Out & About
Exploring Maine’s Wealth of Wild and Wonderful Waterfalls
By Carey Kish
Gulf Hagas is a natural gem in the heart of Maine’s 100-Mile Wilderness, a vast 750,000-acre region of woods, mountains, rivers and lakes east of Moosehead Lake and south of Baxter State Park. Known as the “Grand Canyon of Maine,” Gulf Hagas is protected by the National Park Service, which also looks after the nearby Appalachian Trail and a stately grove of white pines called the Hermitage. All are situated in the remote country between the White Cap and Barren-Chairback mountain ranges.
At Gulf Hagas, the West Branch of the Pleasant River drops 400 feet over 4 miles through a deep slate canyon, its vertical walls forcing the river into narrow channels that form a spectacular series of colorfully-named waterfalls, rapids and chutes. One of the state’s finest loop hikes (about 8 miles, with several shortcut options) leads along the vista-rich rim, connecting Screw Auger Falls on Gulf Hagas Brook with Hammond Street Pitch, The Jaws, Buttermilk Falls, Billings Falls and Stair Falls on the Pleasant River.
The Gulf Hagas waterfalls are just a few of more than 300 named falls in Maine, according to the authoritative website, www.newenglandwaterfalls.com. There are block, cascade and fan falls, as well as horsetail, plunge and punchbowl falls—imaginative names that describe their size, shape, and character—ranging across the state from Aroostook County to Acadia National Park and Cobscook Bay to Cupsuptic Lake.
As with the windswept heights of Maine’s mountaintops or the long sandy crescents of oceanfront beach, so, too, are we captivated by the thunderous roar of waterfalls. Nestled as they often are in deep ravines and dark valleys, waterfalls possess a secretive quality. We seek out these glistening jewels via meandering paths, and upon arrival are imbued with an awe-inspiring feeling of having discovered someplace truly special that, at least for a short time, is all ours to hold dear with delight and wonderment.
This fall, pack up your rucksack, invite some friends and family, and strike off on a waterfall adventure in the Maine woods. Have fun but do be mindful in your foot travels. Waterfalls are lovely, but they are also inherently dangerous. Rough terrain and precipitous drop-offs, loose soil and wet, slippery rocks and roots are potential hazards. Swimming may be possible if there’s a safe place to get in and out and there’s little or no current.
In addition to Gulf Hagas, here are five other waterfall favorites to check out around Maine; each (but not Gulf Hagas) can be reached by a hike of 1-3 miles round-trip.
Hadlock Falls Hadlock Brook descends from the slopes of Sargent and Cedar Swamp mountains in Acadia National Park. At Hadlock Falls, the brook makes a stunning 40-foot drop before tumbling under Waterfall Bridge, one of seventeen historical stone bridges on the park’s famed carriage road system.
Jewell Falls Situated in a ravine cloaked with tall pines and hemlocks is Jewell Falls, the only natural waterfall within the city limits of Portland. Nasons Brook flows over the falls in a single 30-foot cascade and into the salt marsh below, eventually merging with the Fore River on its way to the sea.
Katahdin Stream Falls Tumbling 108 feet over four tiered drops, Katahdin Stream Falls is the last and perhaps the most beautiful waterfall on the Appalachian Trail, the fabled long distance path from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Maine’s Katahdin in the midst of Baxter State Park’s 210,000-acre wilderness.
Little Wilson Falls Cascading an impressive 57-feet into a deep, dark slate canyon, Upper Little Wilson Falls in Elliottsville Plantation is one of the highest waterfalls along the entire AT. A side trail from Lower Little Wilson Falls climbs along the stream to join the AT, which continues on to the top of the big falls.
Moxie Falls Located on Moxie Stream between Moxie Pond and the Kennebec River in West Forks Plantation, Moxie Falls is arguably one of Maine’s highest. Thundering 90 feet straight down into a deep gorge, the falls are an impressive sight that reminds visitors of Mother Nature’s awesome power.
A great reference for Maine waterfall hiking is New England Waterfalls: A Guide to More Than 400 Cascades and Waterfalls by Greg Parsons and Kate Watson (who also maintain the aforementioned waterfalls website). The Maine Atlas & Gazetteer is an ever-handy companion in your vehicle for navigating Maine’s highways and byways, and the Appalachian Mountain Club’s venerable Maine Mountain Guide is another fine source for trails leading to waterfalls.
CAREY KISH of Mount Desert Island is the author of AMC’s Best Day Hikes Along the Maine Coast and editor of the AMC Maine Mountain Guide. His latest book, Beer Hiking New England, a refreshing guide to 50 fun hikes paired with craft breweries around the six-state region, will be available this spring.