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Beginner’s Guide to Gulf Hagas

Hiking the Gulf Hagas Loop

Gulf Hagas is considered to be the Grand Canyon of the East. It is a must see when visiting Maine. Gulf Hagas features some of the best waterfalls in Maine, including Screw Auger Falls, Billings Falls, Stair Falls, Buttermilk Falls, The Jaws, and more. Add this Maine waterfall adventure to your list! 

Gulf Hagas Trail Stats

According to the Maine Mountain Guide: 

Distance: 7.9 miles, but you can do and out and back and not hike the full loop. 

Elevation gain: 870 feet

Time: Approximately 6 -7 hours depending on breaks

Dogs: allowed, leashed

Kids: A great activity for older kids! There are lots of drop offs and water crossings, so they should be comfortable in those situations. 

History of Gulf Hagas

Accordint to Wikipedia – “

Logs were once driven through the gorge to provide fuel for the smelting operations which took place at Katahdin Iron Works. Later, pulp wood used to make paper was floated through the Gulf. A few spots within the gorge were as narrow as 8 feet (2.4 m) and were referred to as the Jaws. These spots caused log jams and were widened by the log drivers using dynamite. Log drivers are responsible for naming most of the major waterfalls and rapids in Gulf Hagas. The Gulf was previously owned by the paper companies, Great Northern Paper Company and Sappi.

Gulf Hagas was designated a National Natural Scenic Landmark in 1969 and landowners agreed to preserve 500 acres (200 ha) of land including Gulf Hagas. Gulf Hagas became part of Appalachian Trail Corridor, owned by the National Park Service, in 1985. The Maine Appalachian Trail Club, consisting of mostly volunteers, maintains the Gulf’s system of trails.

The bedrock which forms Gulf Hagas is slate, part of the Carrabassett formation. 400 million years ago converging plates forced land upward, displacing the Iapetus Ocean. Mud deposits remained, which were heated, compressed, and crystallized to form slate. Slate has sharp, angular edges when it fractures but is polished smooth by the action of erosion. This is evident deep in the canyon where the gorge walls are smooth and vertical. The swirling motion of water and pebbles creates potholes in the gorge, spherical depressions in the rock. Gulf Hagas may have been created towards the end of the last ice age when an ice-damned lake gave way and sent huge volumes of water through the area, carving the Gulf.

Hiking Gulf Hagas

DD’s story – 

Hey everyone! It’s DD. I am finally getting around to adding some of my FAVORITE stories here. This one is from 2015, when I really first got started with my GoPro and my idea to tell these stories. I also got super brave that year – it’s crazy to look back and realize that was only 1.5 years ago and see how much I have accomplished since I set my heart to hiking. (I’m dating this post for the date the photos were taken, but I’m writing this post in March of 2017- for reference.) A visit to Gulf Hagas is a MUST on your list when you visit Maine.

The back story on this photo begins with my dear friend Sarah. She’s currently experiencing life on the west coast, in Washington State. Check her out if you’re out that way! She’s freaking awesome.  Sarah and I met and quickly became inseparable, unless it’s of course by distance. She’d moved to Boston earlier that year, and was looking to just get away for the weekend, so she joined us for Labor Day weekend. We’d been challenging ourselves and setting adventure goals, so when deciding what to do with our limited time together, we decided Gulf Hagas was the perfect adventure. We could travel within the state, get a workout + see some sights. Neither of us had hiked the whole loop – we’d visited once before for my bday but just had the time to have lunch underneath a waterfall before camping. My bf Matt was joining us, and he’s all about a good swimming hole. So  – away we went!

Where to park to hike Gulf Hagas

It took us an hour and a half to 2 hours to the Gulf Hagas trailhead from Bangor. it’s a pretty rural road, so stop at the Tradewinds in Milo  -55 Park St Milo, ME 04463 – when you see it. That is about the only place to get rations the entire way.  

