Sawtelle Falls

Sawtelle Falls Trail, T6R7 WELS, Maine

Sawtelle Falls, on Sawtelle Brook in unnamed township T6R7 WELS, northern Penobscot County, is at the end of an out-and-back trail departing from Scraggly Lake Road, a narrow woods road off the north side of Grand Lake Road. Remember: WELS just means “West of the Easterly Line of the State,” the straight north-south line of the U.S.-Canadian border in northern Maine that extends from Hamlin to Amity, and is a reference for unorganized territory. The trailhead, east of Baxter State Park’s north gate, is a short drive from both Shin Falls and the Seboeis River Trails, and the three waterfall hikes can easily be completed in an afternoon. Following the falls, Sawtelle Brook flows south to meet with the Seboeis River, which is then joined by Shin Brook as it flows further south.

Step ledges above Sawtelle Falls, T6R7 WELS, Maine

Scraggly Lake Road crosses Sawtelle Brook over a bridge which was decorated with an elaborately constructed scarecrow on the mid-September day I hiked. The trailhead is shortly after this bridge on the right hand side. A detailed description and map are available in the book Hiking Waterfalls Maine. A smaller brook passed over the trail through a log bridge that turned into a sluice. I surprised a downy woodpecker, and then twenty yards later, saw the flash of a white tail as a flicker yelped and flew away. The trail was hopelessly flooded at about a quarter of a mile, and I made my way through the woods on the perimeter. The smell of pine and cedar combined to make a scent approximating iced tea.

Sawtelle Falls, T6R7 WELS, Maine

Walking up the hill, I started to hear the roaring of the falls. I was briefly surrounded by golden-crowned kinglets, whose high-pitched call I had not heard before. A massive white pine with a Kindle No Fires In This Area sign tacked on it marks the final approach to Sawtelle Falls. The water cascades down in steps on the right side ending in a larger falls, and a frothy pool which is accessible if you climb down and scramble down the rocky bank. As I was hiking out, three fishermen were hiking in, so this could be a good spot to try your luck with a fly rod. The total out-and-back hike is only about half a mile, and easily completed in half an hour.

Pool at base of Sawtelle Falls, T6R7 WELS, Maine

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Seboeis River Trails

Picnic area at trailhead, Seboeis River Trails, T6R7 WELS, ME

I had first passed the sign for the Seboeis River Trails a year or so ago on the way through northern Penobscot County to Baxter State Park’s north entrance, and made a mental note to check them out. Not much exists online regarding this riverside hike from Grand Lake Road, part of the Seboeis River Gorge Preseve in T6R7 WELS, except the description of a 1.1 mile out-and-back trail along the Seboeis River, ending at the Grand Pitch. I had seen the sign, then saw that it was in the guide book Hiking Waterfalls Maine for the section of ledges at the Grand Pitch. So imagine my surprise to find that this trail now extends 6.75 miles, crossing Shin Brook and following the Seboeis downstream to Grondin Road.

Seboeis River Trails, T6R7 WELS, ME

The parking area, marked by a large wooden sign, is on the east bank of the Seboeis, shortly before the north entrance to Baxter State Park. A picnic table and a flat grassy area overlook a bend in the river, and an outhouse is available on a small hill above it in the woods. The trail itself begins across the street, on the south side of Grand Lake Road. On the day I visited, it was muddy and a bit flooded, due to recent rain and the equipment brought in to extend the trail network. The trail construction was ongoing, with a friendly trail steward building a picnic table out of split logs.

Rustic bench under cedars, Seboeis River Trails, T6R7 WELS, ME

The trail transitioned from this muddy woods road to a flat gravel path, and then a foot path marked by red square blazes. This winding path climbed above the riverbank on a small ridge, with a variety of frogs and toads hopping out of my way, and the continuous calls of woodpeckers and songbirds.

Seboeis River Trails, T6R7 WELS, ME

The Seboeis becomes louder as it narrows and descends, and the scent of cedars wafts up through the river mist. A portage trail is marked by a sign in a tree for boaters to walk around the rapids. The trail turns inland next to a large rock outcropping and a bend in the river.

