Maine’s natural landscapes—coastal granite cliffs, mountaintop rock spires, rolling farmland, crystal clear lakes, and everything in between—position the state as a touristic haven for outdoor adventure and long road trips on the hunt for scenic splendor. The lakes and mountains of western and northern Maine are a clear crown jewel of exploration, and the combination of the two creates dramatic geography and elevation changes dotted with striking waterfalls to photograph and explore. Here are five of our favorite waterfalls in Maine for your next adventure.
Screw Auger Falls (Grafton Notch State Park)
A quick and scenic 20-minute car ride from the picturesque ski town of Bethel, Screw Augur Falls is just along the roadside by a small lot in Grafton Notch State Park. Unlike so many of Maine’s most photogenic waterfalls, Screw Auger Falls is delightfully easy to get to—the small walking path is even wheelchair accessible for much of the path. Though the main event is a gorgeous 25 foot plunge fed by the Bear River, a series of small cascades and shallow pools precede the plunge and invite you to (carefully!) explore the cold water as a summer respite from the hot weather.
Bring water shoes and a lunch to enjoy at a picnic table or while wading in the shallows—though you certainly won’t be alone. It’s arguably the state’s most visited and photographed waterfall. With such easy access from the main road, it’s a well-trafficked destination in Grafton Notch. Much of the state park’s hikes are moderate to difficult (including a section of the Appalachian Trail), so Screw Auger Falls is a family-friendly location for kids to safely play and enjoy the outdoors.
The location is well-marked with historical information, too. Read through the signs to learn about a sawmill built in the 1850s directly over the falls by settlers working the land. Plot spoiler (sorry!): it burnt down only about ten years later.
The geology of Screw Auger falls is striking—the smaller initial cascades sit at essentially the same elevation as the surrounding landscape and the large plunge of the main waterfall comes suddenly and dramatically. Melting glaciers, the usual culprit, overran the Bear River with excess meltwater thousands of years ago and dropped rocks and sand down its path, leaving behind potholes and gorges.
Many of the Maine waterfalls worth seeking out require a pretty serious time commitment, both in terms of driving there and then also an additional hike to a remote area. Screw Auger Falls is an easy and beautiful drive from just about anywhere in southern Maine, and an excellent excuse to spend a night in Bethel curled up by a hearth in a ski chalet.
Gulf Hagas (100 Mile Wilderness)
Often called The Grand Canyon of the East, Gulf Hagas certainly lives up to this ambitious nickname. It’s not so much a single waterfall as it is a long chain of striking cataracts along the Gulf Hagas Brook and West Branch Pleasant River. Tucked away at the southern stretch of Maine’s 100 Mile Wilderness (yes, it’s really called that), it’s certainly the opposite of Screw Auger Falls.
While Gulf Hagas inhabits a pristine and untouched slice of Maine woods, it’s not exactly easy to get to. To start, it’s more than a three hour drive from Portland, and any trailhead used (down a series of questionable dirt roads, no doubt) to access the area results in an 8 to 11 mile round trip hike with slippery, steep, jagged terrain. Chances are—you’re either reading this and thinking oh, wow, sign me up! or something a bit closer to hahaha no way I’ll stay home for this one. That’s the consistently amazing thing about exploring Maine: there’s something for everyone.
All that work, though, is certainly worth it: the same geological massif that makes up all of Baxter State Park’s infamous peaks, including Katahdin, cuts an intense line of elevation change as the Pleasant River’s West Branch dramatically drops more than 400 feet over the course of nearly four miles. If you’re staying near Millinocket or Moosehead Lake, this is without question one of the state’s best day hikes. If you have the time, daylight, and outdoor industriousness—this is a bucket list Maine Hike and a collection of waterfalls unlike anything else. The fact that neither can be done without the other is a huge part of the experience, too.
That being said, it is absolutely imperative that you do some research, map your route, and plan ahead—you’ll find about as much logistical support and cell service in the 100 Mile Wilderness as you might expect (and that’s very, very little).
The Cascades (Sandy River Plantation)
It’s worth pausing for a second and mentioning a unique reality of exploring western and northern Maine: there are areas so truly and wonderfully rural, that a traditional local government doesn’t exist. These unincorporated areas are called townships in Maine and they’re listed as TWPs when looking at a map, usually with a number after it as well. There’s a step up from townships called plantations, and despite some understandably strong connotations with that word, this particular usage is exclusive to Maine geography. All of this to say: if you’re headed somewhere in Maine that’s listed as a TWP or plantation—it’s out there, bub. You are headed on an adventure, so get ready.
