We received the Massachusetts Atlas and Gazetteer as a wedding gift. We were living in Framingham, Massachusetts at the time. It sat within easy reach tucked into the slot behind the passenger seat of our car. We used it to guide us everywhere as we explored the state. It got so much use the corners were curled back in a permanent roll, and the cover eventually fell off. It served us well but was unceremoniously discarded when shinier, newer toys took over as a way to guide us on our travels.
We could have really used another Atlas on our recent outing to recreate The Ultimate Maine Waterfalls Road Trip which we had read about on the OnlyInYourState website. [Starin, Michelle. “The Ultimate Maine Waterfalls Road Trip Is Right Here – And You’ll Want To Do It.” February 8, 2016: OnlyInYourState.]
The trail is a circular loop which takes you to eight waterfalls located in the western part of the state. The further north we drove, the more the downside to our plugged in society was reinforced. As our phones began losing cell coverage for longer and longer periods until the coverage bars were permanently replaced with “no service” with only momentary, teasing flickers of coverage, we were left with only a vague idea of the route we were attempting. We were lost, in this case literally, without our smartphones.
Even our GPS which had long ago replaced the Atlas, but had itself since been replaced by our smartphones, refused to turn on to help guide us. With this directional disadvantage, in the end we still made it to six of the eight waterfalls on the list. I was happy with those results.
I like waterfalls. One of our more recent hikes, Fore River Sanctuary & Jewell Falls, was in an area known for having a small, local falls although in that case it was really more of a trickle, but I was not deterred. I knew we could find more impressive examples. I’m not completely sure what the draw is for me although I suspect it’s the zen like calm that running water brings. It’s peaceful.
When Labor Day Weekend approached, we decided the timing was right to head out on this extended adventure. We packed a full cooler of food, snacks, and lots of water to keep us energized and hydrated throughout the day. The first stop on our trip was about two hours from home and that was just to the beginning of the waterfall loop so we knew it would be an extended day and that we wouldn’t be returning home until much later in the evening. Snacks would be needed.
We followed the path outlined in the web article, and here is how we fared.
Snow Falls Gorge
We started out small with Snow Falls Gorge. As we pulled into the rest area, I was preparing to figure out the best path to the waterfall, when I looked over and quickly realized it was on the other side of a short staircase down from the parking area. No hiking needed on this one. You can see in the pictures below how close the road is to these falls.
There wasn’t much activity during this first stop, but the area was pretty and the stonework on the arch that spanned the top of one of the waterfalls especially beautiful. According to the plaque, which I discovered embedded in a bolder that marked the edge of the rest stop, the falls are named after Captain Jonathan Snow who was massacred by the St. Francis Indians in the 1700s.
Screw Auger Falls
Screw Auger Falls is located in Grafton Notch State Park. After getting to the park, we approached the falls through a rustic narrow corridor carved into a large boulder. As you exit the other side, you come to a small waterfall area with pools of incredibly clear water at the base. The water runs freely in and out of the rolling rock formations, without borders or defined areas. This organic intermingling of rock and water is fun to see.
There were plenty of children running in and out of the shallow pools that had collected in the rock basins. “Are you going to go swimming” a young, excited young boy in swimming trunks asked us as he got ready to run back into one of the pools of water. Sadly, we had to answer “no” having not brought any swimming gear on this trip. “You can take off your shoes” he offered giving us a way to still get wet. It was tempting.
But instead, we headed further down on the path which took us to the larger, steeper waterfall. Or, at least the viewing area for the falls. The path goes along a rock ledge which has a safety railing installed along the edge, protecting visitors from tumbling down the extremely steep drop. From the railing, you have views of the larger waterfall as it plunges down into the gorge.
Where does a cave fit during a waterfall expedition? Well, the cave is by a gorge where there is water so not a complete departure from the plan. More importantly, it was on the loop and located only a mile or so up the road from Screw Auger Falls. It’s also part of Grafton Notch State Park.
We were intrigued by the name. Sadly, we learned from the signage on the trail that the name was because of a poor moose who fell into the cave that covers the gorge. Sections of the trail are covered in “reindeer moss” too which was fun to see with its pale green vertical fuzz spreading out in large patches.
The trail itself was only about a mile long loop. I love how many of the trees in the area just adapt to the granite filled landscape and started growing in random, unnatural angles before turning up to the sky.
Dun Falls & The Cataracts | The Missed Opportunities
Next on the list were two waterfalls that we were excited for as they would require our biggest hike of the day. We were up for the challenge, but not up for navigating once we lost cell coverage and realized too late our over-reliance on google maps for this trek. Left only with a high level overview map of the route, which I’d printed out last-minute on a whim, and which listed amazingly few actual road names, we had to rely on instinct. After a small misstep in which we ended up crossing state lines into New Hampshire, we found the correct road we needed by process of elimination. It was simple really. There were not any other roads going in the direction we needed to be, so we had to be on the right path.
However, even with careful eyeing of both sides of the road, there were no signs, or obvious entry points to the hike that would lead us to the waterfalls. We did see hikers, sporadically along the road and were hopeful that they would lead us to our destination, but without signage we hesitated to stop at random locations. So, instead we moved on to the next waterfall destination on our list.
Since I have no pictures from these two stops, I bring you an intermission in this post to let you know that fall is forging ahead. We saw quit a few over achieving branches already showing some red color.
Our next stop was far easier to find since it was part of another rest area immediately off the road. Even we couldn’t miss this one. The waterfall area was covered in striated rocks that seemed to continue for miles in either direction with little pockets of still water along the way for swimming. There were lots of fun formations to climb and explore with multiple falls. We unpacked our lunch and carried it down to a picnic spot on the rocks where we could enjoy the water views.
