Wednesday, February 22, 2012


One of the nicest half-day walks along the Kancamagus Highway is the trek into Champney and Pitcher Falls along the Champney Falls Trail and part of a loop path. The trail is easy to moderate, and the ice formations on Pitcher Falls are especially beautiful. Plus, there's a good chance you'll get to see some ice climbers in action.

Champney/Pitcher Falls has been a popular destination since the late 1800s, and in the 1870s geologist Joshua H. Huntington deemed Pitcher Falls "the most picturesque of the many falls and cascades around the mountains."

Surprisingly, there were only a half-dozen cars in the lot for this popular trail, even though it was a fine day during school vacation week. As expected, the trail was a smooth hard-packed sidewalk of snow, with the occasional icy patch, ideal for Microspikes.

After a half-mile through mostly hardwoods, the trail hops up onto a bank and ascends through hemlocks, then drops down near Champney Brook.

I always stop to admire this old yellow birch.

A trailside view of Champney Brook.

Nearing the falls loop path, I encountered the first of just a few hikers along the trail.

The loop path splits left at 1.4 mi. and 500 ft. in elevation above the trailhead.

In 0.2 mi. of down-and-up, I reached the base of Champney Falls, just a bulging ice flow in winter.

Just to the east is the beautiful flume into which a tributary brook drops over Pitcher Falls. And there was an ice climber scaling one of the pillars.

For someone who's never been on a climbing rope, it's always a treat to see a climber in action.

I went up the first pitch on the loop trail to a shelf atop the lower part of Champney Falls, and had a good view up to the frozen upper part of the waterfall. From here the loop path climbs very steeply alongside the falls, and though I've done it in winter it looked too icy for my liking this day. I did want to visit the top of Champney Falls, where there is a good viewpoint looking north, so I returned along the loop path to its lower junction with the main trail and headed up that way.

As you climb up the side of the valley, damage from the 1998 ice storm is still much in evidence.
This area was hit hard; a month after that storm my nephew Mike and I bushwhacked up the ridge west of Champney Brook and then descended along the trail. The trail part was actually harder due to the many trees fallen at crazy angles across the footway, necessitating awkward detours on the side slope.

At one point there is a view up to the ledgy knob that rises on the north side of the falls. This area is called "Hobbitland" by rock climbers. If you bushwhack to the top of that knob, you'll find some good views around the rim in various directions.

The upper falls loop junction, 1.7 mi. from the trailhead.

I dropped a short distance on the loop path to rocks and ledges above Champney Falls, including this neat overhang. Caution is advised in this area, as there are some steep dropoffs.

From rocks in the brookbed, I had a view of Owl Cliff and Mt. Tremont.

Looking up Champney Brook in the flat area above the top of the falls.

I carefully made my way on a mini-bushwhack to an open overhanging ledge, flat on top, on the east side of the brook. I stepped gingerly on the hard crust, which held my weight most of the time even without snowshoes. This spot grants a unique view north down the Champney Brook valley to distant peaks.

Hanock is on the far L, then the cliff-faced Captain can be seen below, and the mighty Mt. Carrigain. The top of Bondcliif can be glimpsed over the col to the L of Carrigain. Continuing to the R are Vose Spur, Owl Cliff with the tip of Mt. Lowell peeking over, Mt. Tremont, Mt. Nancy and Mt. Bemis.

This photo taken from the loop trail across the brook shows the view ledge, the one on the L.

On the way back down the Champney Falls Trail, a glimpse of Mt. Washington and Boott Spur through the branches.

Colorful Forest Service map at the trailhead. This hike is highly recommended, and the trip in to the lower end of Champney Falls is suitable for winter novices. Use caution if visiting the area at the upper end of the loop trail.


  1. Steve, although it might have only been a mini-bushwhack that you did on the east side of the brook, the spot you accessed certainly yielded a darn good view looking down the Champney Brook valley toward Carrigain and surrounding peaks (including one of my favorites, i.e. Mt. Tremont!).


  2. Thanks, John - it is a unique perspective from that rock.