Old City Falls

Old City Falls

Overview: A beautiful falls in a deep ravine. One of my favorites.
Location: Strafford, VT
Stream  : Old City Brook
Height  : 35 feet (estimate) in two drops.
Finding : Not difficult with a good road map or good directions.
Access  : Short walk. Steep in places.
Swimming: Depends on how high the water is.
Basking : Some good spots, especially in low water.
Legal   : Area maintained by the town of Strafford. Open to the public.


From I-89 exit #2 in Vermont

Starting at the exit (0.0 miles), follow VT route 132 north (or is it east?) toward Strafford and away from Sharon. The road climbs out of the valley of the White River and then descends into the valley of the West Branch of the Ompompanoosuc River. At 6.4 miles you will come to a tee intersection in the center of South Strafford. Route 132 turns right. You should turn left.

At 8.8 miles you will come to the village of Strafford. Bear to the right through the village center, following the main road. At 9.5 miles look for Old City Falls Road on the right. It is marked with a small green road sign. It is the first right turn after the village of Strafford.

Turn onto Old City Falls Road (paved) and follow it a short distance until you come to a tee intersection at 10.3 miles. Turn left at the tee. In only a few yards you will cross a bridge. Immediately after the bridge the road turns to dirt. At that point the entrance to Old City Falls is on the left. There is a short driveway to a parking area that will hold a handful of cars.


Old City Falls

Old City Falls is one of my favorite waterfalls. It is the closest significant waterfall to where I live (that I know about), and thus I visit it often. It is easily accessible, yet it retains a wild feeling that I enjoy. On hot summer days, it is always cool and comfortable in the ravine by the falls. My daughter and I have visited these falls several times in the hot months to picnic on the rocks and splash around in the stream.

At the parking area there is a small lawn with a few picnic tables and outhouse facilities. I noticed a couple of grills, but I'm not sure how usable they would be. To visit the falls themselves, you must follow a trail that starts at the back part of the lawn. It is marked with a green sign.

The trail is not blazed, but it is obvious. It follows the top edge of the ravine for a while and then turns to descend toward the stream. An unmarked trail continues along the ravine after the turn. I have never explored it. I'm mentioning it here so that you will know to look out for it. You might miss the turn and continue on the wrong trail if you weren't paying attention.

The descent into the ravine is steep, but short. Once at the bottom, the trail doubles back and heads upstream toward the falls. You can see the falls through the trees at this point. It's a very beautiful sight, but I've never attempted to capture it on film. I think it would be a difficult shot to make.

When you reach the falls, there are a number of rocks where you can sit and enjoy them. In times of high water, your choices of rocks might be limited, but in low water you can usually hop from rock to rock and take in the falls from many angles.

There are two sections to Old City Falls. The lower section is about 10 feet high. The stream flows over a steep rock face into a pool. The upper section is a vertical drop of maybe 25 feet. It feeds a second pool from which the lower section flows. The upper section is slightly hidden behind a rock outcropping that makes it difficult to see well from below and difficult to approach. There is a rough trail that scrambles up the left side of the falls to a rocky platform only a few feet from the rushing water of the upper section. It is a very dramatic place to be when the water is high, but climbing the trail can be tricky. Do not attempt the climb unless you are comfortable using your hands when hiking. Please be careful! In wet weather that short little trail can be treacherous. The spray from the falls in high water can also make it slick.

In low water it is much easier to get around. In the summer of 1995 the water was so low that I was able to easily and safely stand in the pool between the upper and lower falls. It was very unusual to be able to view the falls from that vantage point. In some ways Old City Falls is a nicer waterfall to visit in low water because it is so much easier to get near it—especially if you are willing to do a little wading. In high water, the stream's current is so intense that even wading across it would be something of a problem. Under those conditions, standing in the pool between the falls would be out of the question!

If you visit Old City Falls, I suggest you do it on the hottest day of the year. The deep, well shaded ravine and cool water keeps the space around the falls cool and comfortable. Yet there is still enough sun shining down on the rocks to keep the spot from seeming dark and gloomy. Bring a picnic or a book, but don't expect to be alone. Although Old City Falls is not widely known outside of the local area, there is almost always a few other people there.

