It shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering the number of streams and rivers in Maine, that there are dozens of spectacular waterfalls throughout the state. But I have always been struck by the fact that many folks I talk to have never seen any, or only a few, of them.
Piscataquis, Oxford, Franklin and Somerset counties have the preponderance of them but, given the expanse of those four counties, that covers a pretty big chunk of Maine.
Although Katahdin Stream Falls in Baxter State Park holds the reputation as Maine’s highest, at 108 feet, I’ve found over the years enough waterfalls to fill several photo albums that range from enchanting curtains no higher than 10 feet to crashing torrents approaching 90 feet.
Narrowing down the list to a few recommendations is tough, and the main criteria I’ll use are beauty and accessibility.
The four I’ve chosen, which I visit every summer, range from a short hike to virtually no hike at all as they’re visible right from your car, bike or motorcycle.
This isn’t to suggest that at some point you shouldn’t roam further afield and deeper into the woods to visit, as son Josh suggests, Gulf Hagas, Houston Brook Falls in Pleasant Ridge Township; or Mad River Falls up in Batchelders Grant.
Just check out www.NewEnglandWaterfalls.com for details, maps and photos of about 50 such treasures.
Two must-see sets of falls, which at 90 feet compete with each other in a virtual tie for second place in the “highest in Maine” category, are Angel Falls in Township D in Franklin County, between Oquossoc and Mexico, and Moxie Falls up in Moxie Gore, south of Jackman near The Forks.
Both require a short but easy hike from the road on well-marked trails, although the hike in to Angel Falls requires fording a stream, which in the spring is sometimes uncrossable, as I found on my first trip there several years ago.
That’s one of the reasons I usually plan my Angel Falls visits in the fall. The other, equally important reason, is that the trip on Route 17 between Mexico and Oquossoc during foliage season is to die for. Eating your lunch at the height of land overlooking Mooselookmeguntic Lake is about as good as it gets, although my wife reminds me of the year we got caught in a snow squall up there on the motorcycle on Oct. 1.
Angel Falls is so named because when the flow is just right, an angel appears. And the flow is enhanced by the fact the water plunges in tiers through a 25 foot-wide gap in the rocks.
To reach the falls, proceed 17.8 miles north of the intersection of Routes 2 and 17 in Mexico. You’ll see an unmarked road on your left, and a small bridge is visible. Turn there and proceed 3.6 miles and you’ll see another unmarked road to the left, which goes down a steep hill and ends in a parking lot featuring a large boulder.
Hike from there on a well-marked trail, across the aforementioned brook, and you’ll reach the falls in 20 to 30 minutes.
The other 90-footer, Moxie Falls, is on Moxie Stream, which is popular for whitewater kayaking and rafting. It’s about 5 miles southeast of the Kennebec River.
You’ll find it by turning right off Route 201 in The Forks on the Lake Moxie Road, reaching the well-marked trail head on your left after a couple of miles.
Many people say this particular set of falls is unmatched in New England for its rugged beauty. There are unnamed cascades above and below the main falls, many large pools and a large one great for swimming about 100 feet downstream.
About half-way in on the 1-mile trail, you’ll see warning signs to be watchful of changing water flows, as the dam on Moxie Pond is occasionally opened, substantially increasing the flow and the associated danger.
It’s a scramble down about 100 feet to the base, not recommended for children.
As an aside, while you’re up there, consider paddling around relatively undeveloped Moxie Pond, or taking the short hike up Mosquito Mountain on the pond’s west shore. From the bold summit, there are great views of the Longfellow Mountains to the west.
So much for two of Maine’s best that require short hikes. If you’re not into hiking, two of my favorites are just off the highway.
Screw Auger Falls in Grafton Notch State Park is reachable on Route 26, which leaves Route 2 about 3 miles east of Bethel. Signs will direct you to the park.
The 30-foot falls are about 4 miles east of the height of land in Grafton Notch.
As the falls are visible from the road, it’s a popular stopping point for lots of people, so you’ll seldom have the falls to yourself. Regardless, you’ll be rewarded with a memorable view of banded granite formations through which the Bear River has intricately sculpted its path over the centuries.
The fourth favorite of mine is Smalls Falls on the upper reaches of the fast-flowing Sandy River, just north of Madrid on Route 4, south of Rangeley. A favorite day trip of ours takes us up through Grafton Notch by Screw Auger Falls to Errol, N.H., then back into Maine on Route 16 through Oquossoc and Rangeley.
It’s a day-long excursion, but you’ll be able to see two of Maine’s premier waterfalls while barely leaving your car or your motorcycle.
There’s a short boardwalk leading from the Smalls Falls rest area. You’ll come upon a 3-foot cascade leading into a 20-foot wide wading pool, above which is a 14-foot fanning horsetail with a deep pool at its base. You’ll often see people (not me) jumping off the ledges into this inviting pool.
A short distance further there’s a 25-foot segmented waterfall, and beyond it a final one of about 12 feet featuring a water slide.
So you don’t have to leave Maine if you’re a waterfall lover. There are more than enough right here in our own backyard.
John Christie is an author and a year-round explorer of the Maine outdoors. He and his son, Josh, will share this space this summer to highlight places to enjoy the beauty only Maine has to offer. He can be contacted at: