Crawford Notch State Park is located in the heart of New Hampshire’s White Mountains, sandwiched between Franconia Notch to the west and Pinkham Notch to the east. This is a classic U-shaped glacial valley bisected by Route 302 connecting North Conway and Twin Mountain. Samuel Bemis, possibly America’s first landscape photographer, recognized the raw beauty of the region back in the 1840s. One advantage of the Notch is that there are a variety of photographic options within the 5,575-acre park, and it’s easily accessible by road or trails.
Like any alpine area, weather conditions can vary greatly by season and even day to day. Mount Washington is close by, and so is the notoriously windy and extreme weather. Summer temperatures can range from the low 50s in the morning to the 80s by afternoon. Fall begins in mid-September along with the arrival of the first frost. Autumn colors usually hit their peak between the first and second week of October, and snow during this time is always a possibility. If hiking, temperatures can be considerably colder atop the nearby peaks, which are 3,000 feet above the valley floor. Those who venture through the park in winter should be well prepared for blowing snow and brutal wind chills, as temperatures regularly dip into the single digits. Detailed weather and trail conditions can be found through the Mount Washington Observatory website and related links.
Expansive views of towering cliffs and granite outcrops will immediately grab your attention as you head up through the park. The Notch is home to the state’s most impressive waterfalls and shouldn’t be missed. Arethusa Falls drops approximately 140 feet, while nearby Ripley Falls tumbles 100 feet over smooth granite. While these require short hikes, Silver Cascade near the top of the Notch can be photographed from the road. Still mornings are best for alpenglow reflections at Saco Lake and Willey Pond. Every year, visitors are injured or killed slipping on the wet rocks of this waterfall, so be careful and wear the proper footwear should you decide to venture near the cascades. Wide-angle to mid-range zooms are best for photographing waterfalls (17-120mm range). Use a polarizing filter to reduce glare from the wet rocks and foliage. ND filters might be helpful to reduce shutter speeds when photographing water in bright light. Bear and moose are always a possibility, so have a long lens in the 100-400mm zoom range handy. A sturdy tripod completes the essential gear.
Waterfalls will be at their height in May and early June as the new foliage appears. Autumn colors in the Notch are among the best in New Hampshire, and I prefer this season, as there’s also a chance for a dusting of snow on the crags and high peaks. Visitors have dwindled and wildlife sightings increase.
Contact: Crawford Notch State Park, nhstateparks.org; Mount Washington Observatory, mountwashington.org; Appalachian Mountain Club, outdoors.org. See more of Harry Lichtman’s work at harrylichtman.com.