“The falls flow down a spur of the Mote Mountain just in the rear of the lower ledge. The loose rocks are thrown about in such complete confusion that it strikes the eye, fresh from the finished landscape around the meadows, as a patch of chaos too obstinate to be organized into the general cosmos.” -Thomas Starr King, author of The White Mountains, Their Legends, Landscapes, and Poetry
Hidden near the base of the Wildcat Mountain Ski Area in northern New Hampshire sits a 150 foot seven-tiered cascading waterfall that passed out of public knowledge for much of the 20th century. Originally “discovered” and named by famed landscape artist Benjamin Champney of the White Mountain School in the mid-19th century, Thompson Falls is one of the hidden gems of the White Mountains.
Up until 2011 - when the Thompson Falls Trail became an official trail of the White Mountain National Forest - the falls had largely remained a mystery. Apart from an appearance on the 1942 USGS North Conway quadrangle and a brief mention in an AMC White Mountain Guide dating to the 1950’s, the falls were relatively unknown. Fortunately for visitors today, the base of Thompson Falls can now be reached by an easy hike of just under one mile. The climb to reach the higher cascades is a more moderate hike but definitely worth the effort.
With plunges reaching in excess of 20 feet, the falls offer the natural beauty that has come to be associated with the region. Moreover, Thompson Falls is without the heavy foot traffic that one often finds at other nearby sites, such as the nearby Glen Ellis Falls, making for an all-around better experience.
The lowest tier, often described as a “clam-shaped” fall, also features a pool deep enough for swimming, while the nearby rocks offer ample opportunity for exploration.
Know Before You Go
To reach Thompson Falls, take the Way of the Wildcat Nature Trail from the Wildcat Mountain parking lot. Once at the far end of the trail's loop, continue on the path to the falls. The 0.7 mile hike will take you across the service road and on to the cascades, where you can continue past several different levels. Alternate route is to park at Parking Lot 3. Walk up the road to the bridge. On the other side of the bridge there is the trail directly to the falls on your left. This bypasses the nature trail entirely.