Grand Pitch, Seboeis River Trails, T6R7 WELS, ME

After a brief, narrow climb you’ll find yourself on a cliff overlooking the rapids, then a winding trail downward to another bend in the river, at its confluence with Shin Brook. This intersection has a series of clearings with a picnic table, which allows a view of the nearby mountains. A brand new foot bridge leads over Shin Brook. I followed the trail briefly across the bridge where it appeared newly cut and fresh, but needing to get to my Baxter State Park campsite and not having an updated map, I eventually turned back.

Seboeis River meets Shin Brook, Seboeis River Trails, T6R7 WELS, ME

On the way back, the piercing call of a northern flicker high up in a pine tree and the songs of blue jays and sparrows blended again with the sounds of the rushing Seboeis River. This will definitely be a hike I return to, to check out the new, longer southern section. The out-and-back to the Grand Pitch, however, is a hugely rewarding one for being only about 2.2 miles, and can be easily done in about an hour.

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Shin Falls

Shin Falls, T6R7 WELS, Maine

The bulk of Sugarloaf Mountain rises above the dirt Shin Brook Falls Road (marked with a handwritten wooden sign), a left turn from the Patten area off Grand Lake Road just before the Seboeis River. Parking is available in an open area at the first hard right turn (1/3 mile) in the road, with the trail marked in the same way. These handwritten “Trail” or “To Falls” boards are the signage on this 3/4 mile total hike near Shin Pond Village (actual location is T6R7 WELS), and were vaguely reminiscent of internet memes with a sign scrawled “Candy” next to an abandoned building. A map and full description (along with many other Maine waterfall hikes) are found in the book Hiking Waterfalls Maine.

Shin Falls from above, Shin Brook, T6R7 WELS, Maine

The trail down to Shin Falls was wet and flooded, and the sound of chattering red squirrels was quickly drowned out by that of rushing water, audible immediately after climbing a small rise in the trail, leading to a downhill grade. The falls are truly impressive from above, and a hike of less than half a mile will take you to the base, where you can look up at the rushing torrent. After recent late-summer storms, the falls were overflowing the banks, and the leaves of the trees left standing were bent back in the cool breeze created by falling water. The pool at the base of the falls can be a swimming hole, but was likely too swift and full of debris on this day to be safe. A small winding footpath took me back up to the trailhead, amid the sounds of chickadees and pileated woodpeckers.

Shin Falls, T6R7 WELS, Maine

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Fish River Falls (Fort Kent)

Entry to Fish River Falls Trail at the end of the runway, Fort Kent Municipal Airport

The Fish River, popular with fishermen and boaters, completes its run north to the St. John River in Fort Kent in a line roughly parallel to Route 11 in Aroostook County, Maine. This portion of the road, beginning at Portage Lake to the south, is the Fish River Scenic Byway. According to a link on the site of the Northern Door Inn, a quiet, clean hotel where we spent a couple nights, locals bring inner tubes to the base of Fish River Falls to float down the approximately four miles to Fort Kent. But even if you don’t have the time or equipment to navigate this stretch, the hike to Fish River Falls is an easy twenty to forty minute round trip with great views.

Descending Fish River Falls Trail, Fort Kent, ME

The Falls, which are listed as a Unique Natural Feature (UNF) in the Maine Atlas and Gazetteer, themselves lie at the end of an approximately half-mile downhill trail originating at a parking area by the Fort Kent Municipal Airport (at the end of Airport Road). Confusingly, their location is listed in the Gazetteer as T14 R8 WELS, the unincorporated township at the source of the Fish River, but the falls themselves are marked as a UNF on the map (page 67) containing Fort Kent. You will see signs for the trail, and (carefully) cross the end of the runway into the woods by a covered picnic table and a toilet facility.

