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Revered for generations, old postcards and turn-of-the-century photos celebrated this deep rock canyon of mists and crystal clear water. Unfortunately, in the late 1990’s when Route 7 was rerouted, the old highway — close to the gorge — became a dumping ground. People parked along the concrete jersey barriers at all hours, more trash dotted the woods than saplings, and graffiti marred the rocks. Vermont River Conservancy stepped-in to protect public access to this incredible gorge, and to make sure it would be kept in its natural state.
For nearly a mile, the gorge includes a dramatic series of mesmerizing waterfalls that cut through the wild folds and faults of colorful, metamorphosed Champlain Valley rock. Along the cliffs, the property protects an important “temperate calcareous cliffside” natural community — a type of plant community uncommon in vermont — showcased here thanks to the 1,000-foot wide band of exposed calcium-rich bedrock.
To protect this natural wonder, Vermont River Conservancy bought 25 acres in 2002, then another 25 acres in 2004, added a conservation easement, and then donated the land to Vermont Forests, Parks and Recreation. Thanks to this, visitors can swim and fish Lower Clarendon Gorge’s colorful canyon — white marble, the river-crafted rock sculpture, and huge purplish basalt.
To get to the river, park near Gorge Road, walk south along the old abandoned roadbed, then walk down the trail towards the Mill River. Or, for those just looking to snap a photo, just park and walk a short ways take in a dramatic view into the gorge.
Lower Clarendon Gorge State Forest is best known as a swimming hole. From the main swimming hole, located just upstream from the old Route 7 Mille River Bridge (now removed), the walls of the gorge rise steeply. Because the river turns sharply just downstream, the pool can’t be seen from Route 7, giving the pool a wonderfully secluded feel, despite being so close to a major highway.
This project made possible thanks to the support and partnership of:
From the north (Rutland): Take Route 7 south. Turn left onto Route 103, then almost immediately turn right onto Route 7B South. Drive 1.9 miles, then turn left onto Gorge Road. Continue approximately 0.3 miles to parking area. (Note: Gorge Road can also be accessed directly from Route 7 south, but it can be challenging and dangerous to turn left across northbound traffic onto Gorge Road.)
From the south (Wallingford): From the intersection with Highway 140 in Wallingford, drive Route 7 north for 3.1 miles. Turn right onto Gorge Road. Continue approximately 0.3 miles to parking area.
Park on the side of Gorge Road in a wide spot, making sure to be out of the travelled lane. There is a path through the woods that leads to the river as it approaches the gorge. Visitors park near Gorge Road, walk south along the road, and turn down the trail to the river.