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Covering 8300 acres of land, Gulf Hagas is often described as the Grand Canyon of Maine. With miles of trails to be followed, scenic overlooks and waterfalls, Gulf Hagas is simply remarkable landscape.
Gulf Hagas is a picturesque 3-mile gorge dwarfed between two gigantic slate cliffs at an impressive height of 500 feet on either side. Over thousands of years, the elements and the flowing waters of the west branch of the nearby Pleasant River, have gradually eroded the underlying bedrock. The waters carved through the layers of slate, ultimately unraveling the magnificent gorge that we witness today.
Gulf Hagas features a remarkable network of 12 miles of trails. These trails offer exciting views of unique rock formations and lead hikers past a number of captivating waterfalls. The trail options vary, ranging from moderately difficult routes to more challenging ones that require a higher level of fitness, balance and experience.
Gulf Hagas is located within the Appalachian Trail Corridor, specifically on the northern side of the Appalachian Trail. The Appalachian National Scenic Trail connects the state of Maine to that of Georgia, moving along the mountains, offering brave hikers a worthy challenge, particularly as the weather can be very unpredictable. This however does not discourage the more than 3 million visitors who embark on the Appalachian Trail each year. The area is managed by the National Park Services, the Appalachian Trail Conference as well as other smaller organizations. Gulf Hagas is also part of the Hundred-Mild Wilderness, as a result it is not uncommon to meet hikers who are on their way to complete the AT trail.
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From the parking lot close to Hay Brook, a short walk leads to Gulf Hagas on the western side of Pleasant River. To complete the trail visitors need to cross over the 150 foot-wide river to reach the opposite side. Without a bridge connecting the two sides, crossing the river can be a worthy challenge, as the only way to the other-side is to get your feet wet. In summer the refreshing water may be pleasant, and quite manageable with water being up to knee high, following rainfall however the crossing can pose serious challenge as the currents and water levels are not in one’s favor and are not to be taken lightly. Having appropriate gear and water resistant footwear is highly recommended, not to mention carrying an extra pair of socks.
When the water levels are too high it is worth considering another route, such as starting off at the Head of the Gulf Parking Area, where there is a bridge for safe crossing. From the parking lot, a 0.2 mile walk leads to the Appalachian Trail Junction, a right turn brings visitors once again to the western side of the Pleasant River. The trail leads to a 4 mile, 400 foot descent moving through the Gulf Hagas. The moderately challenging trail moves along a number of mesmerizing falls, making it a sought after scenic hiking location. Half a mile in visitors can even make a stop at a stunning virgin old-growth forest, known as Hermitage, the area has a concentration of white king pines towering over the area.
The Rim Gulf Hagas Trail offers a a fairly intense hiking experience, requiring a good level of proficiency. The trail terrain is mostly flat, however it isn’t without its challenging patches and tight, narrow bridges that require a secure foothold. This trail can take a couple of hours to complete, so it is advisable to carry a sufficient supply of water, snacks, and appropriate gear, especially good footwear.
along the Rim Trail, visitors will pass by the hermitage and a number of breathtaking waterfalls, including Stair Falls, Billing Falls, Buttermilk Falls, and Screw Auger Falls. There are also several picturesque overlooks providing photo-worthy moments with scenic views of the river. Both the Rim Trail and the A.T pass by ‘Jaws’ a unique attraction, whereby two rocks lean out of either side of the gorge, almost roofing it.
For a longer 9 mile loop trail it is possible to connect the Rim Trail and the Pleasant River Tote Trail The Screw Auger Falls is one of the most scenic trails, with the falls being a main attraction, particularly as the Gulf Hagas stream has a 25 foot drop, shadowed by tall rocky walls. From the main trails visitors can descend down to the bottom Buttermilk Falls. Large rocks make for a wonderful break and look out spot overlooking the fall and the pool of water beneath it. However visitors can also observe the fall from above and skip the decent. Visitors can park at one of the two parking lots, the Gulf Hagas Parking area or the Upper Gulf Parking area further up.
Accessing Gulf Hagas by vehicle comes with a daily charge of $11 for Maine Residents and $16 for non-Maine Residents, with concessions being made for children and elderly. The daily fee is payable at the gatehouse on Katahdin Iron Works Road. The environment is quite intense and while trails are marked, it is advisable to buy a map of the area from the gate house, at just $2. The trail is open all year round however it does get busier during peak season, particularly on weekends between 9am and 4pm. In winter the trails become more challenging as the elements add an extra level of resistance. It is illegal to camp or start fires in the vicinity of the Gulf Hagas, so for overnight stays one has to consider the nearby North Maine Woods.
Gulf Hagas is a spectacular natural wonder offering all visitors trails and dramatic scenery. It is worth noting that the landscape is rough and has multiple secluded areas, making hiking even more challenging and dangerous, specifically in the eventuality of an accident. Visitors need to be well trained and prepared to take on some of the challenging and precarious trails. In fact a very fitting quote was written on a sign at the trail-head in 1995 describing the parks depth and wilderness perfectly “Gulf Hagas is an unknown area to many folks, and it belongs to everyone”.