Fish River Falls from an overlook near the picnic area, Fort Kent, ME
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Step Falls Preserve (Newry, ME)

Afternoon sunlight on Wight Brook, Step Falls Preserve, Newry, Maine

Step Falls Preserve is a twenty-four acre parcel hugging the banks of Wight Brook in Newry, Maine. We visited at the beginning of May, during a road trip to see waterfalls during the spring melt. In the summer months, the shallow pools and falls are refreshing places to cool off with a dip, wade, or swim. Parking is available in a lot off Bear River Road/Route 26. The 3/4 mile trail to the top of the falls is fairly easy, with some roots and steep spots towards the end. Due to the popularity of this spot, it often fills up quickly on weekends and nice summer days.

Step Falls, Wight Brook, Newry, Maine

Parking is not allowed on Route 26, and visitors are also required to observe the signage and boundaries. If the lot is full, try instead the trails and sights of Bethel or Grafton Notch State Park, between which Step Falls is located. The nearest restroom facilities are at Screw Auger Falls, 1.6 miles north on Route 26. A trail map and information regarding the Preserve are available on the website of Mahoosuc Land Trust, which received ownership of Step Falls Preserve from The Nature Conservancy in 2012.

Step Falls, Newry, Maine

Rines Forest

Light through the trees, Rines Forest, Cumberland, Maine

In mid-March, I hiked a loop using the Loop, Perimeter, and Waterfall Trails in Rines Forest in Cumberland, as a part of a longer loop including Hadlock Forest (Falmouth), which is connected through the Rines Trail. Rines Forest is a 268-acre woodland owned by the Town of Cumberland, and preserved through a conservation easement with the Chebeague & Cumberland Land Trust (CCLT). The Forest has a network of about 3 miles of trails open for hiking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, fishing, hunting, picnicking, horseback riding, and snowmobiling as designated (some trails are winter-only).

Loop Trail, Rines Forest, Cumberland, Maine

Parking is available on Range Road, on the south side of the Forest, about 1.2 miles from the intersection with Winn Road. Next to the parking area is a Frog Pond & Salamander Swamp. CCLT’s website includes a printable scavenger hunt for kids. Having begun across Range Road, I continued to follow the green CCLT markings for the trail, until reaching the white blazes of the Loop Trail. The spring thaw still incomplete, I wore micro spikes for the duration of the hike, and in the ice and snow, saw the frozen tracks of a large deer, or possibly a moose.

Waterfall Trail, Rines Forest, Cumberland, Maine
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Blackstrap Hill Preserve

White Trail, Blackstrap Hill Preserve, Falmouth, Maine

Note: According to the Falmouth Land Trust web site, each spring, trails are closed during the transition from frozen ground to ensure that the trails are not damaged during the rain and mud season. This year, trails will begin to close March 25th. All trailheads will be cordoned off and signage posted.

The Blackstrap Hill Preserve, along with the Blackstrap Community Forest, is comprised of two separate properties totaling almost 600 acres, owned by the Falmouth Land Trust (FLT) and the Town of Falmouth, and divided by north and south. On a mid-March day, I parked at the Blackstrap Community Forest parking lot on Blackstrap Road, where there is a parking lot and map kiosk (see the FLT website for a map), and completed a loop of about 4.2 miles in a little under two hours, using the White Trail, Waterfall Trail, Red Trail, Greenline Trail, Saw Whet Trail, and Cross-Cut Trail. The Preserve is also accessible from a trailhead further up Blackstrap Road (same as for North Falmouth Community Forest), just north of Babbidge Road, as well as another small parking lot off Hurricane Road. A connector to the east (from the River Trail) extends to the Hadlock Community Forest, as well.

Waterfall Trail, Blackstrap Hill Preserve, Falmouth, Maine

After a short walk across the grassy field to the White Loop Trail, I put on micro spikes to deal with the icy footing. The White Loop Trail led to the Waterfall spur trail, marked with purple blazes, which added about .7 miles out and back, with the pleasant sound of the creek leading downhill. The waterfall was not so much one massive torrent, but a pleasing series of cascades, and would be a nice, easy hike for young children in warmer months.

