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Purgatory Falls, Mont Vernon NH


• 4-star hike
• 0.5 to 5.1 mile options
• Easy difficulty | Gain 60 to 430 feet
• Merrimack Region | Mont Vernon, NH
• Driving Directions: Upper, Dow Rd, Lower


The picturesque Lower Purgatory Falls from Brook Trail.

Midway between the Southern New Hampshire towns of Lyndeborough and Mont Vernon, Purgatory Brook cuts a path through the granite on its way to the Souhegan River. Descending a total of 260 feet through the length of the Purgatory Falls preserve, the brook features several notable cascades and waterfalls along its route.

In mythology, Purgatory is a place of suffering between heaven and hell; or according to Dante it's where the soul is cleansed of all impurities. The water isn't deep enough to cleanse all of this hiker's impurities, but as this area was historically a tourist attraction and close to several Mont Vernon hotels, we suspect the dramatic naming is mostly likely an exercise in Victorian era marketing.

Trails in the preserve provides the waterfall hunter with options - from a very short walk to the Upper Falls, to the Brook Trail route that passes by all the waterfalls. We've mapped out these trails below, along with an intermediate route and a separate looping trail with distant mountain views. Also note that though classified as easy, these trails do become uneven and littered with rocks and roots close to the Upper Falls, and there are some minor rock scrambles for those wanting to get close to the falls. The falls put on the best shows after a period of wet weather.

Brook Tr, Old Dow Rd, View Loop, Upper Falls Tr


Brook Trail 4★
5.1 mi, Out & Back, Easy, Gain 320ft
Trailspotting Map at AllTrails

Our favorite route in the preserve begins on its Southern border by Purgatory Road and leads initially to Lower Purgatory Falls - a broad and rocky 30 foot cascade that we found to be the most scenic of the falls. Heading North, the trail remains easy going with only a marginal incline, mostly following very close to the water course. Avoid branching off onto an unmarked informal trail by staying close to the brook as you hike up.

The trail continues through mixed woodland for its complete length, eventually reaching the 25 foot funnel of Middle Falls. From here it's just a short distance to the two-tier Upper Falls which has a total height of sixty feet. We recommend exploring both ends of the Upper Falls to get the most out of the views on this hike. The trailhead directly off Purgatory Road is dirt and gravel and has spaces for around half a dozen vehicles.


Middle Falls, and the two tiers of Upper Falls.

Old Dow Road 3★
2.6 mi, Out & Back, Easy, Gain 310ft | This route eschews Lower Purgatory Falls for a shorter hike that leads to both the Middle and Upper Falls. Beginning at the end of the modern Dow Road, the route follows the old rocky road down to the brook. You may need to use our map to locate the beginning of this unsignposted trail. There's a large parking lot at the end of the paved Dow Road.
Trailspotting Map at AllTrails

View Loop Trail 3★
2.8 mi, Loop, Easy, Gain 430ft | An alternative to the out-and-back Old Dow Road route, this loop trail adds a little more length and elevation gain, but pays off by offering a respite from the constant tree cover with a hilltop clearing and distant mountain views towards North Pack Monadnock (link). The view loop trails are mostly easy-going with relatively few rocks and roots.
Trailspotting Map at AllTrails

Upper Falls Trail 3★
0.5 mi, Out & Back, Medium, Gain 60ft | For those looking to explore waterfalls but with less walking, the short journey from this trailhead to Upper Falls might be for you. The easy-going trail passes through light forest, but does require a stream crossing - either across the rocks or along a rickety footbridge in poor state of repair. The trailhead is located at the end of a 0.8 mile dirt road, with room for a couple of vehicles and nearby additional roadside parking.
Trailspotting Map at AllTrails


North Pack Monadnock from the View Loop.


A juvenile Eastern Newt hanging out on the Brook Trail.

Tangents:
• Trail Links: Official (PDF), Public Maps at AllTrails
• Facebook Group: Comment on this article

Trailspotting YouTube
Views from the Purgatory Brook Trail, including the three falls along the route.
Check out our clip here.
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