Frankenstein Cliff, Ripley Falls and Arethusa Falls

October 28, 2015.

The same old question pops up every week in regards to "Where to go?". With leaf season officially over I think it is safe to hit one of the tourist attractions in the state, Arethusa Falls. Combining a loop with Frankenstein (not the monster) Cliff and an out and back to Ripley Falls should make for a full agenda. Just need to keep moving and not dilly dally for too long as it is supposed to rain this afternoon.

Not one of my earlier starts but I do get on the trail at 8:15 making my way up Frankenstein Cliff Trail first. From the lot, where there is only one other car, I can see the first destination of the day, Frankenstein Cliff. The temps are in the low 30's making it kind of raw but perfect for hiking as I head into the woods. Turning right and the trail skirts up the side of the terrain with somewhat rocky footing.


As the trail winds along the contour of the slope it looks like it is heading towards the train tracks and then pulls away. Thirty minutes later and I see the first signs of remnants thrown over the side of the train bed. Further up and a peek through the trees of the infamous Frankenstein Trestle.


Breaking out of the trees into the ravine and there stands the massive steel structure. More info about the bridge can be found here. It is so massive that it is impossible to get a shot of the whole thing from the ground. Clambering up the south bank to the tracks and a look back gives a better sense of it's size.


Looking north up the tracks and Mt Washington and Boott Spur are imposing in the distance.


On the side of the tracks are an old telegraph pole still precariously standing and boards from perhaps an old building that might have once stood here. As usual there are piles of railroad ties that are no longer useful. How many trains did these old beams see in their day? A railroad car hitch is also laying next to the track. Even from up here it is impossible to get a good sense of the length as the trestle makes a sweeping curve over the ravine.


Making my way across and the amount of work it took to cut this railroad along this path becomes evident with the rocks blasted away to make way.


A look back from the northern end of the trestle. Walking back and a look down at the walkway where there is just the thin metal between you and a precarious 80 foot drop to the ground below. My mind would not let me walk on the top side of that picture knowing there was no support underneath like the other section. I stayed on the pieces where the railroad ties extended underneath still letting the head game get the better of me.


Back on the other side and down to the trail to continue my trek. The trail heads up and reaching a rock slide area turns to the left. Further up it turns right heading back towards the cliffs. This is the first of some open face cliffs.


Around the corner is an even wider cliff face and the trail brings you right up to the base of it.

On the other side of the cliff the trail heads back into the woods and turns left through a boulder field of all shapes and sizes. I had hoped the tail would lead over to the edge of the cliff but it pulls away. Not wanting to push my time with the incoming rain I just keep moving. The woods are varying through here from hardwoods to conifers as I make my way to the main cliff.


Reaching Frankenstein Cliff and it is a wide open viewpoint. The views are mostly to the south with Route 302 and Saco River snaking there way down along with the Conway Scenic Railroad.


Off to my right there is an opening way down below and it looks like a waterfall. I wonder if it is Arethusa? It looks like it is in the right direction but I'll have to wait until I get there to see.


Back into the woods again and the trail skirts the edge of the cliff. Nothing dangerous as there are trees between me and the edge. The next destination is off on a side trail not far. Taking a right onto the spur trail which leads up to Falcon Cliff. The half mile trail winds up through the woods a bit steep in places and then descends down to the outlook. It is just above Frankenstein Cliff and just a very small ledge opening. The views are almost identical so I don't stay too long nor take but a couple of pictures.


Back down to Frankenstein Cliff Trail and it continues the easy climb up to the height of land. First through a section of bony roots then a smooth treadway before reaching some slabby walking before an outlook on the right.


Unfortunately the cloud deck has lowered and there is nothing to see off in the distance. Normally a view of Washington up through the Dry River Valley could be seen from here but thankfully I already got my Washington shot back at the trestle.


Just down the trail is the junction with Arethusa-Ripley Falls Trail and I need the section between here and Ethan Pond Trail. It starts out as a pleasant walk heading towards Ripley Falls. A short pitch down into a valley and then skirting around a ravine on the side wall.


