The Grand Canyon of Maine
Hiking Gulf Hagas is an experience all it’s own. Maine is home to countless beautiful hiking opportunities, although none quite like Gulf Hagas, one of Maine’s unique natural wonders. Henry and I decided to hike Gulf Hagas after our five day trip down the Allagash Wilderness Waterway. Our upper bodies were already aching with success from our paddling trip, and we thought it might be fun to even things out with a nice long hike around the Gulf.
We came in through the Katahdin Ironworks Checkpoint (KI Gate) and paid the day use fee of $7 per person (for Maine residents). Note that checkpoint gates accept cash and check only. Your credit cards are as useless as your cellphone in the North Maine Woods.
Next we stopped to check out the historical Katahdin Iron Works. (Note it’s spelled as one word and two, depending on what you’re talking about). Click here to download the Katahdin Iron Works brochure. It’s a very cool place to check out just before the hike and is located directly across from the KI Checkpoint.
Gulf Hagas Trail
We drove to the East parking lot and grabbed our day bags and set out. Here is what we discovered:
To get to the Gulf Hagas Rim Trail you need to follow the Appalachian Trail for a bit. The Gulf Hagas Area is managed by the Maine Appalachian Trail Club (MATC). It is well marked with signs and distances along the way. The Gulf Rim Trail is a very challenging and strenuous trail, with hazards including steep embankments, loose rocks and roots in the trail. There are many spurs from the main trail. These lead to beautiful views, but also add time and mileage to your trip.
Half a mile into the hike you will reach the West Branch Pleasant River, which you need to ford. Only attempt fording this river during low water levels, because the current becomes very dangerous in high water levels. Keep in mind the river is very cold, rocky and slippery. If the water is too high, drive to the West parking lot. You can hike in through the Head of Gulf Trail.
Natural Features along the trail
Next you will pass through The Hermitage, another natural wonder of Maine. This National Natural Landmark contains a large stand of old-growth white pines around 150 years old covering 35 acres. Some of the trees are over 130 feet tall!
At Map Point 2 you will leave the Appalachian Trail and will be hiking the Gulf Hagas Trail. Following the Rim Trail will take you past all of the scenic stops along the trail.
Screw Auger Falls are the first falls you will reach along the Gulf Hagas Rim Trail from the East parking lot. These falls only reach 4 feet wide but drop 26 feet into Gulf Hagas Brook below. Here you can climb down to water level for a nice view of the falls.
The next natural wonder you will encounter is Hammond Street Pitch. This is a 90 foot cliff that overlooks the gorge and West Branch Pleasant River.
The Jaws are the next point of interest. This feature consists of two rock walls which look like jaws coming together above the river. It is reported that the rocky walls were blown up by dynamite in the late 1800’s to make the passage wide enough to drive logs through.
The 12 foot high Buttermilk Falls are your next stop, followed by Billings Falls. Billings Falls feature 18 foot cascades and are a great place for a swim on a hot day. There is a fantastic photo-op from the trail offering a view above the falls. The last natural feature along the Gulf Hagas Rim Trail is Stair Falls, a series of beautiful cascades.
Well Worth the Trip
The return hike is easy on the Pleasant River Tote Trail, which is a relief after hiking the challenging Rim Trail. There are two cutoff trails along the hike if you find that the Rim Trail is more challenging than you expected, or if you are short on time and can’t complete the entire loop.
I highly recommend bringing lunch with you and stopping at one of the waterfalls to take a break and have a nice picnic. Also bring plenty of water, snacks, sunscreen, and bug dope- it’s wild out there!
Above all enjoy the adventure and Stay Untamed!
Buy my book, Untamed Mainer’s Insider’s Guide to Gulf Hagas.
- Quick facts and tips
- Detailed color map
- Driving directions
- Hiking routes
- Day hike packing list
- History & geology of the area
- Other regional sights & adventures
- And More
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