August 1, 2010

Hiking: Waterfalls will leave you head over heels

By CAREY KISH

The dog days of summer, that period of warm, sunny weather that we patiently wait for through the long winters, well, they're here.

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Little Wilson Stream in Elliotsville plunges 40 feet into a slate canyon.

Carey Kish photo

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Moxie Falls is reached by a popular three-quarter mile hike that brings you first to the top of the falls where Moxie Stream drops 90 feet into a deep gorge.

Carey Kish photo

FOR A GUIDE

THE DELORME "Maine Atlas and Gazetteer" is an essential guide to exploring Maine's bounty of waterfalls. The waterfalls mentioned here plus at least 40 others are listed in the Unique Natural Features section of the latest edition of the atlas, published in 2009.

ANOTHER COMPREHENSIVE resource can be found at www.newenglandwaterfalls.com, which documents an astounding 234 waterfalls around Maine.

The especially hot and muggy days can be tough, sweaty ones on the trail, however, enough to give hikers pause to consider whether a better choice might be to grab the canoe or kayak and head for the cool waters of the lakes or ocean.

Resist the temptation to trade the hiking trail for a paddling trip.

Instead, plan a trek into a scenic waterfall with a refreshing swimming hole. Waterfall hikes are favorites of mine from now through Labor Day, combining streamside woods with picturesque scenes of cascades and delightful pools for swimming.

So pack up your day pack, add a towel, swim trunks and a picnic lunch and you're ready to check out one of these great waterfall hikes:

LITTLE WILSON FALLS, ELLIOTSVILLE

Little Wilson Stream plunges 40 spectacular feet into a slate canyon as it makes its way down the mountain to empty into Big Wilson Stream.

The top of the falls is a fine spot to relax and offers warm-water bathing in shallow pools. The trail into the falls tempts with at least a dozen swimming holes.

Access is by a one-mile unmarked trail that leaves from a primitive campground a mile in from Elliottsville Road.

The path intersects with the Appalachian Trail a short distance below the falls. For added adventure, continue north on the A.T. over Big Wilson Cliffs, looping back to your car using a side trail and old tote road.

THE CATARACTS, ANDOVER WEST SURPLUS

Hike up the Bald Pate Mountain Trail from the East B -- Hill Road and in less than a half-mile you'll arrive at the first of three major drops that form The Cataracts.

Here, Frye Brook tumbles down the hillside in three major cascades. Swimming holes abound, and picnic tables provide for comfy lounging.

For a full-day hike continue up the brook to a shoulder of the mountain and the A.T. Turn north from there, passing Frye Notch Lean-to and Dunn Falls.

A car spot is necessary to avoid walking back on the paved road.

MOXIE FALLS, MOXIE GORE

This impressive falls -- arguably one of Maine's highest -- is reached by a popular three-quarter mile hike that brings you first to the top of the falls where Moxie Stream drops 90 feet into a deep gorge. Continuing on, the trail meanders down for a better look.

Several wooden platforms provide good vantage points. Access is from Lake Moxie Road.

For a swim, clamber downhill to the pools well downstream of the big falls. Don't even think about horsing around atop the falls.

You want to play in rushing water? Sign up for a whitewater rafting trip on the nearby Kennebec River.

KATAHDIN STREAM FALLS, BAXTER STATE PARK

Just over a mile of easy walking from Katahdin Stream Campground brings you to the falls at the base of Witherle Ravine.

Scramble up the east side past four stepped drops totaling more than 80 feet. Numerous outlooks offer great photo opportunities.

You're on the final miles of the 2,150-mile A.T. here and this is the prettiest waterfall on the entire trail.

A short distance above, the path emerges from the woods with outstanding views of the Baxter wilderness, including the peaks of Doubletop Mountain and The Owl.

Plenty of swimming can be had between the falls and the trailhead.

SCREW AUGER FALLS & GULF HAGAS, BOWDOIN COLLEGE GRANT EAST

This area might seem like an obvious choice, but I still know lots of folks who've never been to Gulf Hagas, the "Grand Canyon of Maine." If you're one of them, well, you've got to go.

You'll first reach 25-foot Screw Auger Falls, which is as far as most people go.

Beyond, the loop trail takes in three more beautiful falls on its way to the head of the Gulf: Buttermilk, Billings and Stairs.

There are swimming holes aplenty, so don't be shy.

Starting from the Hay Brook trailhead (a little longer, but easier than fording the West Branch of the Pleasant River), it's a full nine-mile day hike and one of Maine's finest.

 

Carey Kish of Bowdoin is an avid hiker and freelance writer. Comments are welcome at:

maineoutdoors@aol.com

 

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