Orin Falls Trail (Katahdin Woods and Waters)

Orin Falls in Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, Maine.
Orin Falls in Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, Maine.

Our trip around the Loop Road at the end of last summer to Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument left us wanting more, and after a rainy but pleasant day at Baxter State Park on Saturday, we set out the next morning for the Monument to hike to Orin Falls.  This 6-mile hike, out and back on old logging roads along Wassataquoik Stream, is a perfect fall walk.  The AMC Maine Mountain Guide has a description of the hike, and Maine Hikes Off the Beaten Path by Aislinn Sarnacki has a longer treatment, as well as a helpful map.  We used the Map Adventures Katahdin Woods & Waters Waterproof Trail Map to navigate this hike and the rest of the Monument, and the trip to the falls took a little over an hour each way.  With the sun shining, biting insects largely gone or simply sluggish, late summer flowers and berries still blooming, and the calls of birds echoing throughout the woods, we took our time getting to the end of the trail, pausing frequently to examine animal tracks and sign, and to simply listen.

Orin Falls Trailhead, Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, Maine

The trailhead and parking area are located at the end (for motorized vehicles) of Orin Falls Road, a spur off the Katahdin Loop Road in Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.  Like last year, we got to the Monument from Millinocket using the Stacyville Road.  In large stretches, particularly closer to the Monument, this is a road in name only, as its surface ranges from the consistency of an ATV trail to that of a World War I battlefield.  We cannot discourage highly enough the use of this road unless you have four-wheel drive, high clearance, and a general disdain for your car’s exterior.  The traditional route into the Monument on Swift Brook Road from Route 11 is far safer, and was the route we took departing at the end of the day.  However you get there, to reach the trailhead from Swift Brook Road, turn right (north) on the Katahdin Loop Road (sign for Barnard Mountain), then follow the sign for Orin Falls.

Orin Falls Trail, Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, Maine
Orin Falls Trail, Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, Maine

At the bottom of the hill below the trailhead is a brand new handicap-accessible toilet.  We quickly saw recent moose tracks and droppings along the trail, but had no luck seeing moose throughout our hike.  The Esker Trail comes in from the right, and then the International Appalachian Trail (IAT) veers off to the right towards a ford across Wassataquoik Stream (and a trail up Deasey Mountain).  We continued straight, and reached a relatively new foot/ATV bridge across Katahdin Brook, startling a large heron that took off upstream in the direction of Katahdin Lake.  This crossing directly precedes the Wassataquoik Shelter, a newer lean-to.  Like everything else on this hike, we had the place to ourselves.

Wildlife on Orin Falls Trail, Katahdin Woods and Waters
Wildlife on Orin Falls Trail, Katahdin Woods and Waters

 Although looking at the map may make it seem like the trail is right on the banks, you don’t see Wassataquoik Stream much along the hike until the end, but the portion between the ford and the shelter rides an elevated overlook, and you can look down to the slow, wide Stream through the trees.  There is, however, plenty to observe.  In most places, the trail was wide enough for us to walk side by side, in the wheel ruts of the former road, making for a companionable stroll.

In addition to the heron and the moose tracks, we saw deer tracks, grouse, hawks, kingfishers, jays, mice, caterpillars, many frogs and toads, garter snakes sunning themselves on the trail, massive, skittering fishing spiders, and the large track of a bear.  Raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries were out in force, but were hit-or-miss, seeming to mostly have the bitter taste associated with the end of the season, and a lack of recent rain.

Orin Falls, Katahdin Woods and Waters

The mosquitoes and biting flies were minimal, but one could see how they could be pervasive during the summer months in the low-lying areas around water, so late summer or fall is a great time for this hike.  Shortly after passing the lean-to, we left the IAT, which veers off to the left (west) towards Barnard Mountain, and Katahdin Loop Road.  We continued straight, past the marker for the Monument line, and finally reached the trail downhill towards Orin Falls.

