This week, I have for you a park that is not in Burlington at all. It’s not even in Chittenden County, but it’s still free!
Warren Falls is a spot on the Mad River (from which the ski area takes its name) where a series of granite cliffs has formed a nifty little canyon whose surprisingly deep pools make for an excellent place to go cliff diving. I say diving, but I never went in headfirst. It was my first time doing anything of the sort, so caution won out. I still jumped, don’t let me fool you; I just never hit the water headfirst.
Despite being about an hour from Burlington, Warren Falls is incredibly easy to find. Simply take I-89 south out of Burlington and get off at Exit 10 for Waterbury, Stowe, and VT-100. Hop on 100 South, and enjoy the scenic drive. You’ll go through Waterbury first (The Prohibition Pig has a taco bar behind it, which I strongly reccommend on your way back through), then Waitsfield (where the keen observer will notice a surprising number of wooden star decorations). There will be turns you must make to stay on 100, but there will always be signs. Between these towns, you’ll come to a T intersection where going left will put you on VT-100B. You do not want this; it will take you back to 89. You want to go right to stay on 100. Just south of Waitsfield is Sugarbush Ski Area; you’ll pass the Sugarbush Access Road. A few minutes later, you’ll be in Warren. Warren’s Main Street connects to 100 in two places; Warren Falls is on the right shortly after Main Street comes back around.
The parking lot was full when we arrived, but parking on 100 is allowed, provided you obey the signs. There are no facilities: no restrooms, no changing room, no ranger station, and cell service in, well, most of Vermont is spotty. I only say these things to point out the obvious: you are in charge of your own safety. It’s not far from Warren proper, and nobody was hurt the day I went, so there’s nothing to fear. I simply make a habit of pointing out the obvious for everyone’s benefit.
The Mad River is a mountain stream, and the water was absolutely delightful. I find that naturally occurring fresh water is the best to swim in, as there’s no salt or chlorine to cloud your eyes or aggravate your nose. Late July turned out to be a perfect time go to in terms of water temperature; it was a fairly warm day and the water was cool, not cold. Crowded isn’t the word for how many people were around, but we certainly didn’t have the place to ourselves. This turned out to be a boon, as if I’d not had my Vermont Local girlfriend as a guide, the people who were already there would’ve been how I knew where to hit the water.
There are three main spots to jump off boulders and into the water. The lowest and the middle height spots face each other across a single landing pool, though this does not create the issue it sounds like it would. Nobody wants to get hurt, so everyone pays attention. Much of the time spent on the edge is psyching yourself up anyway, so letting someone go before you is a very natural thing. I’d jumped off high dives before, but jumping into natural water is totally different from doing the same into a pool. It really does take some time to work up the nerve, but it’s so worth taking the leap.
Jumping is only half the fun, though. Swimming is enjoyable on its own, especially in such glorious water. Climbing on the rocks is the other major piece, as getting from spot to spot requires a bit of scrambling, unless you want to go back to the trail and walk all the way around. There’s also a spot beside one of the (several) little waterfalls where the stone, when wetted, turns into a natural water slide. It doesn’t sound like the sort of thing that would work very well, but rock gets mighty slick when it’s wet. I was surprised by how much speed I picked up over such a short distance.
An excursion to Warren Falls is an excellent way to spend a day if you’re looking to fill one during your stay in Vermont, whether you’re staying in Burlington, Stowe, or Rutland (Google Maps has no problem finding it when all you type is “Warren Falls”). The drive is gorgeous, and there are places worth stopping at along the way. If you do make it there, you can’t leave without taking the plunge, no matter how high it feels. If you don’t, you’ll always wish you had.