Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Flume Gorge & Visitor Center, Franconia Notch, New Hampshire

The Flume, NH
The Flume is one of my favorite places to visit either on my own or with people who have never been to the mountains of New Hampshire before. It’s located at the southern end of Franconia Notch in the Franconia Notch State Park on the flanks of Mount Flume where the water has carved a deep gorge. The trails take you up through this gorge (the ‘flume’) and then make their way around over covered bridges and through pleasant woods.

While there can be a lot of walking at the Flume, coaches are also available to take you the majority of the distance from the Visitor’s Center to the base of the Flume. From there, to get into the Flume, you will have to walk along the wooden walkways that have been built. These walkways have stairs and wind their way through the Flume so they are not handicapped accessible. However, the trails approaching the Flume are so you can at least get a few of the Flume if you are in a wheelchair.

Where is the Flume? 

The Flume is located off of Exit 34 of Interstate 93 as it passes through Franconia Notch. From the south, that’s pretty much the first “Franconia Notch” exit as you are heading north on I93 and from the north, it’s the last Notch exit as you are heading out of the Notch.

From the exit, the Visitor Center and parking areas for the Flume are just down the road. Parking is free and there’s plenty of it, but on busy holiday weekends, the parking lots can fill up. Also, the lot is used for parking for the nearby trails too, so spaces can be at a premium at times.

The Visitor Center is free to visit and offers information on The Flume and the entire Franconia Notch State Park. There’s also a small snack shop in the Visitor Center. Tickets for the Flume are available in the Visitor Center and it’s where the coaches depart to take you up to the upper visitor center right before the Flume.

When is the Flume open? 

The Flume and the Visitor Center is generally open from mid-May through mid-October and is open every day during that time from 9 in the morning to 5 in the evening.

For a decent tour of the entire area, I would suggest that you put aside about two to three hours of time. That gives you time to work your way through the Flume and then walk the entire loop trail back to the Visitors Center. Going that way, you get to travel along the flanks of the mountain and go across the Sentinel Pine Covered Bridge.

The entire loop is a couple of miles so you should have good solid walking shoes and bring some water with you.

The Flume is generally the least crowded during the week and the most crowded on holiday weekends. During the most crowded times, it can be difficult to get through the Flume area as there are just so many people. However, going early or later in the day can generally help with this, or trying to plan your trip so you’re not there on the busiest holiday weekends helps too.


It does cost money to see the Flume. Tickets are $10 for adults and $7 for children with kids under 5 years old free. For the amount of time and for the natural beauty of the area (and the ease of accessibility to it), I do think its worth spending this money to see the Flume.

Things to see… 

First and foremost is the Flume but there are plenty of other interesting things to see as you travel through the area. The first that you come across is the Visitors Center. Here you can look through exhibits on the history of the Flume and the Notch and get information from the staff on duty.

From there, you either walk or take a coach up to the upper visitors center which offers souvenirs and some food and drink should you need something before heading on to the Flume.

The trail then enters the Flume, which is an adventure in of itself. The trail is travels up through the Flume on a series of wooden walkways and stairs that wind their way right through the heart of the Flume. You get views of rapids, waterfalls and you can look up and see how deeply the river has carved into the mountain.

Once above the Flume, the trail begins to loop around and travels across the flank of the mountains before descending to the Sentinel Pine Covered Bridge. Here you cross the covered bridge and get views straight down into the river.

The trail then continues on its way back to the main Visitor Center passing by glacial boulders and other natural features.

For the entire trip, there’s a small interpretive guide that is provided so you can read about the various things that you are walking by. All in all, I always find the trip a great way to spend a few hours. It also makes for a great introduction to the Franconia Notch area as you can then head up further into the Notch and visit the other attractions there.

My Experiences 

I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve been to the Flume, but each time I enjoy it just as much probably because I almost always go with someone who’s never been before. That way I can show them the area, talk about the geology and how the Flume formed and get to introduce them to the natural history, flora and fauna of the area. Not only that, I find it a great way to start people exploring northern New Hampshire. The views from the Visitor Center are tremendous with Mount Flume and Mount Liberty located behind it.

My favorite part of the trip is through the Flume. I love how the trail makes its way directly through the river until it eventually reaches the waterfall at the very top of the Flume. You can take your time through the gorge and while there are people always moving through, it’s not so crowded that you are stuck with moving with the flow of people.

My favorite trip was my partner’s first visit to the Flume. We were going to college in the area and we went to the Flume on the last day of the season that it was open. We were actually the last two people to buy tickets for that season and so as we walked up from the Visitor Center, we were the only two heading to the Flume. We took our time and explored every nook and cranny and read through the whole guide. I think I noticed more than I had on any other trip and I enjoyed it more fully than any trip before or after.

Final Thoughts 

Any vacation to northern New Hampshire wouldn’t be complete without a stop at The Flume. For a relatively inexpensive fee (compared to other NH attractions), you get a ticket to explore a natural wonder of the region. You hike through a deep gorge following the stream and then make your way through the forests of the region over a covered bridge before returning to the Visitor Center. All in all, it’s worth it and it’s an experience most people won’t forget.

Definitely take the time to explore the Flume, I would consider it a must see stop for anyone vacationing in the area.

AMC White Mountain Guide, 28th: Hiking trails in the White Mountain National Forest (Appalachian Mountain Club White Mountain Guide)For more information on Hiking, Climbing and Skiing in the White Mountains
The best guide to the trails of the White Mountains is published by the Appalachian Mountain Club.  The White Mountain Trail Guide provides descriptions and maps for all of the hiking trails of the White Mountains.  AMC also produces a map for the trails in the Franconia Notch Region, as does National Geographic in their Trails Illustrated series.

No comments: