While there’s nothing like a sunny day in Vermont, rainy days can offer just as many rewards if you take full advantage, appreciating the softer light of day and the sound of streams and brooks as they celebrate the infusion of heaven-sent water.
Possibly the best outdoor choice on such a day is the Stowe Waterfall Tour, which takes in the town’s three best-known cascades and their lovely environs. Beautiful any time of the year, the tour is exceptionally picturesque during foliage, when subdued lighting and glistening rain team up to produce an intensity of color.
Moss Glen Falls
The granddaddy of Stowe waterfalls — and with a total drop of about 125 feet one of the longest cascades in Vermont — Moss Glen Falls is a not-to-be-missed, highly photogenic scene and features a delightful surprise.
If it’s a rainy day you will be feeling quite smug to be outfitted in a slicker and hood, as well as boots that are impervious to mud and water, because this is a muddly-puddly place with overhanging branches shiny with the raindrops they’ve been storing for your arrival. The wooden walkway — just rebuilt — is bound to be slippery as it winds its way through mud and water spilled from an overflowing beaver pond to your left.
The green of the long grasses, mixed with the reds, oranges, and vermilions of the surrounding foliage are startlingly intense. Within a couple of hundred feet, the path is more solid underfoot and you’re walking along the purposefully flowing Moss Glen Brook with giant hemlocks leaning over the opposite bank; soon you can hear the inviting sound of the falls upstream. You can stay close to the river on your right and do a bit of rock-hopping until you’ve gained a view of the falls from its base, though I would save this little venture as a dessert to the main course, and instead bear left toward the steep but short ascent up the hill. Regardless of how slippery the fallen leaves may be, you’ve got good footing up this hill, thanks to the tree roots that grow across it, creating a staircase effect. It’s a short, steep pitch and then, Vavoom! Here’s the surprise! You reach the overlook, peer over, and there before you rushes the roaring brook from a narrow chasm that splays open to a bridal veil.
Sure, you can visit this on a sunny day and it will be beautiful, but the power of the rain-swollen brook as it narrows and then fans out, creating an enormous racket in the process, is well worth the slogging to reach it. Hemlock branches frame the gorge, speckled with the yellows and golds of beech and maple. The aroma of fallen autumn leaves, moist earth, and the spray of this oh-so-clean rushing water is another reward.
Keep climbing for other views of the falls and the narrow chasm above. A trail follows the stream for a couple of miles until it crosses and travels through the deserted settlement of Brownsville, then back to the Moss Glen Falls Road about a mile from where you parked. Fording the stream is best saved for drier weather. If you decide to hike upstream a ways, you’d be advised to turn around, rather than try to cross a swollen stream.
Like Moss Glen, Sterling Falls was once the power behind a good-sized logging operation in Stowe; abutments from the mill can be seen to your right and a sign provides some history.
From here the road is closed to traffic, so walk across the wide bridge. Steps on your left lead down to the well-marked, half-mile trail. The trail is an interpretive one with plenty of signs along the way that offer a short course in geology, focusing on the action of the water as it carved this landscape over tens of thousands of years. Three waterfalls, six cascades, and eight pools highlight this beautiful trail.
A 4-foot wide path skirts the stream bank, winding through moss-covered trees, ferns, fir and hemlock, as the brook rushes and cascades below. There are dramatic drop-offs; it’s not a place to let your child run ahead. The tumbling brook foams as it narrows and dives into pools, and makes sharp turns against the rocky walls of the gorge. It’s a stream with a lot of vigor and determination and the effects of its erosion are why we have come here — it is stunning. Halfway down the path is a bridge over the gorge, where a side gorge enters.
Just off Mountain Road (Route 108) near the Stowe ski area, a one-mile trail to Bingham Falls goes through the Mill Trail property conserved by Stowe Land Trust, just off Notch Brook Road. (Another access to the falls is on Mountain Road, or Route 108, but we like this access better.)
Notch Brook rushes far below the mostly flat trail as it tumbles over rocks and falls through narrow chutes. It’s a wide trail at first, more like a forest road, and a breeze flutters the leaves of green, yellow, orange, and red. A cabin down closer to the brook soon appears, your signal to stay high, then a second cabin comes into view. The trail narrows after the cabins. Ferns cover this part of the landscape, and their aroma is part of the sweet forest scent of autumn.
A stream cuts across the path at an opening in the canopy and the ground is suddenly aglow with the brilliant reds and vivid oranges of fallen leaves floating on the water and filling in the bank on either side. After you’ve walked a mile from your parked car you reach a clearing. The sound of rushing water both upstream and downstream and yellow tape marking a tree on the left are all signposts. There’s a large flat rock just beyond this point and a trail that continues onward, but another leads to the river. You’ve arrived. Follow the trail left down to the water. Below is a rounded wall, chiseled by thousands of years of coursing water. Upstream you see a pool and sculpted rock wall with water tumbling around and through the narrow gorge. Looking across the river you’ll see the path that originates at the Mountain Road. At one time a bridge connected these two riverbanks and from it this waterscape was even more dramatic.