A very nice waterfall!


Sunday, August 19, 2007

Sharon at Old City Falls

It has been a while since I last visited these falls (although not as long as it seems looking at the dates on my notes; I have not recorded every one of my visits). Today I came with my wife Sharon. We were looking for a nice way to spend the afternoon before I started the fall semester.

The weather was very nice: cool, dry, and partly sunny. I was a little concerned that I would be too cold in the ravine with just a tee shirt, but it wasn't a problem. The water level in the stream was medium. There was enough water to give the falls a good flow, but the level was also low enough to make it easy to get around on the rocks.

There was an unusually large number of people visiting the falls today. At least a dozen others were there, and the small parking area was almost full. I'm not sure why the spot was so popular today... unless it is common now for there to be so many people visiting these falls.

Tuesday, July 8, 1997

Today I came to these falls with my friend, Sue, her two children, my daughter, and my daughter's new puppy Priscylla. The weather was excellent. It was cool and clear. In fact, it was almost too cool in the ravine by the falls. We splashed around in the water some and sat on the rocks below the lower falls. Priscylla dug in the sand.

There was not a lot of water in the falls today. Although the stream was not nearly as dry as it was in the summer of 1995, the falls were not raging like they do in the spring. It was, as always, a very pleasant spot.

Sunday, May 4, 1997

Today Hillary, her friend Tory, and I all visited these falls. It was sunny, but unseasonably cool. The water was high and raging. We did climb up to the rocky platform to get a closer look, and the spray from the falls blew over us in a steady fog. We also scrambled over to a rocky spot near the bottom of the lower falls and sat there for a while too. The water was too high and too cold to do any wading in the stream, however.

Thursday, July 11, 1996

Today my daughter Hillary and I visited these falls. This year the water was running high. We were not able to wade in the pool beneath the falls; if we had tried to do so we would have been carried away to our deaths. We did wade around in the stream a little below the falls, however. We sat on the rocks in the middle of the stream and had a few snacks.

It was a beautiful day. There were several other people visiting the falls—some to swim in the stream. On our way home, we passed by a person carrying a camera bag and a tripod. Another waterfall enthusiast, perhaps?

Saturday, March 16, 1996

Today my friend Kim and I visited these falls. The snow was melting, but there was still quite a bit around. The river was high, but not exceptionally so. We trudged down the trail through a few inches of soft snow. In the ravine itself there was very little snow. However, there was some very slippery ice. Walking was treacherous.

The falls themselves were quite impressive. There was a snow covered ice bridge over the top of the lower falls. The water appeared to pour out from under this bridge almost as if it was gushing out from underground. There were many interesting ice formations around the edge of the opening. We got a good look at them with the binoculars that we brought.

I then climbed up to a rocky platform next to the upper part of the falls. It was very slippery and difficult. Kim wisely didn't risk her neck. I wanted a picture. It was worth it even though the picture didn't really come out very well. The main falls poured over a large tapered ice formation in a dramatic way. The ice almost looked like a curtain that the water was playing about and behind. I've seen some other falls in the winter and they were too frozen up to be interesting. However, the view today was an excellent combination of open water and ice. It was a very interesting.

Wednesday, July 12, 1995

Today my daughter Hillary and I visited the falls. We took a picnic lunch and ate it on the rocks below the falls. Then we spent time just looking around and wading in the stream.

The water was very low. This has been an unusually dry summer in New England. As a result I was able to wade right up to the bottom of the falls and take some pictures from that unusual vantage point. The water was cold, but not very cold. When I stood in the pool just below the falls it almost felt like I was about to step into a cold shower. If I had tried to stand in the same place earlier this year, I would have been swept away for sure.

Old City Falls

Sunday, March 26, 1995

There was ice and snow about today (in small quantities) making the walk into the ravine more "interesting" than usual. I wasn't able to get to the best camera locations.

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© Copyright 2007 by Peter Chapin.
Last Revised: August 19, 2007