Officially, we would recommend the Maine Woods Tourism site for info + directions. Also – here’s a large map. We had to check in at the Katahdin Iron Works gate and pay a small fee + get a pass and a map. Also – this is the last bathroom with a door, so use it or lose it.

After we checked in, we drove down a nice scenic roadway to get to the lot, about 6 miles. Parking is limited, especially during the popular months, so I’d recommend getting there early. The entire hike round trip is about 8. 2 miles from the parking area, but it’s not really uphill at all, so it doesn’t take the standard 1 mile per hour of uphill. I believe this hike took us about 6 hours – but we did run part of it, and you don’t HAVE to do it all. You can head out to one or two of the falls and then head back.  Plus – lots of places to take a dip – so you can enjoy your experience.

The Trail

First a map – this trail intersects w/ the Appalachian Trail – so you will see the cut off on this map. You can also see the two parking areas available. We parked at the P at the bottom right of this map, and took the path all of the way to Stair Falls + Billings Falls, then took the Rim Trail back to the parking lot. This is the East lot. PS – Rim Trail is super flat and takes no time at all, if you’re used to walking.

map + parking

The Hike

There’s a water crossing initially – so wear hiking shoes that are either waterproof, or bring aqua socks,  or some Bedrock sandals for the crossing + attach them to your pack to dry afterwards. You will need them again – there are a few water crossings in this adventure. Also – definitely you need some traction for this hike. Sneakers are not appropriate – hiking shoes will make your experience way more enjoyable. and not hiking boots – I have some Merrels that have lasted me for a few seasons, and before that I had some New Balance Trail Runners I really liked.  Speaking of that – it’s time for some new shoes for this summer!

You’ll hit the AT trailhead as soon as you cross the river, and then it’s a short jaunt into the first fall – Screw Auger. You’ll need to heed another water crossing  – don’t get too confident, it’s slippery. You can head down to the Falls and have lunch on a rock or you can keep on going. (We kept going on this trip because we went down last time and we wanted to make sure we had enough time to do the whole loop.) Choose your own Adventure!

If you enter like we did from the East parking lot, you’d encounter the Falls in this order….

  4. STAIR

Screw Auger Falls

Here’s some photos  + video from Screw Auger Falls…(p.s. in case you were wondering… a screw auger is a hand tool for boring holes 🙂

Jaws & Buttermilk Falls

We continued on towards the Jaws + Buttermilk Falls, where Sarah and I continued our quest for the perfect selfie.

We had to do a bit of a scramble around the rocks at the Jaws – it was fun and also thrilling! Clearly the child in the video below was not fazed. We took our time and just took it all in.

Billings Falls

We continued through the woods to the next fall, Billings. Which totally blew my mind – it was GORGEOUS. This is a great photo spot. You should definitely click on some of the photos and view them bigger.

Stair Falls

Finally, we hit Stair Falls, which was what Matt was really looking forward to. He couldn’t WAIT to get in the water and away he went. The water temps were still freezing, but Matt didn’t care. Sarah and I explored while Matt took a dip.

After we explored this area, it was time to head back. We booked it back the Rim trail in no time at all. Well, we ran. LOL.

We were back to the initial river crossing, where of course, I was rushing to get ahead of everyone to take some photos + selfies, that I fell. NBD.

We met a AT through hiker on our last water crossing of the day. It’s very cool to run into these hikers and chat with them. He was hiking alone – and was filling up his water in the stream. He must have been in his 60’s and was from the south. What a joy it was to encounter him.

So – add Gulf Hagas to your “MUST DO” list while in Maine. It’s great for anyone + everyone and leashed dogs are welcome.

Looking for more things to do in Maine during the summer? Check out  Don’t let your Maine Summer slip away! !

Onward + upward, love + light!


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Gulf Hagas

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Florida born, Maine living. Outdoor life is for me. I love adventures - hiking -photography - running - camping - reading - creating - learning - traveling - deep eddy vodka - cats and living, basically. Follow me on social - @DanielleDorrie

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