You’ve undoubtedly heard of the Grand Canyon out west and maybe you’ve been fortunate enough to visit. But, if you haven’t, there’s no reason to be jealous. Right here in Maine we have our very own Grand Canyon and, if you ask us, it’s even better than the real thing. Sure, it may not have the grandeur of what you’ll find in Utah and Arizona, but the natural features are no less beautiful.
Located in Katahdin Iron Works Park State Park, Gulf Hagas is a gorge carved out by the Western Branch of the Pleasant River. The area spans three miles and features incredible vertical slate walls, creating lots of waterfalls along the way.
The river was historically used by logging companies to move logs, used as fuel, towards Katahdin Iron Works. When we visited, we noticed that some areas are incredibly narrow and we wondered how logs could have possibly navigated all the twists and turns.
We learned that these tiny spots were referred to as "The Jaws" by loggers, owing to the fact that operations were completely halted at times when log jams blocked the river. Eventually, "The Jaws" were widened using dynamite and life became easier.
The waterfalls throughout Gulf Hagas were named by loggers. The area was previously owned by the paper mills using it for log transportation, but in 1969 t was designated a National Natural Scenic Landmark and owners agreed to preserve 500 acres, which included Gulf Hagas.
Inhabitants of the area were thought to be the "Red Paint People." Gravesites belonging to this Native American group have been found here lined with red ochre, an impure form of iron ore available in the area.
One of the best ways to explore the area is on foot. The 8.6-mile Gulf Rim Trail is a wonderful, but challenging traverse allows for views down into the gorge. A portion of the trail follows the area of the Appalachian Trail located within the 100-mile wilderness.
The hike will take about eight hours, but there are many other (shorter!) options for exploring the area that won't take quite so much effort. These still offer lovely views of the impressive area.
Activities here are bountiful. In addition to hiking, you can kayak and swim in the swimming hole beneath the main falls, pictured here. Many say that Gulf Hagas is the best creek run in Maine.
A group of private landowners, "KI Jo-Mary," own the area that includes the road to access Gulf Hagas. This group collects a fee from May to October to maintain the area, which we were glad to pay. The gate fee is $6 for Maine residents and $10 for non-Maine residents and is open from 6am to 9pm. During the off-season no fees are collected and you should find the gate open. If you'd like to camp, you're welcome to do so, but must pay a small fee.
Want to make the trip? Great! Here are some loose directions:
From Southern Maine, make your way to Brownville. Follow route 11 (heading north) for about 8 miles before taking a slight left onto Katahdin Iron Works Road. Follow this dirt road for 6.5 miles until you arrive at the gatehouse, where you'll pay the fee. Cross the bridge over the West Pleasant River before taking an immmediate right. Stay on the left and head down about another 6.5 miles. Here you'll see the parking area and the trailhead on the right.
From Northern Maine, head to Greenville. Follow Pleasant Street a short distance until you're on E Road. E Road will turn into Ki Road after about 3.5 miles. Continue to follow it for about 8 more miles, before taking a right on Katahdin Iron Works road. Drive another 6 miles or so until you arrive at the trailhead.