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Southern Connecticut has a few small but delightful waterfalls along pretty and clear streams, and this is one of them. There really is not anything particularly alluring about this small waterfall, but hiking to the falls involves strolling along a well-signed 2.0 mile loop in the largest of Wallingford's network of conservation properties (68 acres with 2.7 miles of total trail). The woods have some attractive segments, and the stream is arguably one of the purest in the area.
The falls are located in a pretty and deep ravine, but the trail only travels along its rim. As such, the 13-foot plunge can only be safely seen from about 35 vertical feet above it. The falls hang off an overhanging ledge quite dramatically for its small size. From our birds-eye vantage point, it looks like there was a small space behind the falls, which is quite rare for New England. Scrambling to the base of the falls is however generally considered dangerous, and is therefore discouraged.
We first visited this waterfall after a nasty early-season snowstorm and found a flood of downed branches and trees. There was also a lot of debris at the base of the waterfall as well. By the time you read this, it is very possible that the trail will have already been maintained and the falls cleared of their debris. If all the debris is still at the base of the falls when your visit, you may feel like some of the beauty of the falls was lost, which is exactly how we felt
From the parking lot, head straight (north) into the woods on the Orchard Glen Trail. The trail is currently marked with white markers that have the letters WLT and a Christmas tree symbol on them. The trail soon swings right and then left almost immediately thereafter. Continue following the Orchard Glen Trail and you will cross a small seasonal stream and then reach a more significant brook 0.2 mile from the parking area. Cross the stream, hike a few hundred feet, and then take a left to stay on the Orchard Glen Trail. This turn is currently marked with a sign that says 'Waterfall'. Continue along the trail for 300 more feet and you will reach the eastern junction of the Falling Waters Trail loop. Stay straight on the Orchard Glen Trail. In only 0.1 mile you will reach the western junction of the Falling Waters Trail loop. Stay straight on the Orchard Glen Trail yet again. Continue hiking and in 0.1 mile you will reach an open area with power lines.
From the open area with the power lines, you can hike the Spruce Glen loop in either direction. My directions will assume you continue straight and hike the loop counterclockwise. The trail also encourages you to take the trail counterclockwise as that is the way the trail signs direct you. Cross the power lines and re-enter the woods ahead of you. Continue in the woods for 0.1 mile and take a left onto the Spruce Glen Trail. Continue hiking north along the Spruce Glen Trail for 0.6 mile (with Spruce Glen Brook sometimes visible on your left) and you will reach a bridge over the brook. Cross the bridge and continue the loop by hiking downstream towards the falls with the brook on your left. In 0.2 miles you will need to take a left onto a spur trail that loops over to a view of the falls. It is possible to scramble down to the base of the falls but this is not recommended due to the steepness of the terrain. Scrambling will also likely cause more erosion to the trail, which is not a good thing.
After you are done visiting the falls, continue straight ahead and the spur trail will reconnect with the main trail about 300 feet south of where you left it. Continue hiking south along the Spruce Glen Trail for 0.6 mile and it will return you to the original junction at the power lines you were at earlier. When you reach the start of the loop at the junction at the power lines, take a right and re-enter the woods, following the original way you came back to the parking area on Barnes Road.
While these trail instructions may seem complicated, the trail is very well-blazed and has excellent signage on all segments. You should not have any problem with navigating this loop. The Wallingford Land Trust does offer a free online trail map on its website if you need it. We would urge you to wear long pants on this hike as there are some short sections with thorny bushes that will likely brush up against you. They were not a huge nuisance, but some visitors may find them disagreeable.
From CT-15 in Wallingford, take exit 66 for US-5. Take US-5 south for 0.3 miles and turn left onto an access road that leads to CT 68. Go 0.1 mile along this access road and take a left onto CT 68 east. Take CT 68 east for 0.3 miles and take a left onto the road for Barnes Industrial Park North Rd. at a set of lights (this is often called Barnes Road). Follow Barnes Industrial Park North Rd. north for 0.7 miles and you will find a small paved area directly in front of you at the end of the road. It is currently marked by a trail billboard and a sign that says Orchard Glen. There is enough parking for three or four cars directly in front of the sign.
To get to Wallingford, take I-91 north from New Haven to CT 40 northwest to CT 15. Follow CT 15 north into Wallingford.
UPDATES SINCE THE 2ND EDITION
If you know of any updates to this waterfall, or notice any errors either on this website and/or within the New England Waterfalls guidebook, please send me an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Spruce Glen Falls, Connecticut
INTERESTED IN VISITING MORE WATERFALLS IN NEW ENGLAND?
TIPS FOR VISITING WATERFALLS & SWIMMING HOLES
Here are some tips to help ensure that your trip to New England's waterfalls and swimming holes will be a safe and enjoyable one:
- DON'T FORGET THE ESSENTIALS - When you visit waterfalls, you should consider bringing all of the following: (a) bug spray; (b) food/snacks; (c) water/sports drinks; (d) camera/smart-phone; (e) guidebook/trail map; (f) daypack/backpack; and (g) hiking shoes, hiking boots or watershoes. A full day hiking packing list can be found here.
