This hike was meant to be a compromise to myself. No salt water weekend, no longer hikes to knock off another 4000 footer or three. But still spectacular, still a light workout on a beautiful trail, and the real payoff; seven waterfalls in a relatively short span.
I had my doubts. You walk to the trailhead at Waterville Valley Resort and see right away that this hike is going to start between the road and some of the village condos. But you cross a road and leave most of that behind you. From then on you are hiking a pleasant trail to the first waterfall and not really seeing many people (for me, a Saturday afternoon).
The Cascade Trail is a 3 mile round trip to the Waterville Cascades. The silence of the forest is notable and welcome. You quickly forget that you’re in close proximity to a ski resort, and instead immerse yourself in hiking relatively pristine second growth forest that wraps itself around you and shuts out the outside world. Before you know it the hike brings you to the first cascade on Cascade Brook, a series of seven plunges that feel bigger and more remote than they really are.
But there are reminders of the alternative paths to the falls. We met a group we’d seen in the parking lot that opted to ride the chairlift up instead of hiking. We spoke to another couple of guys on mountain bikes who had ridden up to the falls to soak in the swimming holes. Both conversations reminded us that there were other faster ways to reach the cascades than hiking. We saw sad proof of this when we passed a pyramid of empty Bud Lite cans that some fools had stacked alongside the brook. Without a backpack for this short hike I had to leave this mess for someone else to deal with. Not everyone who ventures into the woods leaves them as they found them. This is the price of proximity.
But the falls themselves were each wonders, and we celebrated the unique beauty of each as we climbed higher and higher up the trail. When you reach the last big cascade there’s a bridge for a mountain bike trail that you can cross to descend the other side and return you to the Cascade Trail and your hike back down.
I’m interested in how people meet the falls. Some are reverent and respectful, some more nonchalant about the experience. I think it’s relative to how much work you put in towards reaching them, and the path you chose for yourself. But that may seem dismissive and smug when a hiker says it. More specifically, it’s not the work you put into reaching it, it’s how your attitude when you reach it that matters most.
The work-to-reward ratio of the Waterville Cascades makes it an easy choice. The proximity of that resort comes in handy for lunch or dinner and a restroom afterwards. The entire experience reminds you that finding beautiful in this world isn’t all that hard if you just put yourself out there to meet it.