Waterfalls to chase in Southern Vermont
August may be coming to an end, but there's still time to squeeze in a few more hiking adventures and summer splashes before school starts. The Green Mountains are full of hiking trails to beautiful waterfalls, many of which are right in our backyard. These are some of the best waterfalls to be found in Southern Vermont.
*Note that for any waterfalls in state or national parks, there is a fee of $4 in cash for trail access
Benson's Hole, Manchester
Though the largest cascade here is only about 6 feet tall, the natural swimming hole is one of the best in Vermont; the lowest pool has the shortest cascade but is the prettiest. The swimming hole is refreshing on a hot day, but the falls are stronger after a rainstorm. This is a quiet swimming hole ideal for young families, especially for those looking to fight post-storm humidity.
Parking is available on Glen Road (off of East Manchester Road), on the right before crossing the bridge. On foot, turn right off the road before crossing the bridge onto the obvious trail. The biggest cascades are closest to the parking area and the best pool is only a few hundred feet farther, close to where the brook goes under the Route 7 overpass.
Difficulty: 1/5 (very short, but parts of the trail may be steep for young children)
Bully Brook Cascade, Wallingford
Though they require some bushwhacking and a steep scramble, the full view of these falls is worth it; their lack of easy access has kept them relatively unspoiled by other hikers. The 60-foot falls drop into an almost-vertical 80-foot gorge and form a deep pool at the bottom that is good for swimming if the scramble down is possible. There is also a good picnic area at the trailhead with several picnic tables.
From School Street (Route 140) in Wallingford, bear right onto Sugar Hill Road and then turn onto White Rocks Picnic Road, which leads to the parking area. After a short hike to the White Rocks Overlook, there is a good view of the falls; however, a view from the base or any swimming will require going off trail.
Difficulty: 2/5 to the overlook, 3/5 for full views
Cascades at the Equinox Preserve, Manchester
Though best from May to June, these falls are still quite pretty in the summer months and definitely worth the relatively easy hike. The natural pools are only about ankle-deep, but there is enough dry space in the middle of the cascades to stand or sit comfortably. Access to the middle of the falls is easy, but access to the base or farther upstream is challenging and not recommended for hikers without bushwhacking experience.
The Equinox Reserve parking area is to the right, off West Union Street (if using the overflow parking at the base of West Union Street or parking at the Equinox Hotel, walk up West Union Street to the official parking area). On foot, follow the Red Gate Trail (red on the trail map) until it intersects Mt. Bluff Trail (white on the trail map). Turn right to remain on Mt. Bluff Trail. After a moderate hike, shortly before the trail makes a sharp left turn, you will hear the waterfall; there is a small and unofficial, but clear, trail off to the right that leads a short distance down to the middle of the cascades.
Difficulty: 2/5 (may be challenging for older or younger members of party)
East Putney Falls, Putney
These beautiful falls make two steep drops of about 20 feet each into a very good natural swimming hole. Unlike most Vermont waterfalls, the East Putney Falls never have a "sweet spot" visiting time; the views are just as beautiful in April as in November. Rock ledges on the sides of the pool also stay dry enough to sit comfortably for a picnic or to chaperone younger swimmers. It is important to note that while access is free, the falls are on private property; at the owners' request, do not try to access the upper falls.
Parking is available 100 feet off East Putney Road, on the right side of Gasset Road. On foot, you will find two trails from the parking area: the left trail leads down to the base of the falls, and the right trail leads up to views of the upper falls from a safe distance. Be careful when near the brook, as the ground can be very slippery.
Difficulty: 3/5 (the left trail is short but steep, and the ground can be slippery)
Hamilton Falls, Jamaica
At 125 feet, Hamilton Falls is one of the tallest waterfalls in the state. The falls lead to shallow wading pools at the base that are safe for children, but do not try to swim in the large pothole at the top of the falls; although there is an emergency ladder in the pothole, it truly is meant for emergencies, as several visitors have lost their lives there. Stick to the rock ledges, the wading pools, and sunny spots along the riverbank near the base of the falls
The bottom of the falls can be accessed from Jamaica State Park, at 48 Salmon Hole Lane. Bear right from the entrance to find the parking lot. On foot, go to the picnic area at the corner of the parking lot to find the trailhead for Railroad Bed Trail. Follow the trail to Cobb Brook, and then about a mile farther to the falls. For the top of the falls, parking is available off West Windham Road, on the left side of the road near a small sawmill. The trail is marked by several signs warning against swimming at the top of the falls and reaches the top of the falls after a short distance.