And that’s certainly the case with The Cascades in Sandy River Plantation. In the same pristine section of Maine as Rangeley Lake and Saddleback Mountain, the Cascades is a tenth of a mile stretch along the Cascade Stream that drops 250 feet over three main plunges. The gradual descent leading to the main plunges is a gorgeous—and cold!—swimming spot after the short yet slick and steep hike from the trailhead along Route 4.
The tough hike is a blast in good conditions, but take note of its treacherous transformation in wet weather. And while you’re breaking trail along Cascade Stream, prepare to be impressed by more than just the waterfalls: the path itself winds through the walls of a surprisingly deep gorge. The rock is natural air conditioning during the summer months and leaves you feeling as if you’re entering a natural tunnel draped in cool air and misty vibes. The Cascades are a true gem of the region, offering wild views and scenic geographic features uncommon to not only Maine, but all of the Northeast.
Moxie Falls (West Forks)
Fun fact (and/or prelude to a pretty awesome road trip): you can take a single, continuous road, Route 201, all the way from Brunswick on the coast to the Canadian border at Sandy Bay. That’s one single road for 160 miles and three and a half hours. The most scenic stretch along this long haul is a twisting and turning segment between Caratunk and The Forks, where the mighty Kennebec runs parallel to the road. The rugged and untamed geography along this section of the Kennebec is famous for whitewater rafting, and a cottage industry of beautiful wilderness lodges for outdoor exploration has built up along the river and its tributaries (the hot tubs and quiet patios after a day of hiking or rafting certainly don’t hurt). And here you’ll find Moxie Falls: a truly remarkable 90 foot waterfall where Moxie Stream drops into the Kennebec River as it carries water from Moosehead Lake all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.
There’s some healthy competition between fans of Moxie Falls and Angel Falls (out near Rangeley) over which is actually the tallest—life can be a little slower here in Maine, and we have disagreements about some truly silly things—but either way Moxie Falls 90 foot plunge is jaw-dropping compared to what most of Maine has to offer. A series of smaller cascades before and after the showstopping 90 foot drop offer swimming holes and some fun exploration, though the scrambles up and down are slippery and steep. Though most view the falls from above, the intrepid amongst your party can scale their way down to the bottom of the gorge and get a fresh perspective captured not nearly as often. Despite Moxie Falls far-flung location, the amazing views and adventurous amenities in the surrounding area mean it’s surprisingly busy in the warmer months—be prepared for crowds and a nearly full lot.
Angel Falls (Township D)
Somewhere between Rumford and the stunning Height of Land vista in Roxbury looking out over Mooselookmeguntic Lake you’ll find Township D. Mostly privately owned in a rural stretch of Maine where timber companies and paper mills reign supreme, you’d be forgiven for cruising right past the dirt road turnoff that leads to Angel Falls if you didn’t know exactly what you were looking for.
Angel Falls stunning 90 foot drop takes Mountain Brook down a sudden series of gorges as it navigates the mountainous geography of this wilderness haven; cliff walls surrounding the gorgeous cascade reach 115 feet tall. An oddly-positioned 25 foot gap perched atop the cliffs is responsible for the massive amount of water an otherwise relatively tame stream pushes over Angel Falls. Scientists aren’t entirely sure why or how the gap got there, but theories suggest either erosion (when in doubt, blame erosion!) or that a boulder matching the correct dimensions at the base of the falls long ago fell from the top during some intense storm. We’re partial to the second theory, though mostly because it’s essentially a giant rock puzzle and that’s kind of fun.
Either way, the rock formations surrounding Angel Falls are unique to the region and absolutely worth the short half mile hike from the trailhead parking lot. Note, however, that despite the easy and mostly flat hike, you’ll cross a few streams and the normally fun rock hopping may be rather dangerous if high water from spring melt or recent rainfall has the streams flooding.
Also: while Moxie Falls is a great winter scene, the access road to Angel Falls may or may not be plowed in winter and the frozen streams are basically an ice rink. Unless you’ve got four wheel drive and crampons, wait for warmer weather to enjoy Angel Falls!
You might also like:
- 5 Awesome Maine Winter Activities + Sports (Other Than Skiing)
- Fall in Maine: Where to Go and What to Do for Autumn Magic
- 12 Cabins in Maine That are Too Cozy For Words
Justin is a writer and photographer based in coastal Maine. He grew up in New Hampshire, went to college at GWU in Washington, DC, and trained as a chef at Le Cordon Bleu in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Justin has years of experience in professional kitchens, gourmet food sales, and as a wine buyer. He also co-founded Rosehips & Charcoal, a boutique social media consultancy that helps northeast getaway rentals tell their unique stories and grow their online presence. When he’s not working, hiking, or snapping pictures, you can most likely find him drinking wine in the woods in questionable footwear. You can follow along on his Maine adventures and wilderness gourmet shenanigans at @tidetopine on Instagram.