Hiking Waterfalls Maine by Greg Westrich

I’m hard-pressed to think of anything that is as simultaneously calming and awe-inspiring as a waterfall. Maine’s rugged terrain, many wilderness areas, and large rivers make it a prime spot for waterfalls. There are many websites and apps that aggregate and “rate” waterfall hikes in Maine, New England, and beyond. We even added a Category to this blog for waterfall hikes, even though I still believe that the best waterfall views should come as a surprise. But our favorite travels, particular in the north Maine woods, Downeast, and western Maine, exist outside data service, and I have always enjoyed “analog” guidebooks, particularly those with maps and photos. Enter Falcon Guides’ Hiking Waterfalls Maine: A Guide to the State’s Best Waterfall Hikes, by Greg Westrich (Rowman & Littlefield, 2020).

We have used this guide for the last six months to enjoy waterfall hikes, from roadside stops to short hikes, to waterfalls embedded in longer multi-day hikes. The book lists sixty-seven distinct hikes with over one hundred waterfalls, with a map at the beginning to show the geographic distribution in Maine, as well as a trail finder listing waterfall themes (solitude, swimming, hikes for kids, etc.). Recently, on a trip to Baxter State Park’s northern half, I used the guide to hit four waterfalls (Howe Brook, Sawtelle Falls, Grand Pitch Seboeis River, and Shin Falls) inside and outside the park. Each hike has its own map, as well as any relevant details about the hike and important info like access to dogs and/or hunting.

Throughout the hike descriptions, Westrich describes the geology of the waterfalls, as well as river terminology – horsetails, pitches, plunges, and cascades are all covered, along with historical notes, primarily around Maine’s logging past. These details and the guide format allow visitors to appreciate, rather than compare, waterfall hikes, making this guidebook a must-have for navigating Maine’s waterfalls.

(Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, and as an Amazon Associate Hiking in Maine blog earns from qualifying purchases.)

Howe Brook Falls

Lower South Branch Pond from Pogy Notch Trail, Baxter State Park, Maine

Howe Brook Falls is a spectacular four mile total out-and-back waterfall hike from South Branch Pond Campground in the northern half of Baxter State Park. I tacked this hike on to a South Branch Pond Loop hike, which is covered separately in another post, but the Howe Brook hike itself can be done in about three hours or less. A detailed description and map of this hike is found in the books Hiking Maine’s Baxter State Park and Hiking Waterfalls Maine, and a Baxter State Park downloadable map of South Branch Pond is available on BSP’s website.

Howe Brook Trail, Baxter State Park, Maine
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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
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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 Preserve 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
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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.

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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
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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.

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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
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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
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