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Dry River Falls is a remote and scenic backcountry waterfall that had been on our radar for almost 10 years. The reason it took is so long to visit is probably the same reason why so many White Mountain hikers have not made this trek; the 11-mile round trip hike is quite long for a waterfall day-hike. The falls are easily worth the effort involved, though. The main falls, a 25-foot fan that expands significantly as it slides down a steep wall, is one of the finest of its type in New England. Above the fan is an upper set of horsetails and cascades dropping a total of about 20 feet. The entire falls and surrounding area are fully open to the sun, with no obstructions affecting your viewing pleasure. Due to its openness, the falls are visually spectacular, especially during fall foliage.
At the base of the main falls is a medium-sized but likely very cold swimming hole. Swimming is only safe in low-water here as the Dry River is known for its turbulence. Most of the rim around the pool is rocky and rugged and unfortunately, there is no beach-like area to help you get slowly introduced into the pool. There is also a pothole above the falls that's fitting for a few hikers, but only in the lowest of water conditions. Overall, Dry River Falls is a good swimming hole, but there are more attractive ones in the national forest.
The mist of the falls carries a great distance. You will find that all the rocks around the falls are typically mist-covered, so great caution is necessary as you explore; rock-hopping should not be attempted. The mist is also likely to cloud your camera's lens in no time at all. We recommend bringing a lens cloth and wiping it dry every few pictures that you take.
There are several camping options along the access trail. We noticed a few illegal sites very close the falls, but they do not meet the requirement that campers must be at least 200 feet from the trail. To camp legally, we noticed four USFS currently designated campsites along the Dry River Trail between the trailhead and the falls. The absolute best was close to the Dry River Trail's junction with the Isolation Trail. This site was private and nicely-developed, with room for several small or medium-sized tents. Another option is Dry River Shelter #3 (shelters' #1 and #2 have been removed) about 0.9 mile above the falls. Be aware that getting to this shelter, which is likely to be in rough shape anyway as maintenance is no longer performed on it, requires crossing the Dry River just above the falls. This may be no simple task based upon the level of the river. When the shelter's condition is finally deemed unsafe, it will be removed. Since the shelter is in a wilderness area, it will not be replaced.
Expect an adventure when hiking to Dry River Falls. For much of the hike, you will be walking in a rough and wild congressionally-designated wilderness area. This designation means that the trail is not maintained to the same standard that other trails nearby are. You are likely to encounter mud (lots of it), portions of eroded trail, and several moderate to difficult water crossings. There are many seemingly pointless ups and downs along the trail that some will find frustrating. There is a lack of trail blazes marked on the trees too, but this is generally not a serious problem (except for first-time hikers perhaps) as the Dry River Trail is very well-defined from the trailhead to the falls. Thankfully, the old hurdle of fording the Dry River, which used to be required to visit the falls, was eliminated with the construction of a new suspension bridge in 2009. This new bridge means that there are no longer any crossings of the Dry River required to reach the falls.
Start this long hike from the trailhead on US-302 and head generally north along the Dry River Trail. You will be following the Dry River Trail for a total of 5.4 miles, passing several junctions along the way. At 0.5 mile from the parking area, you will reach your first junction. Continue straight on the Dry River Trail for an additional 1.2 miles and you will reach the new suspension bridge over the Dry River. Cross the bridge and continue left for another 1.2 miles and you will reach a junction with the Mt. Clinton Trail. Take a right and follow the Dry River Trail another 2.0 miles to the next junction with the Isolation Trail. Continue straight on the Dry River Trail for 0.3 mile and you will reach the next junction with the Mt. Eisenhower Trail. The Mt. Eisenhower Trail heads left and immediately starts descending, but you will need to stay straight on the Dry River Trail and hike a final 0.2 miles further. Look for a very obscure washout on your left hand side that descends at about a 30-degree angle. You will have to look carefully, as there is often a significant amount of water flowing and mud in the trail. In fact, you may not even think what you are looking at is in fact a trail, but it is. Descend the rough path for about 125 feet and you will see the falls on your right through the trees. As you scramble down to the base of the falls, the terrain gets increasingly difficult; continue as far as you feel comfortable. You do not need to make it all the way down to river-level for a good view of the falls; there is a great view to be had about 30 feet above where the trail ends at the base of the falls.
For an alternative approach, visitors can also visit the falls from the AMC's Mizpah Springs Hut. From the hut, it is a 2.7 mile hike that drops about 1300 feet of elevation. When the Dry River is running high, this option really isn't a viable one; crossing the river is often dangerous and deaths have occurred in this section of the river. This section of trail can also be tough to follow as it is not maintained to the same standard as most trails in the White Mountain National Forest.
From the junction of US-302 and NH 16 in the section of Bartlett known as Glen, take US-302 west for 15.4 miles. There is a parking pull-off that can fit approximately five cars on the right side of the trail. On our last visit, a small trail sign for the Dry River Trail marked the trailhead. This parking area is 0.3 miles west of the Dry River Campground and 5.3 miles east of the AMC Highland Center. To get to Glen, take NH 16 north from Conway.
UPDATES SINCE THE 2ND EDITION
The Dry River Trail was closed for several years after Hurricane Irene hit in 2011. The trail was rerouted and is now open.
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 or leave a Facebook comment at the bottom of this page. Updates to all of the waterfalls in the latest edition of the guidebook can always be found here: book updates
Dry River Falls, New Hampshire
Dry River Falls, New Hampshire
Dry River Falls, New Hampshire
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. Here is a list of all known deaths at waterfalls and swimming holes 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
WATERFALLS ON FACEBOOK
Join the growing communities of waterfall aficionados on Facebook! You can share your photographs, follow the adventures of other waterfall hunters, and find new places to explore:
- Request to join the "New England Waterfalls" community > link
- Request to join the "New Hampshire Waterfalls" community > link
- Request to join the "Northeastern Waterfalls" community > link
- Request to join the "Vermont Waterfalls" community > link
- Request to join the "Waterfalls of the United States" community > link
And if you'd like to follow the New England Waterfalls page on Facebook, click here.
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