Living in Portland for a number of years, I relished collecting trivia about the Forest City. Did you know, for example, that Portland was briefly picked as state capital before Augusta? Or that before being named Portland, the peninsula was called Machigonne? The list goes on and on.

As deep as I’d like to think my knowledge runs, there was one interesting tidbit that managed to elude me until I was exploring the city recently.

Did you know that Portland is home to a natural 30-foot waterfall?

Located in the 85-acre Fore River Sanctuary, Jewell Falls is just a short hike from a number of Portland’s major thoroughfares. The falls are named after Portland Trails co-founder Tom Jewell, who donated the tract of land. It isn’t the most impressive falls in the state — Jewell is downright puny compared to Angel and Moxie falls — but it’s certainly not something you’d expect to find just a few minutes from Congress Street.

There are four entrances to the Fore River Sanctuary. Parking at Maine Orthopedics on Frost Street puts you just moments from the southernmost trailhead. This entrance follows an old canal towpath, a visible relic of a former shipping route.

Parking lots at the ends of Rowe Avenue and Starbird Lane provide access to the western and eastern entrances of the sanctuary, respectively. A fourth trailhead, at the end of Hillcrest Avenue, provides the easiest access for visitors who wish to see Jewell Falls without much of a hike. From this northern entrance, it’s only a few hundred feet from the parking lot to the waterfall.

Coming from the north, you first reach a wooden bridge that spans the water above the falls. A path runs alongside the falls to a small clearing at the bottom, where there’s a stone bench dedicated to Jewell. The water doesn’t fall in a single cascade, but over a number of small steps before continuing toward Portland Harbor. The myriad streams running down the rocks make for a waterfall that’s visually interesting, if not one that will be mistaken for Niagara. In the spring or after heavy rain, the water flows a bit more vigorously.

Despite the heavy traffic the spot certainly gets, it’s meticulously maintained. Every time I’ve visited, the area — and the entire sanctuary — has been clean and clear of rubbish.

The waterfall isn’t the only attraction for Fore River Sanctuary visitors, though it is likely the largest draw. The marshland where the river meets the ocean is popular with birdwatchers, and the entirety of the preserve is open to mountain bikers. The site, open daily from dawn until dusk, also connects to the larger Portland Trails network.

The flowing waters of the sanctuary occupy an interesting place in Portland’s history as a piece of the former Cumberland and Oxford Canal. In the 1830s, a canal ran from the lakes region to Portland Harbor, following the Presumpscot before diverging toward the Fore (and through the Fore River Sanctuary) and into the harbor. Despite the scenic path, the canal wasn’t there for tourists. In the days before rail criss-crossed Maine, the canal was an important shipping route for everything from apples to gunpowder.

Josh Christie is a freelance writer and lifetime outdoors enthusiast. He shares column space in Outdoors with his father, John Christie. Josh can be reached at:

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