Hiking to Purgatory Falls

You’d think that since I’ve been living in New Hampshire for 11 years now that I’d know about all there is to do in the area, but no, I was surprised to see a post on Meg’s Outdoors Indoors blog about a hike to a waterfall that I did not know about in the nearby town of Milford.

When we want to go on a hike we usually have to go to the White Mountain area of Northern New Hampshire, which is about 2 to 3 hours away, or we can head to the South Western area of the state to the Mount Monadnock area, which is about an hour or so way. There’s plenty of local parks around, but I had thought there wasn’t much in the way of hiking nearby. So I was happy to find out about this hike in Milford, which is only about 20 minutes or so away.

There’s a big difference in pre-child hiking and post-child hiking. Pre-child we would just pack some food, some water, and go. Now we have to really make sure we pack a lot of extra water and food before we go. We also have to try to do some research on the hike before we get there. If the hiking guides say the trail is at all strenuous we’re probably not going to do it. If it’s too long, I know that I’m going to end up carrying a very heavy 4 year old on the way back, and maybe even on the way to whatever the trail is leading to. No matter how easy they might be, long hikes are out too. A two mile hike means that I know that I’ll be carrying him for at least a mile if not more. The older Mr. C gets though, the easier it is getting to go hiking with him. If he knows at the start of the trail that we’re going to a specific destination, like a waterfall, or a hilltop view, he gets excited to see it and will rush to get there. I do have to try to get him excited about it though. “There’s a waterfall, a waterfall, a WATERFALL!!!!” I say.

After getting him sufficiently excited, Ms. J and I packed a big bag with a pile of food, water, making sure Mr. C went to the bathroom before we left, and off we went.

This hike starts out fairly easy, with a wide trail, rising gradually though clear of any rocks or tree roots. I found some additional info online about the hike which said that the waterfall was 1/2 mile from the parking lot. It didn’t seem that far at all since before we knew it, we were at the falls. There are three falls on the trail, this is the “Lower” falls.



The trail continues on with a steeper grade after the lower falls. It was a very humid day, so we were happy to get near the cooler misty water from the falls.

Once we start into the section of the trail after the lower falls, the trail begins to get a bit harder to navigate, with tree roots searching for any available dirt amongst all the granite boulders.

Check out this tree below. Looks like it started growing on about two inches of soil on top of this huge granite boulder and then had to send roots down the side of the boulder searching for more soil. It eventually toppled over from the lack of support from the shallow roots, though it does look like its still alive.



We like to try to find evidence of old farms when we go hiking, and it’s usually fairly easy to find something. In between the trees below there is an old stone wall. Farmers would collect the stones when they were clearing an area for their farm and pile them up on the borders of their fields or to use as pens for their livestock. How they colonial New Englanders were able to raise much of anything in this rocky soil is incredible. It’s called “The Granite State” after all. I always end up wondering who had a farm here, what did they raise, was it a dairy farm or did they actually try to grow something in this rocky soil. And what happened to them, did they go out west to start a new farm, or move to the city to work in a mill? And why is it called Purgatory Falls anyway ?




We only made it to the Lower falls, there are two additional falls as well. We’ll have to go back again.

On this hot and humid day, we were happy to cool off in the water once we saw a large enough flat area to where we could sit with our feet in the water. The large somewhat overexposed feet on the right are mine, the ones on the left are Mr. C’s. I couldn’t get Ms. J’s feet in the same frame! That’s another hiker in the upper right corner, guess I should have cropped this one better, oh well. This is what happens when you take pictures with an Iphone , trying not to drop it in the water, while a 4 year old is trying to splash you with his feet.

I’m guessing we made it about a mile, which is pretty good for us now. As soon as the shoes were back on Mr. C said “Carry me Dada!”, and back down the trail we went with me carefully stepping over those huge tree roots while carrying a 40+ pound 4 year old on on arm.



13 thoughts on “Hiking to Purgatory Falls

  1. That’s a heck of a hike! And you must have been exhausted on the return journey – brings back many (un)happy memories of having to cart my offspring around!!

    • The one good thing about all thus lifting is that I’ve lost about 30 pounds so far!

      It might look more daring than it actually was. It’s certainly not an easy trail, but not so bad compared to others further north of us, such as in Maine or northern New Hampshire .

  2. Thanks for the link Peter. I love your tree uprooted and barefoot photos. The only person I ran into the day I was there was a mother with a one-year old in a backpack on her back. When I got to the muddy water crossing with no bridges.. only stepping stones or slimy, unstable branches placed side by side, I thought of her managing these with a passenger on board. I want the balance I had back when I fearlessly forded rivers in the White Mountains a few years ago.

    And I chided myself for not grabbing my trekking poles for this hike. With the dogs and a camera I find they often get in the way. But I did find a huge branch to lean on for confidence as I crossed one tricky area. I wonder if it is still there for another tentative hiker.

    • We had one of those backpacks too, used it for about 2 years but now he’s on his own. It was actually kind of crowded when we went. I was surprised to see a car of people from Wisconsin there.

    • I miss living in Boston, but at least we are very close to places like this now. We plan on doing a lot more camping and hiking now that he’s getting a bit older and can manage some of the trails.

  3. Beautiful place to hike! There are so many waterfalls in the Northeast, I miss that. We’re doing a lot of hiking this week too and I hear you about packing extra of everything. My kids stop every 10 minutes for water, every 30 minutes for food (seriously?) and a hike that would take 30 minutes takes 1 hour. I just keep hiking with them, knowing they’ll get better at it every year. At least they’re not asking me to carry them anymore. 🙂

    • It took awhile to get used to all the extra planning, but after a few disastrous outings we can do it, usually. You’ll have to write a post about your own hikes.

      • Haha, I can only imagine how it would go! Whine, whine, thirsty, whine, hungry, tired, whine, thirsty, are we there yet, thirsty, whine, hungry, tired, whine… You’re right though, it’d be fun! I’ll put it on my list and I have a few photos I can use too.

      • I edit my posts quite a bit, otherwise they would be filled me me saying “Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go, let’s go” until we finally can get out the door. And then the same “Let’s go”, when it’s time for us to go home too.

  4. Purgatory Falls!!! I remember being there with my mother in the ’60s and she had an asthma attack, while my father made some horrifically inappropriate joke about the irony of near death in a place with the same name as where she’d be headed! Subsequent visits there were far less dramatic, but of course I remember NOTHING of those. Crazy!!!!
    ps. as you might imagine, my parent’s marriage ended in divorce!

    • Oh my, what a story! My parents and I went there when I was young and I remember them having an argument about something. Maybe naming it Purgatory Falls wasn’t such a good idea.

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