Orin Falls, Katahdin Woods and Waters
Orin Falls, Katahdin Woods and Waters

We could hear the rush of Wassataquoik Stream from the top of the trail, and emerged from the woodline to a beautiful scene of trees, boulders, flowers, and water, overlooked by the surrounding ridges and peaks of the Monument.  This was a good place to spend an hour building up memories of summer.  We sunned ourselves on boulders, filtered some clean, cold water, explored, rock-hopped, and ate a prepared meal warmed on a camp stove.  Then we packed up everything (leave no trace), and headed back the same way we had arrived, talking about our summer, and future hikes.  The first people we saw were at the trailhead, preparing to hike as we got back to our vehicle.

Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument is a place we will continue to explore, a reclaimed wilderness with endless potential to surprise and excite.  The Orin Falls Trail is an easy walk, but its intersection of mountains, forest, and water provides a satisfying taste of the wild beauty of Maine’s north woods.

Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument (Katahdin Loop Road)


During a visit to Baxter State Park, dad and daughter found ourselves with sore legs and a half-day to explore, and we decided to check out Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument via the Katahdin Loop Road.  We got our direction from a Katahdin Chamber of Commerce visitor’s guide and a pamphlet from Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM), but we had followed the progress of the Monument since its creation in August 2016.

The standard route into the South Entrance is via Route 11 from E. Millinocket/Medway to the Swift Brook Road along the Katahdin Woods and Waters Scenic Byway, but we were feeling adventurous, and took the Stacyville Road north from Millinocket to where it meets the Swift Brook Road.  We savored the lonely ride along this quiet logging road, occasionally startling game birds (this is not the way to take a low-clearance or non 4×4 vehicle).

The 17-mile loop of Katahdin Loop Road is punctuated by meadows, bogs, and ridges, and the south and west parts of the loop boast excellent views of Katahdin and the surrounding area.  This is an opportunity to see the Monument and cover distance in a vehicle, while having the chance to get out and explore at a variety of hiking paths and overlooks.  The best map of the loop we found (which I wish we had when we were there, as it is also an excellent interpretive guide) was from the Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters, and can be found here.

Lynx Pond

The Lynx Pond Walk is shortly past the Loop Road Gate, on the right just past the Mile 2 marker.  Shortly after the trailhead is a parking area on the left of the Loop Road.  This is a very short walk through the woods to a small boardwalk by the pond, and a spot for quiet reflection and wildlife viewing.

Looking south from The Overlook on Katahdin Loop Road.  The large lake is Millinocket Lake.
Views of Katahdin from The Overlook on Katahdin Loop Road

Katahdin towers over the loop, and there are multiple spots around the Loop Road with views of the lakes and mountains to the west and south, particularly The Overlook, between Miles 6 and 7, which conveniently has a picnic spot and a toilet.

We continued around the Loop Road, and got out to stretch our legs again at the International Appalachian Trail (IAT) and trail to Barnard Mountain, passing over Katahdin Brook and by the IAT lean-to.  This wide logging road made for a sunny trail, and though we did not make the turn towards the Barnard Mountain summit, we enjoyed the walk, and the familiar plants and animals that inhabit newly overgrown woodcuts, with blue jays diving across our path and into the trees.  The Barnard Mountain trail itself is a moderate 4-mile round trip with summit views of Katahdin and Katahdin Lake to the west.

Late summer flowers and plants along the IAT

The IAT continues from the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail at Baxter Peak across Maine, into Canada, across to Greenland, and Europe, to the Atlas Mountains of Morocco.  For a great exploration of the concept of the IAT, see On Trails by Robert Moor, reviewed on this blog.

Moose tracks and droppings on the IAT

There are seven mountains in the Monument to hike, including Barnard, as well as paddling opportunities and waterfalls.  The Loop Road was quiet, as were the trails, with natural sounds, and only a few others exploring the area.  A bumpy drive back down Stacyville Road took us to Millinocket, where we devoured a Hawaiian pizza without remorse at the Millinocket House of Pizza.

Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument is a special place, and we will be back there for hiking, biking, and paddling.  The views during peak foliage season must be spectacular.  Ensure you plan ahead, bring maps, and a cooler with water and snacks, as there are no facilities at the Monument, and cell coverage ranges from little to non-existent.  But that’s probably what you’re looking for in the first place.