I love the outdoors – it’s no secret. I enjoy being able to get outside and make the most of it, so not surprisingly, one of my favorite places to visit is the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Whether it’s winter, spring, summer or fall, there is a variety of activities to keep everyone busy, and the scenery…well, that’s something to save for a longer article. It doesn’t matter your age, your marital status, if your child walks on two legs or four, it’s a great place to visit.
Welcome to the Flume
The Flume Gorge is located in Franconia Notch State Park, New Hampshire. It is gorgeous and unique geological area that includes stunning views and a somewhat challenging two-mile, mostly uphill walk. It takes about 1.25 hours to walk the entire length at a normal pace, which includes taking in the sights and any photos, catching your breath, etc.
About the Flume Gorge
The gorge is an 800 feet long natural gorge that sits at the base of Mt. Liberty, which is pictured above. Its walls of granite rise 70-90 feet vertically in widths ranging from 12-20 feet. The man-made boardwalk you can see to the right allows us humans to traverse this natural treasure. All I can tell you is that I used to think this was a super easy walk as a kid…I remember running ahead of my parents who I thought were being slowpokes. Of course, now that I’m older, I know that they were being slow, because it’s a tough workout! So, take it easy and enjoy it while you’re here.
If you can’t do stairs comfortably or have intense claustrophobia, this is probably not the right hike for you. Just take a look at the picture to the right to decide if you can do it or not. Keep in mind that the boardwalk is 3-4 feet wide.
Just make sure you wear good walking shoes that have a nice grip, since the boardwalk is usually wet in areas from the surrounding waters. Also, you will not be alone when you visit the gorge – as you can see from the view below. That being said, everyone is always really friendly and happy to snap a shot if you want your picture taken.
How the Flume Gorge Was Formed
How this landmark was formed is as fascinating as it is beautiful. I’m not going to bore you with too much detail here, because if you visit the place, you can get your own little pamphlet that includes the whole history. But to sum it up in a few sentences:
It began during the Jurassic period when vertical fractures occurred in the granite as the molten rock cooled. After a period of time, basalt dikes were pushed up along these parallel fractures, cooling quickly to form a fine-grain rock.
When erosion lowered the earth’s surface, it exposed these fine-grained basalt dikes. As water crept into cracks that formed from pressure releasing, these dikes eroded faster than the surrounding granite, which created a deepening valley where the present gorge lies now.
Other Things to See While Visiting
Besides the gorgeous views and walking through the gorge itself, here are a few more other places I always have to stop by and take in when I’m there:
- The Flume Covered Bridge: Lying across the Pemigewasset River, this quaint covered bridge happens to be one of the oldest in the state of New Hampshire. It’s also one of the first sights you’ll encounter when you walk the Flume.
- Table Rock: The Flume Brook waters exposed this large outcropping of rock you see to the right. It is 500 feet long and about 75 feet wide. This is what you’ll find next as you continue walking uphill from the bridge. It’s really quite stunning when the water rushes through during the Spring thaw.
- Avalanche Falls: Once you’ve walked the entire length of the gorge, up the many stairs and boardwalks, you’ll get a very up-close and personal view of Avalanche Falls where the Flume Brook enters into the gorge. You will be able to hear its faint roar as you enter the gorge, but nothing will prepare you for the beauty at the top of the gorge. The amount of water that comes
- Liberty Gorge: Just a short detour off the Ridge Path after taking our photo in front of Avalanche Falls and enjoying the sound of rushing water for several minutes, these falls are something to take note of. The mountain stream cascades through the narrow valley, which is quite lovely at any time of year.
- Sentinel Pine Bridge and the Pool: You hit the Pool first, which is one of my favorite things to see at the Flume Gorge. The Pool is a 40 feet deep basin in the Pemigewasset River that was formed by a “silt-laden” stream flowing from the glacier at the end of the Ice Age. It’s about 150 feet wide and is surrounded by cliffs over 100 feet high. If heights bother you, you will probably not enjoy viewing the basin from this outpost. Depending on the time of day you see it, your view will change. I love the differences in the water levels and colors at the different times of year and different times of day. The Sentinel Pine Bridge is another interesting aspect of the Flume, because its base was formed by an uprooted Sentinel Pine that for centuries stood high on the cliffs above the Pool until a hurricane in 1938 uprooted the tree to where it lies now. If you’re looking for another great view of the Pool, the bridge is a spot to stop and take a peek.
- Wolf Den: If you’re a kid at heart and are not claustrophobic and have no fears of anything falling on you, this is a must-go-through. It is a one-way path, so keep that in mind when you enter. It does involve crawling on your hands and knees through boulders dropped off during the Ice Age, so if you’re not looking to get dirty, save this for another time. As you can see from Dan, you literally have to crawl out of a dark hole to see the sunlight once again :)
- Glacial Boulders: I am continuously fascinated by nature, so it is always so awe-inspiring to see what was left behind more 25,000 years when a sheet of ice more than one mile thick covered the region during the great Ice Age. It’s hard to believe that it was only just a blink ago in the Earth’s history. You will find a glacial boulder when you’re first entering the Flume from the Visitors Center.
Why I Visit the Flume Gorge
As if what I’ve written so far isn’t enough, the reason why I like to visit the Flume Gorge is not only because it is a great, butt-blasting workout and always a fun adventure, it is also one of those places where I can really reflect on everything that’s going on. It’s a time to breathe in the clean mountain air and let everything else drift away. I love the sights, the sounds, and the inner peace I experience here each and every time – it is always worth the long drive.