Flume Gorge And The Basin Franconia Notch State Park
by Amy Patenaude Outdoor/Ski Writer
Every time we drive through Franconia Notch we pass the signs for the Flume Gorge and the Basin. We have visited these natural wonders many times and most often with friends and family from away as part of our efforts to show off our beautiful State.
The forecast was hot and humid again and during breakfast Charlie and I decided to make an early morning visit to the Flume Gorge to enjoy its cool cascading waters.
We drove south through Franconia Notch passing by sparkling Echo Lake and its beach was empty since it was still early morning. I spied for grazing bears on Cannon’s ski slopes but I didn’t see any this time. We saw Cannon’s Tramway cars getting ready for the day—one going up and the other headed down. Cannon’s cliff is still missing the Old Man but you can pretend to see him if you peer up past the silhouette-gizmos at the memorial on the shore of Profile Lake. Campfire smoke lingered in the air as we drove past Lafayette Place Campground and already cars were parking on the shoulder of the parkway to access the hiking trails up to the Franconia Ridge.
I see the sign. “Stop, take the exit!” I startled Charlie with my plea. “Let’s go to The Basin first.” I quickly explained. Charlie managed to slow down and maneuvered the car off the parkway and down the pull-off for the Basin. Here there is a good size parking lot and since it was early we had our choice of parking spaces.
There is also a pull-off for The Basin on the northbound side with a pedestrian tunnel under the parkway to reach the paved path.
The last time we went to the Basin it was on our way to hike Cannon Mountain by the way of Lonesome Lake. The Basin-Cascades Trail links the Basin to the Appalachian Trail’s Cascade Brook Trail that leads to Lonesome Lake. I recall that these upper cascades along the Basin-Cascades Trail took a good effort to reach but they are lovely and are uncrowded. A nice alternative way to get to Lonesome Lake.
There are composting-toilets, picnic tables and the east side of the path is paved and is handicap accessible.
Charlie and I walked the loop in the counter-clockwise direction, taking the bridge over the Pemigewasset River and we followed the gravel path on the west bank down river. The River’s swirling waters made this 30-foot diameter pot hole in the rock and the waters are still wildly swirling. There are handrails and boardwalks but please keep an eye on your children. You don’t want them to be flushed down the Basin!
We continued on the path and took the detour down to the “Baby Flume”. This path was muddy and is not developed as is the Basin path. The water cascades through a small but dramatic rock notch.
We retraced our steps back to the Basin path and crossed the lower bridge back over the Pemi to the paved path side of the river bank.
This fun adventure took us about half an hour. The fast moving water is quite a sight and a quick visit to the upper viewing area – it is handicap accessible – would only take about ten minutes. Well worth the stop!
Next stop the Flume Gorge.
We saw that many other people had the same idea because the parking lot at the Flume Gorge was filling up fast. The visitor center is nice and is filled with White Mountain and Franconia Notch History and there is a helpful staffed information desk. Parking and entry to the visitor center is free.
Inside there is a theater that plays a 20 minute movie filled with lovely images of the four seasons in the Franconia Notch and plenty of good information too. There is a gift shop bursting with New Hampshire themed gifts and a cafeteria that serves ice cream too.
We walked straight ahead and purchased our tickets. Tickets for Adults are $16, ages 6-12 $13 and 5 and under are free and NH Residents 65+ are free too.
With tickets in hand, we went through the entrance door and out onto the back deck where there is a fantastic view of Liberty, Flume and Whaleback Mountains. Since there was no line we opted to take the short-bus and save ourselves 7/10th of a mile walk. The walk to Boulder Cabin is nice and it is the best way to experience one of the oldest covered bridges. The covered bridge crosses the Pemigewasset River and the bus zooms through it. Well, we’ve never taken the ride before and I confess we rather liked it.
The Boulder Cabin is filled with more historic items along with a nice display about NH’s wildflowers. There are also nice restrooms at the cabin.
The path follows up stream along the Flume Brook and the exposed wide granite ledge is called Table Rock. The ledge area looks like a fun place to play in the water but it is steep and slippery and wading is not allowed.
The Flume Gorge is a natural long narrow chasm with its rock walls reaching as high as 90 feet. After a good rain storm the waters really roar and although it had not rained in a few days the fast flowing water was still impressive. The wooden walkway is pinned to the side of the gorge allowing visitors to walk right up the middle of the gorge. The misty air felt nice and cool.
The Flume is the main spectacle but there is more–the Liberty Gorge’s cascades, the Sentinel Pine Covered footbridge above the Pool and the Wolf Den boulder cave. The whole walking loop is two miles long. There are up hills and downhills but the paths are well graded and make for a nice walk.
Charlie and I had a fun time returning to the Flume and we thank our lucky stars we live in New Hampshire.
Amy Patenaude is an avid skier/outdoor enthusiast from Henniker, N.H. Readers are welcome to send comments or suggestions to her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.