Blackstrap Hill Preserve, Falmouth, Maine

I returned to the White Loop Trail, continuing a counter-clockwise loop to the Red Trail, which was wide and sunken, making it a sort of frozen river in the winter melt. At the Red Trail intersection with the Yellow Trail (which I bypassed), you can begin to hear the highway again. The trail network is mostly self-correcting, with maps at major intersections, but placards have been torn or blown down from several stands along the way.

Blackstrap Hill Preserve, Falmouth, Maine

I turned left by a lazy bend in the West Branch of the Piscataqua River to take the Greenline Trail toward the Saw Whet Trail. The Saw Whet climbs a ridge next to a marshy area, and is not particularly well-marked, but I eventually re-acquired some white blazes, eventually returning to the Red Trail and then the White Trail, which widened out for the loop back to the parking lot.

Blackstrap Hill Preserve, Falmouth, Maine

South Branch Falls (Baxter State Park)

South Branch Falls, Baxter State Park

(Note: As of October 23, 2020, Baxter State Park offices and headquarters remain closed to the public, but reservations can still be made online and by calling (207) 723-5140. Togue and Matagamon Gates are open 6am to 7pm. Katahdin and Traveler trails are closed at their trailheads to protect alpine resources.)

South Branch Falls is a short (about one mile out/back, less than an hour) waterfall hike, close to Baxter State Park’s South Branch Campground, in the northern part of the park, accessible from the Matagamon Gate. This family-friendly hike explores a fast-running section of the South Branch Ponds Brook. Full description, map and photos can be found in Falcon Guides’ Hiking Maine’s Baxter State Park.

South Branch Falls, Baxter State Park

As you wind down the narrow trail through the birches, you will start to hear the sound of rushing water. Stone steps will lead you down to South Branch Ponds Brook, with a couple small side trails giving views of the running water, and the opportunity to scramble over some rocks.

South Branch Falls, Baxter State Park

The pools throughout are usually deep enough for a cold dip. Arriving a little before sunset, I disturbed a swimming flock of what looked to be mergansers, which we at Hiking in Maine call “motor ducks,” for their ability to quickly, efficiently, and loudly hydroplane downstream and away.

South Branch Falls, Baxter State Park

While an ongoing drought made the flow of the falls less rapid, the juxtaposition of rocks and light and water was definitely worth the short hike. A perfect excursion to cool off or enjoy a picnic.

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Smalls Falls

Smalls Falls, Franklin County, Maine

Smalls Falls is a part waterfall hike, part scenic rest area, located along Route 4 in Franklin County, Maine. Plenty of parking, charcoal grills, toilet facilities, and picnic tables along the river make this an ideal place to stop for a picnic lunch, walk around, and even get in the falls and pools to cool off in the Rangeley area.

Smalls Falls, Franklin County, Maine

The rest area, clearly marked with a sign on Route 4, is on the south side of the road, along the Sandy River, about 12 miles south of Rangeley. Smalls Falls are possibly named for Jesse Small, a Miller who lived in the area around the time of the Civil War.1

Smalls Falls, Franklin County, Maine

From the northwest corner of the parking lot, trails (about 1/2 mile total) crisscross the Sandy River waterfall area and Chandler Mill Stream, climbing to other sets of falls above, and ending at a gravel road north of the rest area. This area can be crowded in the summer, with ample cigarette smoke in the picnic area and a very different pollution inside the pit toilets, but can be very quiet at times, particularly weekday mornings.

Chandler Mill Stream near Smalls Falls, Franklin County, Maine

The water flow and temperature vary with the season and weather conditions, and in April, there is even an annual Smalls to the Wall Steep Creek Race (unfortunately canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19), in which kayakers brave the steep, narrow chutes.

