New Hampshire has several spectacular mountain passes — the most famous of which is Franconia Notch, through which Interstate 93 passes. In order to get to Franconia Notch, I had to slip through another pass: Crawford Notch. And while I thought this notch would just be a passing attraction, I ended up spending most of my day here.
Crawford Notch is protected as a state park. On top of that, it’s surrounded by the White Mountain National Forest, so the entire area is well-preserved and, except for the highway and railroad tracks that run through it, it’s quite remote and all-natural.
There are trails here that are well worth hiking — including the Frankenstein Cliff/Arethusa Falls trails, which I’ll cover on the next page. This page is about everything you’ll see as you drive through on US 302.
At the park’s southern entrance, I stopped to take a picture of the welcome sign. You can already see the imposing cliffs that tower over the park (this one is Frankenstein Cliff — we’ll hike to the top of it on the next page). Next to the sign…
… there’s a small creek that empties into the Saco River, and eventually the Atlantic Ocean.
Further up the road, in the middle of the park, there’s a park ranger station and restaurant, and on the other side of the road, you get a good look at the Saco River. A dam forms Willey Pond, and you can walk across it, to picnic areas on the other side.
Or you can stay near the parking lot and admire the view of the lake…
… and of the actual notch. US 302 and the railroad tracks both squeeze through this pass. The big mountain that looms over the pass is Mount Willard, and there’s a popular hiking trail that leads from the Crawford Depot (the train station at the top of the pass) to the mountain’s rocky ledge. The trail is 3 1/4 miles (5.2 kilometers) round-trip.
As you head up the pass, hit the brakes and avoid hitting all of the people wandering around in the road near Silver Cascade. This waterfall pours down the side of the mountain on the right side of the road. There is a big parking lot, but it’s on the left-hand side, so everyone has to run across traffic to get a closer look at the falls.
Silver Cascade has a twin, Flume Cascade, just a few hundred feet further up the road. If I had known, I would have walked up to it, but I didn’t see it until I was back in the car, so I didn’t stop again.
Now that you have a feel for what to expect when driving through Crawford Notch, let’s backtrack a bit and take a look at two great hiking trails in the park. On the next page, we’ll cover Frankenstein Cliff and Arethusa Falls.