- CONSIDER BUYING WATER SHOES - You won't see too many people using them, but watershoes are fantastic pieces of equipment that can make your trip to waterfalls and swimming holes safer and more enjoyable. Merrill and Keen make some fantastic watershoes (here are some great ones from Merrill: womens / mens).
- LEAVE NO TRACE - When you visit waterfalls and swimming holes, you'll often see some trash and sometimes you'll even find clothing left behind by others. It's really, really sad, and it irks the heck out of us. Won't you consider carrying out some of trash and clothing left by others when you leave? That would leave the spot more beautiful for the next person. Bring a trash bag and be a hero!
- PRIVATE PROPERTY - Many waterfalls and swimming holes are located on private property and so we are truly fortunate that many landowners allow us to enjoy them. If you want to ensure that they stay open to the public, please do your best to leave no trace. If you see a sign that says 'Private Property', turn around and find another waterfall to visit or a different place to swim.
- BRING A DSLR CAMERA AND TRIPOD WITH YOU - If you want to take high-quality photographs of waterfalls, your smart-phone just won't cut it. Get a DSLR camera, a tripod, and learn to master the art of waterfall photography.
- SCOUT FIRST, SWIM SECOND - Never enter a swimming hole without first scouting it, even if you see somebody else swimming in it. Stop and access the risks based upon the depth of water, the power of the current, evidence of slippery rocks, and other safety factors.
- CLIFF JUMPING - Cliff jumping is dangerous. Like, seriously dangerous. Understand the risks before you partake in this activity. Many have died from doing this in New England.
- PLEASE DON'T BUILD ROCK CAIRNS - Please do not build new rock cairns at waterfalls or swimming holes. Cairns are a strong reminder of human presence, and don't we all want to see waterfalls in their natural state and glory? Photographers get particularly annoyed at seeing cairns, so please resist the urge to build them.
- DON'T RELY ON YOUR GPS TO GET YOU TO THE TRAILHEAD - Waterfalls don't have addresses, so relying on your GPS to get you to a trailhead is great way to get yourself lost. You need a guidebook, a road atlas, and/or a hiking map to visit the vast majority of waterfalls in New England. Also keep in mind that waterfalls are often located in wild areas, where smart-phone map apps and car GPS units may not work at all.
- WATERFALLS IN SPRING - The best time to visit waterfalls is generally in the spring during the annual snowmelt (which is April to June). However, most waterfalls will often look great for several days after a significant rain storm.
- HELP KEEP THE ULTRA-SECRET SWIMMING HOLES A SECRET (FOREVER) - If you find some ultra-secret swimming holes, please do your best to keep them a secret. Do not post their locations online or wildly share directions or photos with others. All of the swimming holes that are included in the guidebook and online through this website are the well-known swimming spots. There are many more holes that are much further off the beaten path, but they deserve a chance to stay wild and pristine.
- DON'T SCRAMBLE UP WATERFALLS - So many people been seriously injured and killed in the waterfalls of New England. Many of these folks got too close to a waterfall and slipped and fell. Don't become a statistic: stay far back from the edge.
- WEAR TRACTION IF YOU VISIT WATERFALLS IN WINTER - Visiting waterfalls in winter can be rewarding, but there is often a higher element of danger. You may need crampons, snowshoes, and/or some other form of traction (like Microspikes) in order to safely hike to waterfalls in winter.
- SUPPORT NON-PROFIT ORGANIZATIONS THAT CONSERVE WATERFALLS & SWIMMING HOLES - There are some organizations in New England that work diligently to conserve and maintain waterfalls and swimming holes. Please consider supporting these organizations, either with their trail maintenance projects or with monetary donations. Here are three excellent organizations engaged in this extremely important mission: the Trustees of Reservations, the Vermont River Conservancy and the Nature Conservancy.
Here are some helpful links to help you explore and enjoy more waterfalls and hikes throughout New England:
- Waterfalls of Connecticut = link
- Waterfalls of Maine = link
- Waterfalls of Massachusetts = link
- Waterfalls of New Hampshire = link
- Waterfalls of Rhode Island = link
- Waterfalls of Vermont = link
- Best Waterfalls in New England = link
- Best Swimming Holes in New England = link
- Top 25 Day Hikes in New England = link
- Top 25 Family-Friendly Day Hikes in New England = link
- Waterfalls Near Boston, Massachusetts = link
- Waterfalls Near Lincoln, New Hampshire = link
- Waterfalls Near North Conway, New Hampshire = link
- Waterfalls Near Stowe, Vermont = link
- Waterfall Photography Tips = link
OTHER WATERFALL GUIDEBOOKS
In addition to the New England Waterfalls guidebook, there are several other guidebooks that can help you find waterfalls and swimming holes:
- Vermont Waterfalls (1st Edition: 2015) = link
- Hiking Waterfalls in New England: A Guide to the Region's Best Waterfall Hikes (1st Edition: 2015) = link
- Waterfalls of the White Mountains: 30 Hikes to 100 Waterfalls (2nd Edition: 1999) = link
- Connecticut Waterfalls (1st Edition: 2014) = link
- Rodrick's Guide to Vermont Waterfalls, Cascades & Gorges (1st Edition: 2014) = link
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