One reason creeks and rivers fascinate me so much is their "exuberance" as
they splash and dance over and around rocks on their way down a mountain or
I love to hear the "song of the stream."
Along the Appalachian Trail you'll see cascades, rock flumes (AKA chutes or
sluices), and waterfalls
that range from simple little foot-high drops to an impressive sixty-foot
waterfall that thunders through a deep slate gorge. There are multi-tier
waterfalls, slick and narrow rock chutes, and several miles-long series of
cascades forming numerous waterfalls - all right next to the Trail.
Rather than showing you photos from south to north in this essay, I'll
categorize them more by the type of waterfall and length of the drop, from small
to grand. This is the first I've shown more than half of these photos.
SMALL IS GRAND (SIZE DOESN'T MATTER!)
Even little cascades and waterfalls are appealing, as the next photos
illustrate. They are a great place to take a break and observe nature's beauty
in a quiet setting.
One of my favorite climbs was on
24, ascending the lush green Unaka Mountains in Tennessee from
the Nolichucky River, as the Trail followed this beautiful creek with numerous
These small waterfalls from
43 in Virginia were delightful. So was the company - Dru and
Graham ran with me that day! We enjoyed several streams in that section:
Many falls along the AT come in a series of cascades, such as
this five-tiered waterfalls in State Line Branch, so named because it
runs along the North Carolina-Tennessee line (Day
This next picture shows a series of little waterfalls in a creek
in Virginia south of Dickey Gap/VA 16 (Day
32). There are two more views in
Photos 40 that show a more placid
side of this lovely creek.
Considerably more rugged are most of the cascading streams in New
Hampshire, such as Cascade Brook, below, located on the north
side of North Kinsman Mountain (Day
(See the AT blaze in the photo above? That's the Trail, right
through or over those boulders!)
same day I passed this waterfall in Eliza
Brook, near the shelter of the same name. It had a drop of about
feet, as I recall. Notice the mist? It was a rainy, foggy day.
Another interesting creek in New Hampshire is Whitewall Brook on
Zealand Ridge in the White Mountains.
Traveling northbound on
119, I came to this idyllic spot and stopped to sit on the smooth
rocks for a few minutes to just chill out and watch the cascades:
The AT crosses the creek through a smooth rock "flume" or chute,
Fortunately, that day the water was low enough that I could jump over the
three-foot span without stepping down on the smooth rock bottom of the chute. I
think this would be a risky crossing if the water was high and you couldn't see
where you were stepping. You can see where the water drops off into oblivion at
the top of the photo - that is a long waterfall . . .
A little farther downstream you come to the Zealand Falls Hut. If you take a
short side path you can see part of popular Zealand Falls:
If you have time, it would be fun to explore more of those cascades.
Jim took the next photo of a pretty "stepped" waterfall on the
south side of Old Speck Mountain in Maine on
That was one of my three longest days on the Trail. It
was dark by the time I passed this falls; I could hear its song but
couldn't see it except by flashlight:
This is another scenic falls along the Trail in Maine. I
believe it is Sawyer Brook, between Moody and Hall Mountains (Day
FROM ONE EXTREME TO ANOTHER
During a trek on the AT hikers are likely to see some "dry creeks" that have
water only after it rains. Sometimes those creek beds are the Trail, wet
or dry! Hikers get accustomed to that.
It was a
bit of a surprise on misty
Day 94, however, when the Trail climbed a hill
next to a dry waterfall in New York. (Notice the white blaze on
the tree to the right.) This is Fitzgerald Falls and creek, dry as a bone:
Fortunately, all the other cascades and waterfalls I passed did have
water in them. In fact, some had so much as to be memorable.
One of the creeks that will be forever etched in the brains of both Jim and me is
Vaughn Stream, north of Big Wilson River in Maine's Hundred-Mile
Jim saw Vaughn Stream when it was beyond flooded on
141, the day I also encountered the Little and Big Wilson Rivers at "high
tide." Jim tried to come in to meet me on the Trail that day but I couldn't cross Big Wilson
and he was stopped by Vaughn. Never the twain shall meet . . .
Two days later, I took these photos of Vaughn Stream after
most of the flooding had receded in the area. The water was still flowing
very fast and was probably higher than during a dry week. Even so, Jim
could hardly believe it was the same creek! He didn't see these smooth
rocks when he was there:
And it's those smooth rocks that were so dangerous when the
creek was flooded, because only a few feet to the right of the AT crossing
(i.e., downstream) are double twenty-foot waterfalls, seen first from the top,
then from the side, in the photos below:
Hikers need to be wary at that crossing even when the water is
at normal depth. Slide on those smooth rocks and you may end up at the bottom of these waterfalls!
The most impressive falls I saw the entire adventure run was
Little Wilson Falls, also in the Hundred Mile Wilderness, when it was
Day 141. I've recounted the story in
this journal several times about how difficult it was to cross the river a
quarter of a mile downstream from this very LOUD falls, as well as several miles
downstream when it emptied into the Big Wilson River.
Although Little Wilson Falls terrified me that day because I
knew I had to cross the river soon, I'll probably be disappointed if I ever see
them again at normal level.
At sixty feet high, this is one of the longest falls on the
Appalachian Trail. It drops dramatically through a gorgeous narrow, dark slate
canyon. Imagine the deafening roar as you look at the three photos below.
The first view is at the top, where the river was about thirty
The next two shots are a little farther down the gorge as the channel narrowed
through the rock walls:
That last view with all the mist and churning water was both awesome and
chilling. The one thought that dominated my brain was, "And I'm supposed to
cross that river in a few hundred feet???"