Difficulty: 3/5 (the trail is easy near the trailhead, but steeper and more challenging for the last mile)
Lye Brook Falls, Manchester
Though most impressive in the spring, Lye Brook Falls is still worth a visit in the dog days of summer, especially after an August rainstorm. The falls cascade down about 125 feet, and though there is no natural swimming hole, the water is clear and ankle-deep and there is a clearing to the side convenient for picnics. This is definitely a longer hike and could take two hours in each direction, but the woods and beautiful falls at the end are well worth the trek.
Park off East Manchester Road, by the roundabout at the end of Lye Brook Falls Service Road. On foot, follow the blue-blazed trail from the east end of the parking lot up to the falls.
Difficulty: 3/5 (long and steep in places; the falls are better after a storm but the hike is more difficult)
Mad Tom Brook Falls, East Dorset
These cascades are only about ten feet tall in total but are quite pretty. There is also an excellent swimming hole at the highest of the three small cascades. This is a relatively quiet spot ideal for families, as the hike to the pool is relatively short (only about 15 minutes) and easy, and the falls themselves are very close to the trail. While this spot is good for children, note that the pool is on the smaller side and there is a small area for chaperones to stay both close and dry.
When driving east on Mad Tom Road, continue straight to a parking area. On foot, continue past the boulders that prevent vehicle passage. Ignore the first trail on the right, and instead bear right at the fork. Continue for about 1500 feet to the lower cascades; the middle and upper cascades are just a few hundred feet upstream.
Difficulty: 1/5 (although pool access does require walking a very short distance off trail)
Pikes Falls, Jamaica
While these falls are beautiful, they are also part of one of the best swimming holes in Vermont: natural rock slides that start about halfway up the falls lead ten feet down into a large, clear-watered natural pool edged by a small rock beach. There is suitable space for a picnic or other relaxation on dry land, and though it is rarely empty, the pool is very rarely frequented by more than a few people at a time.
Parking is available on the right side of Pikes Falls Road. There is a trail down to the falls, but it is well-hidden from the street. The trail is across the street from a white house, at the end of the row of evergreens that separates it from the road. Take care not to trespass on the private property to the right of the trail. A fork in the path leads either to the base of the falls (left fork) or to the middle of the cascades, about fifteen feet above the pool (right fork).
Difficulty: 2/5 (short hike, but the end of the right fork can be steep)
Tollgate Falls, Winhall
These falls plunge 8 feet straight down into a small pool below and have strong flow from May until well into October. Water quality is good, so visitors can swim in the small pool at the base of the falls. These falls are ideal for visitors who do not want a long hike to the falls, as they are only about 100 feet from the parking area.
From Tollgate Road, turn right onto an unnamed dirt road (the road can be rough, and may be in bad shape after big storms). There is a small pull-off a few hundred feet down the road on the left. On foot, continue for a very short distance on the trail into the woods and you will reach the falls almost immediately.
Difficulty: 1/5 (but watch out for the dirt road; moderate clearance recommended)
Upper Mill Brook Falls, Danby
Surrounded by lush greenery and cascading into a very large natural swimming hole, these falls are definitely worth a visit, especially after a big storm. Though the hike is more difficult to the base of the falls, the initial hike is short and easy. The falls are also surrounded by tall overhanging cliffs, so beware of potential falling soil and rocks. It is also worth noting that although there are no signs prohibiting access, the falls are on private property and accessibility may be subject to change.
From South Main Street in Danby, turn left onto Brook Road and then onto a dirt road that leads to the parking area (although if visiting after a bad storm, it may be easier to park on Brook Road and walk). On foot, follow the clear path and the sound of the falls; in about 100 feet, you will reach a vantage point with a good view of the falls. To reach the base of the falls is a moderately difficult downhill scramble.
Difficulty: 1/5 to initial views, 4/5 to base (the scramble is steep, but probably easier when it has not stormed recently; however, the falls are more impressive after a storm).
Lauren Adler is a summer resident of Manchester and frequent Manchester Journal contributor.
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