Home » By State » New Hampshire » Lower Purgatory Falls: The Hidden Gem of Lyndeborough, NH

Purgatory Falls, nestled in the tranquil surroundings of Lyndeborough, New Hampshire, is one of those natural wonders that captures both the eye and soul. Not only does it offer serene landscapes and cascading waters, but the falls also come with their own unique slice of history and legend. This article will take you on a journey to this remarkable spot, describing its features, history, hiking trails, and the stories that surround it.

Overview

Tucked away amidst the verdant foliage of southern New Hampshire, Purgatory Falls is a series of three waterfalls that cascade down rocky formations, offering a refreshing spectacle for visitors. Spanning both Lyndeborough and Mont Vernon, the falls are a testament to the raw beauty and power of nature.

The Allure of the Falls

Why does Purgatory Falls attract visitors year after year? Here are a few reasons:

Natural Beauty

The clear waters of Purgatory Brook course down a series of steps, creating a trio of waterfalls known as the Upper, Middle, and Lower Purgatory Falls. Each of these has its own unique charm. The Upper Falls, with a steep drop and a rush of white water, are particularly impressive after a rainfall. Meanwhile, the Middle and Lower Falls offer quieter, contemplative spots where one can observe the gentle flow of water over moss-covered rocks.

Tranquil Settings

The area surrounding the falls is characterized by dense woodlands, populated by a variety of trees, from oak and maple to pine and hemlock. The forest’s canopy provides a protective shade, making the hike to the falls a pleasant experience even during summer. Birdsong and the symphony of rustling leaves make the journey as rewarding as the destination.

Hiking Trails

Purgatory Falls Trail is a 2.5-mile loop that offers hikers a moderate trek with some minor elevation changes. This trail connects all three falls, making it a favorite for day-trippers. There are several vantage points along the trail from which to view the falls, and benches where one can rest and soak in the atmosphere.

The History of Purgatory Falls: From Native Lore to Modern Day

Purgatory Falls, a serene series of cascades nestled in Lyndeborough, New Hampshire, has been a cornerstone of natural beauty and local lore for generations. To truly appreciate its allure, we must venture back in time and uncover the rich tapestry of stories that have given the falls its unique identity.

Native American Roots

Long before European settlers set foot in New Hampshire, the area around Purgatory Falls was inhabited by Native American tribes. These indigenous communities held a deep reverence for nature and its various manifestations, with waterfalls often viewed as spiritual or sacred places.

Legend and Spiritual Significance

One prevalent legend suggests the name “Purgatory” originates from a tragic event. A group of Native Americans was said to have chased a deer to the edge of the Upper Falls. In the heat of the pursuit, both the deer and one of the pursuers plummeted to their deaths. The site then became associated with an intermediate realm between life and death, hence the term “purgatory.”

While this tale adds an aura of mystery to the falls, it’s essential to remember that many indigenous stories, passed down orally, might have taken on various forms and interpretations over time.

European Settlement and Industrial Use

With the advent of European settlers in the 17th and 18th centuries, the landscape around Purgatory Falls began to change.

Gristmills and the Power of Water

Recognizing the potential of the cascading waters, settlers built gristmills along Purgatory Brook. These mills harnessed the falls’ power to grind grain, a vital commodity for early colonial communities. The remains of some of these mill structures can still be glimpsed in the vicinity, a testament to the ingenuity of these early settlers and the industrial heritage of the region.

Land Disputes and Ownership

As with many colonial territories, disputes arose over land ownership. As settlers expanded their farmlands and built homes, tensions occasionally flared with indigenous tribes. The area around Purgatory Falls, being resource-rich and strategically located, was no exception.

The Conservation Era

By the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a shift in perspective occurred. As industrialization swept through America, there was a growing realization of the importance of preserving natural landscapes.

Protection and Preservation

Local communities, recognizing the falls’ beauty and historical significance, began efforts to protect the area from further commercial exploitation. This era saw the inception of trail maintenance initiatives, waste management programs, and wildlife conservation efforts.

Tourism and Recreation

With improved infrastructure and transportation, Purgatory Falls started drawing visitors not just from nearby towns but also from farther afield. The falls’ reputation as a haven for nature lovers, artists, and history buffs grew. Trails were developed, and the falls soon became a favored spot for picnics, hikes, and even spiritual retreats.