(If you haven't read them yet,
you can get all the gory details on
141 and in
Photos 11 and
OTHER IMPRESSIVE FALLS
Another magnificent falls, even at normal flow, is the 40-foot
drop at the bottom of Laurel Fork Canyon in Tennessee. The AT follows the
Laurel Fork River for a mile or more as it drops into the canyon, and right at
the edge of the river for half a mile north from the falls.
There is a high
water detour a couple hundred feet higher. If the water is the least bit high,
you simply cannot walk down there or take a photo from the angle below. (Look at
the second photo on
Day 28 to see what I mean.)
Another beautiful, high falls is in aptly-named Falls
The Housatonic River forms the Great Falls, which are usually dry in the summer
due to the diversion of water for hydroelectric generation. However, on
100 there was plenty of
water flowing on both sides of the rocky outcropping to pique my interest
(notice the mist in the background where the second part of the falls is
The next falls through Slugundy Gorge in Maine is not as
high as some of these other large falls, but it is dramatic because of the
beautiful canyon through which the stream flows.
This is just one of several
falls hikers can see from the Trail as it climbs north from Long Pond Stream
up Barren Mountain
I also enjoyed Katahdin Stream Falls, located about a
mile north of Katahdin Stream Campground, the staging area for hikers ascending
The beautiful fifty-foot cascades are just off the Trail
and definitely worth a peek (Day
NEARBY WATERFALL ADVENTURE IN VIRGINIA
The AT guide books advise hikers of interesting waterfalls (and
other natural features) that are located on side trails off the AT. One such
waterfall that I recommend you go see if you have the time and energy is
Apple Orchard Falls on Apple Orchard Mountain in Virginia.
I didn't take the national recreation trail a mile down to the
falls when I passed nearby on
47 because I've "been there, done that," several times, in fact.
These outstanding falls just happen to be on one of Jim's and my
training courses near Roanoke! If you haven't seen them before, they are
definitely worth a little side trip. You'll see hemlock forests, rock
outcroppings with moss and lichens, and numerous spring wildflowers and
rhododendrons from April to June. This side trail feels more wild and remote
than most sections of the AT in Virginia.
The photo below, which I took April 23, 2006 on a training run,
shows the upper portion of the 150-foot main drop of Apple Orchard Falls
near the headwaters of
less than a mile from the AT down to the wooden bridging where I took this
Be aware, however, that the trail is fairly steep in places and there are
numerous wooden steps to climb just above the falls. Compared to the terrain in
New Hampshire and Maine, it's "moderate." Perspective.
If you have more time, you
can follow the boisterous creek for over two
more miles below the falls. There
are numerous other smaller waterfalls and cascades along the 2,000-foot
descent to the valley below. This is part of the course for David Horton's
Promise Land 50K trail race in April.
SCENIC STREAMSIDE HIKES
I've mentioned many times in this journal how much I enjoy
running and hiking along streams (as long as I know I don't have to ford them!).
In the final section of this essay I'll show you photos from
several of the very active creeks and rivers I had the pleasure of following for
half a mile to six miles as I climbed up or down mountains in New England.
One of my favorites was Sawmill Brook through beautiful
Sages Ravine near the Connecticut-Massachusetts border (Day
100). The creek was quiet and calming despite a series of cascades,
little waterfalls, and reflecting pools of water.
This is one of my Top Ten
spots along the whole AT. Here are two photos showing small waterfalls
along the picturesque brook:
One of the most difficult climbs (up OR down) on the AT is the
Beaver Brook Trail portion on the north side of Mt. Moosilauke in the
southwestern corner of the White Mountains in New Hampshire.
I chose to
go southbound on
Day 116 so I'd be going UP this steep, 2,900
foot climb instead of down it. Uphill is always kinder to my Granny Knees. Jim
went up to the summit with me, then headed back down the difficult trail to our
truck so he could pick me up hours later.
We were pleasantly distracted on the climb up the mountain by all the
spectacular scenery, including a mile or more right next to the Beaver Brook
Cascades. Jim took this photo of me on the way up:
I felt privileged to follow the lively Pierce Pond Stream for about six
Day 137 in Maine.
Going northbound it's
a downhill trek, mostly next to the creek until it empties into the Kennebeck
River near Caratunk. I was totally fascinated with all of its rapids, cascades,
waterfalls, flumes, and even some quiet, slow-moving sections. This stream has
There is also a photo of the stream at the top of this essay
that shows another of the numerous waterfalls along its length.
The next photo shows one of the interesting flumes (water
chutes) in Pierce Pond Stream:
The Trail doesn't cross that chute, which is about ten feet wide in
this spot. In fact, the only time I remember crossing the stream was at its
outlet from Pierce Pond. You can see a photo of the rickety log crossing in the journal on
I'll close with one last flume photo from Maine. This one
was along Rainbow Stream on my
next to last day on the AT in the section that includes Rainbow Lake,
Rainbow Mountain, and Rainbow Ledges - lots of "rainbows!"
I followed the
rambunctious creek for about two miles, reveling in all the cascades,
waterfalls, and sluices like the one below, which I shot from the Trail about
ten feet above the fast-moving water:
I did have to ford that stream farther up the Trail, but it was a non-event.
"As long as I live, I'll hear waterfalls and birds and winds sing. I'll
interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm, and the avalanche. I'll
acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of
the world as I can." - John Muir
You can't get much closer to the "heart of the world" as you can on the
Appalachian Trail. (Yes, even avalanches.)