Connecticut’s Best Waterfalls

Connecticut’s Best Waterfalls

With Winter resentfully relinquishing its grip on the Northeast and warmer months of Spring upon us, Connecticut’s rivers and brooks are finally free of paralyzing ice. Waterways all over the state are swollen with melted snow and rain run-off, offering hikers a perfect opportunity to observe our finest waterfalls during their most dramatic performances of the year.

Connecticut is not so much a land of extremes as it is a land of diversity, and this goes for our waterfalls just as it does most of our natural landforms. We have plenty of notable hills, for example, but few of them can be called “mountains” in the same sentence as New Hampshire’s Mount Washington. Likewise, Connecticut’s waterfalls generally tend to be much smaller than some monstrous waterfalls found elsewhere in the United States. But the beauty of cascading water can hardly be pinned down by the measuring stick alone, and this line-up of Connecticut’s best waterfalls features some natural gems that any outdoor enthusiast will surely appreciate.

Wadsworth Falls

River: Coginchaug River
Located in: Middlefield, Connecticut (Wadsworth Falls State Park)
Height: ~15 feet

Wadsworth Falls
Wadsworth Falls lies along the Coginchaug River in Middlefield, ranking it among the most centrally-located major waterfalls in the state. At only about 15 to 20 feet high, this waterfall is rather short even by Connecticut standards. But what it lacks in height it makes up for in breadth: it is the only waterfall of its size in the entire state that is considerably wider than it is tall. Adding to the impressive view are the surrounding trees, which grow thick crowns of leaves in the spring and summer that seem to enclose the waterfall in a shady, green cathedral.

Clarence C. Wadsworth, a notable academician in the field of linguistics, privately-owned the area for many decades beginning in the early 1900’s, during which he made preservation a top priority. Wadsworth died in 1941, leaving a sizable parcel of the land to the State of Connecticut, including a spectacular waterfall on the Coginchaug. Soon afterwards, as Connecticut opened up the grounds for use as a state park, both the land and the waterfall would come to bear the name of their past owner.

These days, Wadsworth Falls is the namesake landmark of Wadsworth Falls State Park, which encompasses more than 275 acres of woodlands in Middlefield and Middletown. The entrance beside the waterfall in Middlefield, which has its own small parking lot, is actually considered the secondary entrance to the state park. The main entrance to Wadsworth Falls State Park is at the opposite side of the grounds in Middletown and offers a larger, more developed parking area.

Kent Falls

River: Falls Brook
Located in: Kent, Connecticut (Kent Falls State Park)
Height: ~250 feet total, with the largest drop measuring ~70 feet

Kent FallsThere’s no question that Kent Falls is one of the most locally-famous waterfalls in the entire state… and with good cause. Kent Falls can be found in Kent Falls State Park on the far western side of the state in Kent. Here, Falls Brook dramatically plunges over a series of ledges as it winds down rocky outcrops of weathered marble in the shade of surrounding hemlocks and pines. Along the gorge, evergreen ferns drape lazily over moss-laden boulders and the sound of cascading water is ever-present. This is truly one of Connecticut’s most precious and magnificent natural wonders!

The numbers don’t really do Kent Falls justice, for although Falls Brook drops some 250 feet in altitude over the course of a 1/4-mile in Kent Falls State Park, its descent is broken up into roughly a half-dozen waterfalls and many more smaller cascades. The uppermost falls feature the largest drop (pictured in the photograph at right) and dump the brook roughly 70 feet over what are actually two successive waterfalls, but most of the subsequent falls are much smaller. The allure of Kent Falls isn’t some towering, monolithic waterfall; it’s the total package that makes this place so striking and picturesque.

Visitors to Kent Falls State Park will be surprised to find that, although the park grounds are quite developed, these reminders of civilization were thoughtfully and respectfully constructed so as not to rob the place of its grand character. Across a large field adjacent to the parking lot, you can see the lower portion of the falls as it empties into the terminal pool that marks end of the altitude drop of Falls Brook. In fact, right beside the parking area you’ll find “post-falls” Falls Brook meandering towards the larger Housatonic River only a few hundred feet away across the street from Kent Falls State Park.

