Vermont, like so much of New England, has a rich history of industry and commodity centered around its forests. The state’s abundance of maple, poplar (pronounced ‘popple’ in the Northeast Kingdom), and other useful woods have afforded people with boundless opportunity for centuries.

Image credit Mendocino Coast Model Railroad and Navigation Company

It is easy to recall the history lessons taught in school of colonial lumberjacks using oxen teams to skid timber through tree stands and make their ways to rivers, loading their take into the current which would carry them to places far away, or dropping them at a mill built on the side of the river where the moving water would supply the power necessary for sawyers to cut the harvested trees into planks. I was always fascinated as a child by the amazing amount of work that went into these endeavors, so much so that it seemed almost unreal, that these people in the past were something of a different breed of human in their capacity of toil and build (something I still believe now). Not having grown up with the need for hard manual labor to survive with basic amenities, I was somewhat insulated from the hard reality of just how much it might take to fell a tree, drive oxen to skid it through the forest, and send it on its way.

Cheaver Falls provides the opportunity to reimagine this sort of life with physical evidence of days gone by still preserved on the steep sides of a fast-moving river. Located in Walden Vermont, it is another well-hidden water destination for anyone to travel to in Vermont, from the locals and visitors alike. And like so many objects of fascination in the rural landscape, you’d never know it was there if you didn’t know what you were looking for.

The hike in to the falls takes a good twenty to thirty minutes, depending on recent weather. The path is wet, sometimes downright soppy, winding its way through dense forest and patches of clearing. More likely it will have rained in the last day or two – that’s just how it goes in Vermont – so it will likely be slow going on the trail and take a full thirty minutes to reach the falls. You will occasionally be graced with the helpful work of a landowner or some other inspired soul who has endeavored to spread gravel or position planks over a parrtiularly wet spot. The path into Cheaver Falls is one of the many places in the area that simply does not dry out, ever. Steady rain, wet earth, and heavy tree cover create an environment of perpetual wetness. Bring your hiking boots, or perhaps your Wellies if it’s been wet.

The falls themselves are a wonderful place. The small and steadily moving river comes around a bend just upstream from the fall and picks up a bit of steam before plunging over and down approximately twenty feet to continue its journey to the Connecticut River and beyond. A small clearing by the side of the waterfall includes a couple rough-hewn benches and a fire pit which seems to see frequent use; an ambitious soul could bring provisions for a stick-skewered lunch roasted over a small fire accompanied by the rushing sounds of the tumbling water.

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Just ahead of the falls is a thigh-deep pool of water that flows slowly toward the precipice of the falls. The water is usually quite cold but it’s a perfect spot for taking a dip – unless there has been heavy rainfall in the last couple days, the current is not sufficiently strong to pull a person toward the falls. There are also a few smaller pools upstream that are good for dunking.

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An entirely different perspective of the place is available after you climb down the steep path after the falls and look back upstream. There you will see the remnants of an old sawmill which diverted a small portion of water from the falls to run its mill. A steady flow of water, plus the a twenty foot drop, makes the location perfect for such a thing. The stone walls built into the sheer side of the falls is in remarkably good condition, despite a bit of out-of-place graffiti.

All in all Cheaver Falls is a great place to visit, particularly if you are traveling through the area and have a couple hours to spend exploring the woods and water that make up so much of this part of the world. It’s especially nice on a sunny day – breaking through the tree cover at the end of the path and walking out into the cleared space beside the falls in full sunlight is a warming and wonderful experience.

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Enjoy!