Book Review: 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.

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Hiking Maine‚Äôs Baxter State Park, by Greg Westrich

The digital age in hiking has brought us “apps,” which can be concealed in a phone, show us where we are, how far we have gone, and can describe and map hikes.  But these technological wonders have their limitations, particularly in a wild place like Baxter State Park, where cell service is available only intermittently (if at all), and only from the highest elevations.  There is also something incongruous about getting away and outdoors, only to stare at a tiny screen.  Enter Hiking Maine’s Baxter State Park by Greg Westrich (FalconGuides, 2017), an outstanding roadmap to Maine’s favorite wilderness playground, combining the analog permanence and durability of a book, and the accessible map and photo layout of an online guide.

Westrich’s book begins with an introduction and instructions on using the guide.  Following a “Before You Hit The Trail” summary of Baxter State Park’s history, geology, wildlife, seasons, and rules, Westrich describes thirty-seven unique day hikes, numbered roughly from north (Horse Mountain) to south (Roaring Brook Nature Trail) within the park, and three suggested backpacking trip itineraries, ranging from three to four days in duration.  Each hike begins with a short section called “The Run Down,” describing the essential characteristics of the hike at a glance, as well as its difficulty on a scale of Easy to Very Strenuous.  Physical directions and precise GPS location of the trailhead are included, as are individual trail maps and excellent photos.  Westrich describes points of interest, locations for views, and trail-specific features, like water sources, or places to rent canoes.

The genius of this guide is the layout.  Readers can flip through the guide, or use the numbered overview map in the beginning to find a hike based on its location in the park.  Hikes close in proximity in the park are correspondingly adjacent in the book, allowing the reader to string together their own hikes, like we did for Grassy Pond, Daicey Pond Loop, and Niagara Falls.  Another entry point is the “Trail Finder” towards the back of the book, breaking down the best hikes for swimming, views, waterfalls, blueberries, geology, families, wildlife, history, and canoeing.  These categories make for quick suggestions and ideas, and further broaden the appeal of this guidebook.

The subtitle of the book is “A Guide to the Park’s Greatest Hiking Adventures Including Mount Katahdin,” which cleverly (and rightfully) positions the park’s centerpiece as only one of the many places to explore.  Fear not, the legendary routes to Katahdin’s Baxter Peak via the Hunt Trail, Abol Trail, and The Knife Edge each receive their own detailed entries in this guide, which make the book worth owning all by themselves.  But it is impossible to peruse this book without feeling the urge to spend more time in Baxter State Park, seeking out the lesser-known hikes that Westrich so aptly describes.