Every waterfall is a looker.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a shallow creek spilling over a series of pint-sized rock steps or a tall drink of water rushing from several stories overhead – we’re going to stop and watch it for a while.
But let’s be honest, the steeper the plummet, and the more intense the spray, the better. We’re thrilled by water that leaps and tumbles from sheer rock faces and splashes dramatically into cool pools below before forging downstream searching out its destiny.
Turns out, those waterfalls are just as wonderful to see even when they’re mostly frozen and not moving at all.
Winter waterfalls sometimes look like piles of unfurled white tulle. Or Paul Bunyan-sized candles dripping melted wax down their sides. Sometimes you’d be convinced the waterfall was frozen solid, were it not for the sound of water still flowing underneath. Other times it rushes on, paying no mind to the ice crowding its sides.
There are waterfalls of every variety in Maine and nearby New Hampshire, but here are few mighty cool ones that require a relatively short hike in, so you can feel like you earned your waterfall gawk.
(Safety note: No matter how short the hike seems, bring your microspikes and/or snowshoes, dress in warm layers, and definitely mind your step when close to the water. What looks like solid ground might be a layer of ice that your weight could break, and that would stink.)
Shin Brook Falls, Shin Pond Village
Find the trailhead and parking off Grand Lake Road, about 15 miles from Patten. The parking area isn’t always plowed, so make sure your car can handle whatever snow it pulls into.
The Shin Brook Falls trail is a 0.8-mile loop that remains mostly flat, except for the portion that descends next to the falls for downriver views, which is very steep. The trail is mostly easy to follow, but there are spots where it’s less clear.
Shin Brook Falls is an impressive 40-foot-tall channel of rushing water. You’ll hear it well before you see it, sensing with each snow-crunching step that you must be close, and then bam – there she flows. The trail is technically a loop, but parts of the loop can be tough to follow in the snow. The easiest route with the best view is to follow the loop clockwise, or left at the cairn, to the top of the falls and then return the same way. That portion is relatively flat and easy to follow. If you go counter-clockwise, or right at the cairn, the trail is very steep and has a rope tied from tree to tree that you can use to climb down.
Arethusa Falls, Hart’s Location, Crawford Notch, New Hampshire
Find the trailhead and parking at the top of Arethusa Falls Road off Route 302. The Arethusa Falls Trail is 1.5 miles one way on moderate and well-marked terrain. There’s an option to take the Bemis Brook Trail to see two smaller falls on the way.
In Greek mythology, Arethusa was a nymph who tried to escape the river god Alpheus, who had fallen in love with her and wouldn’t leave her alone. The god Artemis tried to hide Arethusa in a cloud, but she was so scared she began to sweat profusely, and she was turned into a stream. (Kinda wish someone told Alpheus to take a hint and back the heck off.)
For mere mortals, Arethusa Falls is an impressive 160-foot wall of frozen water in the winter. You might arrive to find some area ice climbers making their way up if the ice is good. Arethusa is wide and tall and stands stoic and grand.
As a nice lead-up to Arethusa, check out two smaller falls – Coliseum Falls and Bemis Falls – by taking the Bemis Brook Trail when it splits from the Arethusa Falls Trail. But take note: the trail gets mighty steep before it reconnects with the main trail.
Angel Falls, Byron
Find parking on Bemis Road, just south of the summer trailhead parking. The road to the summer lot isn’t plowed in the winter, so you’ll walk down and then pick up the trail from there. The hike is a smidge over a half-mile one way on a well-marked trail. Look for the boulder covered in spray paint at the trailhead and follow the red blazes.
The trail begins wide and open in an old gravel pit, with red blazes on the trees leading the way. Soon the terrain gets a little more rumbling as it winds into the woods and across a stream more than once. The ups and downs in the snow keep your blood pumping. Definitely mind the water crossings; it’s easy to step a foot clear through the ice and into the frigid water.
Just beyond the big, moss-covered rock with the red arrow on it, you’ll see Angel Falls. The falls boasts an impressive 90-foot plunge and gets its name from the shape the cascading water makes when it’s really flowing. In the winter, Angel Falls looks more like a washing machine overflowing with a cascade of suds. And it’s splendid.
Moxie Falls, Gore
Find the trailhead and parking off Moxie Pond Road. The hike is about two miles round trip over easy and moderate terrain on a very well-marked trail. Close to the falls the trail descends and includes wooden stairs and boardwalks as well as a few observation decks.
Just a couple of miles from The Forks lives effervescent Moxie Falls. Moxie features a nearly 100-foot drop and is one of Maine’s most popular waterfalls to visit because it’s so pretty and so accessible. The hike is around 0.6 miles and fairly flat for the first half. Closer to the falls hikers descend down wood steps and follow a boardwalk that has a few observation decks where you can get a better view. In the winter, those steps are likely to be buried in snow and the footing could be slippery, so bring traction. The usual summer visitors will be nowhere in sight and it’s highly possible you’ll have this popular waterfall all to yourself.
Freelance writer Shannon Bryan lives in South Portland and is the founder of fitmaine.com, where she writes about the coolest ways to be active and get outdoors in Maine.