Some summer days ago, we decided to breach our beloved backyard forest for some local sights and sounds. We had (for some strange reason) been putting off visiting Hamilton Falls in nearby Jamaica, Vermont, despite knowing that this 125ft tall waterfall was thundering away right in our own backyard. So we thought we might go check it out!
Even though you can easily drive to the head of the falls and take a short walk to view it, we decided to take a more scenic route by hiking the West River Trail, starting at the Jamaica State Park campground and cutting up the footpath to the base of the falls.
The West River Trail is your typical restored rail-to-trail, winding from the rail's upper terminus in Londonderry for about 18 miles Brattleboro-way, with hopes to restore the lower portion in the future. Whether you are walking, skiing, or biking the trail, it's hard to imagine that there actually used to be a railway here; between the sheer rock faces to the west and the river right there to the east, it's no wonder that the line it's heyday was nicknamed "36 miles of trouble".
However, it's not quite so troublesome anymore, more likely to be frequented by kids tearing down on their mountain bikes than steam engines fraught with worry about making it back home to Brattleboro that day without taking a dip in the West River.
A few miles after leaving the campground, we turned up the Hamilton Falls switch road along the West's tributary, Cobb Brook, and were shortly rewarded with a glimpse of the falls.
Hamilton Falls is not all fun and games and splashing, frolicking delight. Though it retains the humble title of second tallest waterfall in the state of Vermont, it is also the second deadliest, with more than a dozen deaths occurring on site. It's not hard to see why once you get all the way up to the top.
Even though a safety ladder has been installed as an egress for swimmers, it's more of an "emergency only" than an "everybody in!" Despite the alluring crystal waters of the deep schist pocket right at the head of the falls, even a seasoned swimmer could get swept right over the edge. The threat of death obviously doesn't stop everybody and there were even a few swimmers while we were there, although we were able to resist the urge to tempt fate.
Didn't your mama ever tell you to stay away from the edge of waterfalls?