A state with a rich past of industry in its wilderness, Maine has a number of spots that offer a mix of history and outdoor adventure. One such example is the remains of Katahdin Iron Works, which borders some of the state’s most stunning natural features.

A few miles north of Brownville Junction on Route 11, signs direct visitors to the Katahdin Iron Works Historic Site. Though all that remains are a restored blast furnace and a “beehive” charcoal kiln, this used to be the largest iron operation in the state.

In the mid-1800s, iron ore was found in nearby Ore Mountain. In 1843 the blast furnace was built, and over the years the operation ballooned. It’s hard to believe when you visit now, but in 1884 there was a company town here with more than 200 homes. In 1890, outside competition forced the Iron Works to shut down. Many people left town after that, also leaving a floundering spool mill.

The land containing the kiln and furnace was eventually donated to the state in 1968, and is now managed by the Bureau of Parks and Lands.

Plaques and informative brochures at the site paint a more detailed picture of its unique history. There’s also a fascinating look at the entire ore-processing line from raw material to iron bars.

Like Maine’s many other historical sites, the remains of the Katahdin Iron Works are worthy of a trip on their own. However, this is an outdoors column, and it would be a mistake to not mention the stunning attractions around the site.

Just north of the Iron Works, the Hermitage and Gulf Hagas greet curious visitors. As long as the road to reach them is passable, you can continue past the historical site to the trail head. A day-use fee of $4 includes a map from Diamond Corporation, which manages the land.

Seven miles north of the Iron Works, there’s a parking area for the Appalachian Trail. The trail to Gulf Hagas is shared with the AT for about a mile, then the Appalachian heads east for White Cap and the Hagas trail continues north.

The trail travels parallel to a stream for 7/10 mile, before a ford of the Pleasant River. About a mile into the hike, you enter the Hermitage, a stand of massive white king pines.

Spreading across 35 acres and protected by the Maine Chapter of the Nature Conservancy, the Hermitage is recognized as a National Natural Landmark. If Gulf Hagas is the Grand Canyon of Maine, the Hermitage is our redwood forest — some of the pines reach over 130 feet.

Soon after the Hermitage, you’ll see Screw Auger, the first of Hagas’ many waterfalls. A skinny 4-foot-wide fall, the water cascades 26 feet into the canyon.

Only a few minutes further down the trail is Hammond Street pitch, a 90-foot cliff that looks down at the gorge below.

Next stop is the Jaws, a wide surging stretch of water. Formerly a narrow channel, the canyon walls were blown open with dynamite by log drivers around the turn of the century. Looking at the water rushing through Gulf Hagas, it’s hard to believe that log drives used to run through the canyon.

Less than half a mile further along the rim trail is Buttermilk Falls. The name makes sense — the falls churn up froth, and the milky water doesn’t look far from its namesake. Just ahead on the trail are Billings and Stairs falls, further upping your waterfall tally.

Next is the Head of the Gulf, where an island bisects the river into two impressive falls.

At this point you’re about four miles in, and it’s a good spot to rest before completing your circuit and heading back to your car.

If you’ve got an extra vehicle and some foresight, you can leave a car by Lloyd Pond, only a mile above the Head. Otherwise, it’s back through the woods to the Hermitage and your vehicle.

I should note here that, while the Gulf Hagas trail is a hike that can be done in a single day, it isn’t an easy one. The hike is a 10-mile circuit coming from the Appalacian Trail lot, and includes a stream ford and lots of rugged, rocky terrain. The main trail has plenty of spurs, which lead to some great viewpoints but add mileage to the hike.

The description of Gulf Hagas as a mini-Grand Canyon is apt, and there are some gut-churningly steep drops where the trail follows the edge of the gorge.

As you should for any hike, head in prepared and don’t go alone, if for no other reason than the fact that there are so many memorable scenes along the way that you’ll want to share the experience.

Hidden in the Hundred Mile Wilderness, Katahdin Iron Works, the Hermitage and Gulf Hagas are worth the long trip to reach them. There’s plenty of history and adventure there to fill a Maine summer day.

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

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