Doing these out and backs sometimes can be a pain and every time I lose elevation I know I am going to have to regain it on the way back. A little over thirty minutes on this trail and I get my first glimpse of Avalanche Brook and a waterfall through the trees. I wasn't sure if this was Ripley Falls or not and got the answer soon enough as the trail heads down the embankment paralleling the brook and away from this fall. A minute down the trail and I step down onto the level of the brook and get a look back up at the section of falls I had just seen.


Seems awful small to be a significant waterfall to send people to and just to my right is a huge dropoff which is the top of Ripley Falls.


A rather steep and eroded trail leads down to the base of the falls and again I dread the return trip. Ripley Falls is a good size water drop and in the spring I bet this is a real good one.


The trail continues on the other side of the brook and crossing is not an issue as there are enough exposed rocks to step over. A short rise out of the brook bed and the rest is an easy gentle decline down to the junction with Ethan Pond Trail.


I was just here back in March and surprisingly someone has changed out the trail sign since I was last here. They also removed all of the snow and replaced it with leaves!


I plop down next to the trail to take a break at the junction to refuel for the dreaded return trip. While sitting there a hiker is coming down Ethan Pond Trail and is the first person I have seen so far. We talk for a few and then he keeps heading down. Feeling refreshed I pack up and start out for my return trip. As bad as I make these return trips out in my head they usually don't measure up. I make it back to the junction with Frankenstein Cliff Trail ten minutes faster than the out trip. I just put my head down and keep pushing and trudging along to get it over with. Continuing on Arethusa-Ripley Falls Trail heading towards the last destination of the day, Arethusa Falls. The trip over is uneventful as I meet a couple heading in the opposite direction. Pass a brook and a fairly good cascade that is blocked by a lot of debris. During a heavy rainstorm this is probably worth seeing but today it is not much to look at.


At the junction for the falls I turn right heading down the trail and a few minutes later looking at the state's largest waterfall. Turns out this is the waterfall I had spied atop Frankenstein Cliff.


I sit on a log to just absorb the quiet and beauty of Arethusa Falls until more people sure up. I had my moment of solitude and it's time to get out before the rain. Heading back up the trail and more tourists are heading down to the falls. Crossing one very questionable bridge and I reach the junction for Bemis Brook Trail. I decide to head down here and on the way down glad I did. This is a steep section that leads down to Bemis Brook. As much as I prefer going up steep sections I know this is better to go down after having done some miles already.


At the bottom is Coliseum Falls which makes the effort worth it. Heading down(?), the trail heads up actually at the beginning, Bemis Brook Trail and it is a rough section of rocks and roots. The trail switches back and forth from a smooth trail bed to the rocks and roots of ankle breaking potential.


Ahead is Bemis Falls which is quite the impressive geological site. It even comes with it's own swimming hole pothole weathered away into layers.


The walls are fractured layers of rock. The brook bed is also layered and has been worn away over eon's in layers also.


Down to the end of Bemis Brook Trail and one last order of business for this area. A trip up Arethusa Falls Trail to the junction of the upper end of Bemis Brook Trail for that missing piece. It is a wide old road and eroded exposing the huge boulders hidden at one time. It takes less than fifteen minutes to make the trip up to the junction where I turn around to head down.


Across the railroad tracks and pass the Forest Ranger's House. On the other side of the pavement is the short section of the Frankenstein Cliff Trail that leads to the junction with the trail back to the parking lot. Stopping to take a last look back up to Frankenstein Cliff and another hiker is returning to his car also. He stops to talk to me while I am packing up my stuff and he is from Pennsylvania. He comes up every year to do some hiking and we start sharing stories. As we are talking the rain that has held off all day begins and my timing was just right. The seed is set for my next hike as we talk and he asks about Webster Cliff Trail. I have not been up that section of trail from Route 302 yet but do know of it's steepness and exposure. I warn him of the rain and possible freezing temps and that might not be a good trail if it is wet and icy. We spend about twenty minutes talking and both head out on our separate ways. A pretty quiet day for a pretty busy area during the usual months, glad I waited until now to do this one.

Final numbers: 9.6 miles, 6 hours and 40 minutes.

Redline Miles: 6.9, Total to Date: 989.5