend who searches for old plane wrecks in national parks as a hobby). What I remember most is the waterfall. I heard it clearly and almost thought I felt its spray, but the brush was thick and it was getting dark. While my companion searched for wings and wheels, I searched for the waterfall. We never found it - the plane or the waterfalls.
Ever since that hike, I've considered the falls of the Smokies to be mysterious and remote. Although some - like Thousand Drips, Meigs Falls, and the Sinks - are accessible by car, and others - like Mingo, Laurel, and Toms Branch - require only a short walk, there are plenty of isolated falls filled with backcountry magic.
The Smokies were never glaciated, so there are few lakes to slow the flow of the 84 inches of precipitation that falls every year. One of the biggest and most difficult falls to reach is the Gunter Fork Falls, a 100-foot drop at the end of an 8.4-mile trail with enough creek crossings and elevation gains to keep crowds at bay. The 105-foot drop known as Ramsay Cascade is another falls the masses never see, because getting there requires a difficult eight-mile round-trip hike from Greenbrier Cove on the dead-end Middle Prong Trail. The hike takes you past not only a string of small falls on the Lynn Camp Prong, but up beyond the crowds where you'll need to bushwhack to get full views of the four drops of Indian Flats Falls. Switchbacks and an uphill return hike are the price for visiting Forney Creek Cascade near Clingmans Dome, but solitude is the payback. More isolation can be found at Little Creek Falls, a 95-foot drop at the end of seven miles of hard, sometimes wet, hiking on Deep Creek.
Don't stop at the boundaries of the park. Mingo Falls, a 180-foot drop, lies just south of the park on the Qualla Indian Reservation. Not far from the park, Transylvania County(North Carolina) boasts more than 200 waterfalls. Some of the wildest - High Falls, Cove Creek, and others - can be found in the backcountry of Pisgah National Forest.
Season: Heavy snows are rare in the Smokies, making rain the key to waterfall watching. July is the wettest month and perhaps the optimal time, although some falls are at their best (and least crowded) during the relatively mild winters.
Resources: Waterfalls and Cascades of the Great Smoky Mountains by Hal Hubbs, Charles Maynard, and David Morris, Panther Press, 213 Ledwell Dr., Seymour, TN 37865; (423) 573-5792.
Contacts: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg, TN 37738; (423) 436-1200. Pisgah National Forest, Zillicoa St., Asheville, NC 28801; (828) 257-4200.
White Mountains, New Hampshire
A true high point of the Appalachian Trail as it swings through the Whites is the section along the Presidential Range. Many good backcountry waterfalls are accessible to both the thru-hiker and the weekend packer. The Falling Waters Trail at Franconia Notch leads past a trio of impressive falls - Stairs, Swiftwater, and Cloudland - and is also a great way to top out on three peaks: Mount Lafayette, Lincoln, and Little Haystack - all in an eight-mile loop. Anyone who has ever hiked up the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail knows why so many trails pass waterfalls; they make great rest stops. The Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail was originally constructed as an escape route for hikers caught in the bad weather atop Mount Washington, but it's also the quickest way to timberline and passes many fine cascades.
For more of a wilderness experience, try the 11-mile round-trip hike to Dry River Falls inside of the Presidential Dry River Wilderness. The 50-foot falls at the base of Mount Isolation is a good bet for solitude. The Pemigewasset Wilderness also offers several waterfall hikes. Number 13 Falls, named for an old railway camp that was once nearby, now lies in the designated wilderness between Mount Garfield and Galehead Mountain. Weetamo Falls in the Great Gulf Wilderness is another falls often visited by hikers making loop trips across the Presidential Range.
Many of the best falls in the region are short hikes, such as Giant Falls on Peabody Brook, one of the highest in the Whites. The trail to the top is less than two miles long but the falls are spectacular in spring, and a longer hike can be worked out by crossing above the falls beyond Dream Lake to another prime springtime falls known as Dryad. Arethusa Falls, the highest in New Hampshire at 170 feet, is less than two miles up a trail in Crawford Notch State Park. Thoreau Falls, named for Henry David, is a great side hike from the Zealand Falls Appalachian Mountain Club hut.
Season: The height of the season is spring runoff, although unpredictable summer thunderstorms can cause the falls to put on quite a show. Fall colors, usually in mid-to-late September, add to the autumn aesthetics.
Resources: Waterfalls of the White Mountains by Bruce and Doreen Bolnick, Countryman Press, P.O. Box 748, Woodstock, VT 05091; (800) 245-4151.
Contacts: White Mountain National Forest, P.O. Box 638, Laconia, NH 03427; (603) 528-8721.
"I consider myself a storyteller," says Jeff Rennicke. "Once we told stories around the campfires, now we do it over the Internet, but at its heart it is still the story that counts." Rennicke has told his stories in over 250 magazine articles in such publications as National Geographic Traveler (where he is a Contributing Editor), Sierra, Reader's Digest, and Backpacker (where he is currently the Midwest Field Editor). He is also the author or co-author of eight books including River Days, Alaskan Bears in Life & Legend, and Isle Royale which received the 1990 "Director's Award" for the best book on a national park. He has also won the Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Award presented by the Society of American Travel Writers foundation.
Chasing stories has taken him dogsledding in the Arctic, river rafting in China, trekking in Antarctica, paddling on the Amazon, hang gliding off the Outer Banks, sea kayaking in Siberia, crawling into the dens of hibernating black bears in Colorado, and kayaking alone down the rivers of Alaska's Brooks Range.
When not traveling, Rennicke lives with his wife and two daughters on the shores of Lake Superior in Bayfield, Wisconsin.