1Van Baalen, M.R., Reusch, D.N., and Slack, J.F., 2017, Smalls Falls Revisted: A Journey Through a Paleozoic Sedimentary Basin in Johnson, B. and Eusden, J.D., ed., Guidebook for Field Trips in Western Maine and Northern New Hampshire: New England Intercollegiate Geological Conference, Bates College, p. 35-60. https://doi.org/10.26780/2017.001.0003

Tumbledown Mountain (Weld, ME)

View of Tumbledown from Tumbledown Pond, Weld, Maine
View of Tumbledown peaks from Tumbledown Pond, Weld, ME

Tumbledown Mountain (3,068 ft) in Weld, Maine, is a beloved hike to many Mainers, due to its accessibility and the unique nature of Tumbledown Pond near the summit (this pond is a geological feature called a “tarn”).  Normally, taking a break to swim or fly fish at the top of a mountain is just a daydream.  We first hiked this in April 2017 during our 100-Mile Wilderness training, and again more recently in May 2020, so neither of these warm weather activities were available at elevation.

Ascending the Loop Trail on Tumbledown Mountain, Weld, ME.
Ascending the Loop Trail on Tumbledown Mountain, Weld, ME.

The Loop Trail ascends to the Tumbledown Ridge Trail from a trailhead on Byron Road, and by descending on the Brook Trail you can make a loop with Byron Road that is about 5.6 miles.  In good conditions, this is a moderate to difficult hike, but winter/spring trail conditions can push the meter toward or past strenuous.  Do not attempt to summit Tumbledown before June without checking trail conditions, unless you have gear (and the experience) to deal with snow and ice.

Spring melt waterfall on Brook Trail, Tumbledown Mountain, Weld, ME.
Spring melt waterfall on Brook Trail, Tumbledown Mountain, Weld, ME.

An easier out-and-back ascent (4.7 miles) can be accomplished from the Brook Trail trailhead on Byron Road, the route we took more recently. Trail maps and info are available via the Tumbledown Conservation Alliance and our go-to guide, the AMC Maine Mountain Guide, which has a detailed trail map inside.

The Loop Trail ascends through a lovely pine forest, then a steady uphill climb past some truly massive boulders.  At the time of year we went, the beginning of the trail was very boggy.  We started to see signs of winter’s staying power as we gained elevation, with large slabs of ice under rocks, and snow in shaded areas.  The snow became deeper as we moved up, and the trail was difficult to follow.

View from Tumbledown Mountain, West Peak, Weld, Maine.
View from Tumbledown Mountain, West Peak, Weld, ME.

We crossed and re-crossed a torrent of ice and water as we climbed, until we couldn’t find a way around it, and puzzled over the trail for a few minutes.  Thankfully, daughter located the small opening in the boulders we needed to climb through, complete with iron rungs to hold on to.  Daughter made it through with her pack, but dad had to remove his, as it was a tight fit through a frozen waterfall (aptly named “Fat Man’s Misery”).  The Maine Mountain Guide notes that this part of the trail makes it unsuitable for dogs, and we would definitely agree (the aforementioned Brook Trail is an alternative ascent for those with canine companions). It was a short scramble from there to the west peak, with breathtaking views of the surrounding area.

View of Tumbledown Pond, a tarn on Tumbledown Mountain, Weld, Maine.
View of Tumbledown Pond, a tarn on Tumbledown Mountain, Weld, ME.

The Tumbledown Ridge trail, a pleasant downhill ridge hike with more views of the valley, brought us to Tumbledown Pond, which was frozen on both occasions.  The tarn is a great place to stop and enjoy a meal and a break. In May 2020, the wind was too powerful to allow much of a stay, but we found a spot in the lee of a large boulder to crouch and have a snack.

Tumbledown Pond outlet, a waterfall cascading down over the Brook Trail, Weld, ME.
Tumbledown Pond outlet, a waterfall cascading down over the Brook Trail, Weld, ME.

The descent is down the Brook Trail to Byron Road.  Humans and animals use the same trails, and there can be a surprisingly high amount (read: tonnage) of moose droppings on the Brook Trail, but we did not see any moose on the way down.  We agreed that we would have to come back to Tumbledown in the summer, as this was one of our favorite hikes.

Oh, and one bonus feature…

Funny billboard in Canton on the way to Tumbledown
Funny billboard in Canton, ME, on the way to Tumbledown.

We saw this billboard on the way through Canton, Maine, in 2017 and could not resist taking a picture.

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