Modern Day

Today, Purgatory Falls stands as a blend of natural beauty and historical richness. Efforts by local organizations and communities ensure its preservation, even as it continues to be a beloved spot for recreation and reflection.

While the cascades of Purgatory Falls flow with the timeless rhythm of nature, the stories and history associated with it flow through time, enriching our understanding and appreciation of this New Hampshire gem.

Flora and Fauna

Purgatory Falls is home to a rich diversity of plant and animal life:

  • Trees and Plants: The deciduous forest has maple, oak, birch, and beech trees. Ferns and wildflowers, like trillium and lady’s slippers, dot the forest floor.
  • Birds: Bird enthusiasts can spot species like the northern cardinal, black-capped chickadee, and American goldfinch.
  • Animals: It’s not uncommon to come across white-tailed deer, red squirrels, and chipmunks. The brook itself is home to various species of fish.

Wildlife at Purgatory Falls

Purgatory Falls, with its cascading waters and lush surroundings, isn’t just a haven for human visitors. It’s also home to a diverse array of wildlife that thrives in its temperate forest ecosystem. A trip to the falls isn’t merely about the sight and sound of flowing water; it’s also an opportunity to observe and appreciate the area’s rich biodiversity.

Mammals

  • White-Tailed Deer: The most prominent mammal you might encounter, the white-tailed deer can often be spotted at dawn or dusk, grazing or moving silently through the woods.
  • Red Fox: With its iconic bushy tail and sharp features, the red fox might be seen during the early hours or at twilight, hunting for small mammals or birds.
  • Eastern Chipmunks: These small, striped rodents are quite common and can often be seen scurrying around, especially near trails or cleared areas.
  • Red Squirrels: Active primarily during the day, these squirrels are known for their reddish-brown fur and smaller size compared to the more common gray squirrel.

Birds

  • Northern Cardinal: With its vibrant red coloration (in males) and distinctive crest, the northern cardinal is a striking presence in the area.
  • Black-Capped Chickadee: This tiny bird, with its distinctive black cap and white cheeks, is both curious and friendly. It’s also the state bird of New Hampshire.
  • American Goldfinch: Often spotted fluttering around, this small bird is known for its bright yellow plumage during summer.
  • Barred Owl: More heard than seen, the haunting calls of the barred owl can often be heard during the night or in the early morning.

Amphibians and Reptiles

  • Eastern Newt: Especially during the wetter months, visitors might come across this salamander with its striking orange-red juvenile stage known as the “red eft.”
  • Spring Peeper: This tiny frog, recognized by a distinctive “X” mark on its back, is often heard more than seen, especially during spring evenings.
  • Garter Snake: These harmless snakes can often be seen basking in sunny spots or slithering through the underbrush.

Aquatic Life

Given the presence of the brook and the falls, aquatic life also thrives:

  • Brook Trout: Native to the eastern United States, the brook trout can sometimes be spotted in clearer parts of the water, especially in shaded, cool areas.
  • Various Aquatic Insects: Dragonflies, damselflies, and various species of water beetles play a crucial role in the aquatic food chain.

Insects and Other Invertebrates

  • Monarch Butterfly: Especially during their migration season, the striking orange and black monarch butterflies can be seen around the falls.
  • Luna Moth: With its large size and pale green wings, the luna moth is a nocturnal wonder often attracted to light sources at night.

Visitor Information

If you’re planning to visit Purgatory Falls:

  • Parking: There’s a small parking area off Purgatory Road in Lyndeborough. It’s well-marked and offers direct access to the trail.
  • Safety: Always stick to marked paths. The rocks near the falls can be slippery, especially after rain.
  • Facilities: There are no restrooms or food vendors, so come prepared. It’s advised to bring water and snacks.

Conclusion

Purgatory Falls is not just a destination; it’s an experience. Every rustle of the leaves, every bird’s call, and the constant, soothing rumble of the falls all combine to create a symphony of nature that beckons to all who seek tranquility and beauty. Whether you’re an avid hiker, a budding photographer, or just someone looking for a serene escape, Purgatory Falls in Lyndeborough, NH awaits.

Getting There

Address:
Purgatory Rd.
Lyndeborough, NH 03082

Media

Videos of Lower Purgatory Falls

Purgatory Falls Bottom View.
Top view of the falls.

Pictures of Lower Purgatory Falls

Purgatory Falls