Along the 1/4-mile gorge of waterfalls there are many flights of earth and stone stairs that lead upward and direct visitors to well-placed viewing platforms along key scenic areas. The final viewing platform at the top of the gorge achieves a beautiful perspective of the largest waterfall and eventually leads to the forest where a more traditional trail system offers hikers the opportunity to explore surrounding woodlands.

Chapman Falls

River: Eightmile River
Located in: East Haddam, Connecticut (Devil’s Hopyard State Park)
Height: ~60 feet, number of separate drops varies by season and water level

Chapman FallsIt would seem that Chapman Falls, located within Devil’s Hopyard State Park in East Haddam, breaks the mold: it’s the only waterfall in our line-up that doesn’t bear the same name as the park by which it’s enclosed. But don’t be fooled, because Chapman Falls is every bit as impressive as the other waterfalls on my list and the volume of visitors it draws every year are a perennial testament to its beauty and power.

Actually, I’ve played something of a trick on you, because Chapman Falls is simply the more modern, widely-accepted name for this breath-taking landform. The early Puritan settlers of Connecticut supposedly coined the term “Devil’s Hopyard” for this waterfall, claiming that the potholes along the rocky, 60-foot drop are the footprints of the devil! Of course, we know today that the smooth-bored holes in the rock are the result of stones becoming trapped in what were originally just shallow depressions. Over thousands of years, the constant flow of water over Chapman Falls perpetually churned these stones around in the depressions, eventually grinding potholes in the bedrock. Why did this waterfall ultimately take the name “Chapman Falls” while the state park upon which it is located kept the name “Devil’s Hopyard”? Sorry, but this author can’t find the answer to that question… it’s as much of a mystery to me as it may be to you. (By the way, if you know the answer, please don’t hesitate to drop us a line!)

Chapman Falls in Early SpringAnd before you begin underestimating the power of these falls, bear in mind that the photograph above was taken during a dry spell in the summertime. During early Spring, when Eightmile River is swollen with meltwater, you’ll see Chapman Falls undergo a startling transformation. Need proof? Just take a look at the photograph to the right, taken in early Spring of 2011. Under these high-volume conditions, the serene summertime falls seen the first photograph give way to a crushing flood!


Campbell Falls

River: Whiting River
Located in: Norfolk, Connecticut & New Marlborough, Massachusetts (Campbell Falls State Park)
Height: ~90 feet total, divided between two successive drops

Campbell FallsCampbell Falls is a truly spectacular place where the Whiting River crashes over two successive waterfalls before continuing to wind its way through the forested valley below. When I visited Campbell Falls this year, only a week into Spring, it was inundated and photographing the powerful spectacle was made difficult by torrents of mist blasting off the rushing water. There’s only one catch: it’s not actually in Connecticut, but Massachusetts.

Why would I tack a Massachusetts waterfall on the end of my list of Connecticut’s best? Trust me, there’s a measure of reason to my madness. Campbell Falls State Park, of which Campbell Falls is the namesake, is particularly unique amongst all of Connecticut’s state parks in that it straddles the Connecticut-Massachusetts border. The bulk of the park grounds lie in Norfolk, Connecticut and the hiking trails run north until they cross just over the state line into New Marlborough, Massachusetts. That’s right… Campbell Falls State Park is actually co-managed by Massachusetts and Connecticut!

In all fairness, Campbell Falls is technically in Massachusetts, barely 300 feet north of Norfolk in New Marlborough. I decided to include these falls in my list, though, because they are situated on what could arguably be called a tiny “extension” of Connecticut thanks to an unusual cooperative agreement with Massachusetts. In fact, during the short hike from the trailhead in Norfolk towards the falls (less than a mile one-way), hikers will happen upon a small stone pillar beside the trail which marks the Connecticut-Massachusetts boundary: at that point, you are already so close to the falls that you can hear them clearly through the forest ahead.

Want to See More Connecticut Waterfalls?

Be sure to check out “Waterfalls of Connecticut”, a collection of fine art landscape photography of Connecticut’s waterfalls by Trails of Freedom Chief Researcher, Justin Coleman.

Additional Information and Trail Maps

Wadsworth Falls State Park
Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection

Wadsworth Mansion History
Wadsworth Mansion at Long Hill

Kent Falls State Park
Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection

The Geology of Kent Falls State Park
Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection

Devil’s Hopyard State Park
Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection

Chapman Falls

Campbell Falls State Park
Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection

Campbell Falls: Norflok, CT