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.
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.
Rumford Whitecap Mountain (2,214 ft) in Rumford is accessible through trails maintained by the Mahoosuc Land Trust (MLT), for a 5.4 mile out/back to the summit on the Orange Trail (or slightly longer using the Starr and Orange Trails), or a longer traverse over Black Mountain via the Black/White Trail (requires spotting a car). MLT’s website advertises Rumford Whitecap as a four-season destination for hiking, snowshoeing, and back country skiing, with blueberries in the summer.
I have ascended via the Connector to the Starr Trail (marked with yellow blazes and flagging tape), and returned via the Orange Trail, and would suggest this route (or its reverse) for the views, rather than just the Orange Trail. I used the guidebooks Maine Mountain Guide and Maine Hikes Off the Beaten Path for detailed trail maps and descriptions. You can also find a map on the AllTrails app or Maine Trailfinder (link at the MLT website above).
(COVID-19 note: the Mahoousuc Land Trust advises on its website: “Our trails and preserves remain open, and are a great way to get fresh air and exercise. . . Please carefully adhere to these State restrictions and guidelines, and note that parking lot and trail closures will result if crowding occurs or the required distancing is not maintained.)
Both trails, divided by a pleasantly running brook in a valley between them, were muddy, but well-maintained. The Connector crossed the brook, with spring runoff created small waterfalls along the way. Rains can create a morning fog, but also spur the growth of a variety of May wildflowers from the trailhead to the summit.
The Starr Trail transitions from a grassy woods road to a winding climb, becoming more strenuous as the deciduous forest changes to a more sparse, rocky pine forest, and opens up on ledges with spectacular views of the Mahoosucs and White Mountains.
After the junction with the Orange Trail, the summit is only about another .5 miles, hopping over small cool rivulets of water running down the exposed rock face. Close to the summit last May, there was what appeared to be a large deposit of bear poop, but a quick look around didn’t disclose any prints. The summit itself is open in all directions, and a great spot for a picnic.
After a brief rest at the summit to enjoy the view and chew on some jerky, I headed back down the Orange Trail. The trail ran like a creek in places, with the spring rains, and remains diverted for a section. The hike can take about two to two and-a-half hours, with plenty of stops to listen to birdsong, inspect wildflowers, watch bumblebees at work, and pick up and inspect pieces of quartz.
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