We struggled to find the next waterfall stop as well. You’re probably sensing a theme by now. A ride back and forth on Route 17 made it clear that we were not going to find this one on our own. We headed back to the Coos Canyon Rock & Gift store which was across from Coos Canyon in the hope they could direct us to Angel Falls.
We walked into the store, and tentatively asked, “Can you tell us how to get to Angel Falls?” We got a knowing nod as the store clerk reached behind the counter and pulled out a small piece of paper with the directions to Angel Falls. We were not the only ones struggling to find this waterfall.
The detailed typed directions, printed on the narrow strip of paper they had given to us, started with… “From Coos Canyon, follow Rt. 17 west 4 mile. Turn left on to a dirt road at the end of a long field (a mailbox there and a wooden bridge).” Clearly we were going to need to pay careful attention if we hoped to find Angel Falls. The majority of the ride was over uneven dirt roads causing lots of jostling in our little Prius.
We finally stumbled upon what we thought was the parking area by entrance to the trail. As we got out of the car, and prepped for the hike, a pair of other hikers having just returning from their trek to the falls offered up some advice on a better place to park, after leading with “Unless you really like to walk a lot.” While we do like to walk, he did emphasize the words “a lot” and it was going to be a full day of walking so cutting out unnecessary hiking was definitely on the agenda.
With his advice, we drove up a bit further and then took a left on a road which looped down into a larger parking area. The walk in wasn’t promising. The wide open logging road, littered on each side with tree stumps was not scenic, but eventually it gave way to a smaller path surrounded by forest. After a short walk along this path, we reached a small falls but it didn’t seem as impressive as the pictures we had seen. Fortunately, other hikers in the area, let us know we hadn’t actually reached Angel Falls.
The directions we had gotten, did indicate we’d be crossing back and forth across the stream to get to Angel Falls, but it didn’t prepare us for the actual trail. While it did span back and forth across the water, I would use the word trail loosely. It was more of a scramble to whichever side of the river was more accessible at any given time. It meant climbing up and over rocks and uneven ground as we climbed up higher and further towards the falls.
It was worth the hike! The falls have an impressive drop, and are beautiful to watch amidst rustic surroundings. We enjoyed this stop immensely, and spent some time relaxing and enjoying the falls.
As we prepared to hike out and venture onto the next stop, we came across a family just as they were reaching the falls. The mother was wearing a pair of flip-flops and tentatively stepping from rock to rock. Definitely don’t make this trip in flip-flops. It’s fairly arduous, and unsafe for anything but sturdy shoes.
Height of the Land
In search of waterfalls, we traveled far enough north to reach the Height of the Land which has expansive views of the lakes and mountains in the Rangeley area. We even got to see it twice, as it was our turn around point when we realized we had missed Angel Falls on our first pass. Not a bad spot to hit twice.
The next waterfall stop was probably one of my favorites. It is what I have always pictured in my mind when reading about an idyllic summer swimming hole. There were multiple tier levels as you went up higher, and higher, each level had their own small waterfall that pooled into perfect little swimming spots. The water was teaming with swimmers even though it was late in the day.
On one of the lower falls, we encountered a girl trying without success to coax her dog into the water. “Not much of a swimmer?” My husband inquired.
“No, he loves the water” she volunteered, “but he went in up there” she continued, gesturing to the waterfall area above us, “and it was too cold for him”.
Guess it was good we didn’t bring our swimsuits. Like the previous stop, this one required lots of scrambling over boulders and tree roots as we climbed higher and higher to get to each section of the falls.
Our last stop was a bust. We were fighting the rapidly darkening skies in the hopes we would arrive with enough light to enjoy the falls. And, unexpectedly, we made it! But, there was no water. Apparently, the falls are only active during certain times and we were not there during one of those moments. The rest of the area which including a few dams was also under construction which didn’t add to the view. But, we did get our picture of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox so all was not lost on the stop.
We loved our waterfall adventure, but a few things to keep in mind if you decide to make the trek yourself.
- Be sure to bring a good map and/or print out detailed directions ahead of time. I also wish we had done more research on the trails especially for those waterfalls that required hiking to get to them.
- Watch the gas gauge. We were in a Prius, which can go a long time between fill ups, but even we needed to get gas along the way and gas was hard to find. The further north we got, the fewer gas stations we were passing, and as our gas gauge hit the red zone, our stress levels went up. Running out of gas and not having cell phone coverage did not sound like a fun combination to us. So, before hitting Smalls Falls, we made a side trip into Rangeley so we could get some gas.
- Pack a lunch! There were many picnic spots along the way, and beautiful locations to enjoy your meal. There are a few restaurants along the way too, but we enjoyed having the flexibility of eating when and where we wanted.
- While some of the spots don’t require lot of walking, there is a lot of climbing and scrambling over rocks so it can still be a little intense. Bring your hiking shoes.
- We made this trip on Sunday, Sept 5. As with any waterfall attraction, the time of year greatly impacts what you will see. At other times of the year you may see different water levels.
- Bring Hand Sanitizer. While there were plenty of bathrooms along the way, at the various waterfall spots, most were outhouse facilities and not that pleasant. Still better to have them than not!
It was a great road trip. Thanks for the suggestion OnlyInYourState!
|things to know|
|Area||Western Maine – Begins in Paris and goes as far north as Rangeley State Park.|
|Falls Visited||Snow Falls
Screw Auger Falls
|Website||Only In Your State|