Difficulty: Easy. Two short trails lead down to viewpoints of the falls. The grade is somewhat steep. From there, you can continue to hike along the shore to different overlooks. Out and back, that hike is about 1 mile long and features some areas where footing can be tricky.
Information: Also known as Cobscook Falls, the Reversing Falls off the coast of Pembroke are the largest set of tidal falls on the Maine coast. Formed as the tide rushes through a narrow channel and over a huge underwater ledge, the falls are constantly changing form, manifesting in water steps, frothing rapids, small whirlpools and swirling currents that make the ocean appear as if it’s boiling.
In fact, “Cobscook” is a Maliseet-Passamaquoddy tribal word that describes the unique falls and boiling tides, according to information provided by the Downeast Coastal Conservancy.
The falls form in a channel between Mahar Point in Pembroke and the nearby Falls Island. As the tide rises and falls up to 24 feet, a large quantity of water passes through the channel on its way in and out of Dennys and Whiting bays. An underwater ledge interrupts this strong current, causing the falls to form and change shape as the water level rises and falls.
The best time to view the falls is up for debate, but some sources say between two and three hours before and after high tide (which is about halfway between high and low tides). At high and low tide, the water becomes peaceful and smooth because at those times, a large quantity of water isn’t rushing through the channel.
The public can view the falls from the town-owned Reversing Falls Park, which covers 32 acres on the tip of Mahar Point. Located right beside the park is Reversing Falls Preserve, which covers 194 acres and is owned and maintained by the Downeast Coastal Conservancy. Hiking trails connect the two properties.
If visiting, you’ll start your adventure at Reversing Falls Park, where a long gravel road leads through a field to a parking area. There you’ll find picnic tables and the entrance to two trails.
The trails lead downhill to rocky viewpoints along the shore that offer good views of the falls. Connecting these overlooks, a trail traces the shoreline. Heading west, the trail leads to a second parking area that’s farther from the falls. Heading north, the trail soon crosses the boundary for the Reversing Falls Preserve.
From left: Tree roots criss-cross the trail in Reversing Falls Preserve in Pembroke; A kiosk with a trail map is located in the woods near the boundary of the park and preserve; A series of bog bridges leads to a point in the preserve. Credit: Aislinn Sarnacki / BDN
At the boundary, you’ll find a kiosk that displays a trail map and visitor guidelines, posted by the Downeast Coastal Conservancy. Marked with blue blazes, the trail continues to trace the shore around a small cove. Along the way, there are a few side trails that lead to views of the water.
About 0.3 mile into the hike, you’ll come to an old woods road. The trail crosses the road and turns sharply to the right. This spot is well marked with signs and arrows. From here, it’s another 0.2 mile to the tip of a rocky point. Along the way are some particularly scenic stretches of trail, including a series of bog bridges that travel across a grassy, narrow strip of land where you can see water on both sides.
The trail ends at the tip of a rocky point. There you can sit on the rough, bare bedrock and enjoy an entirely different view of the falls. This is also a great location to view seals, which are often spotted playing in the strong currents. Birdwatching is also a popular activity on the property.
Cobscook Bay is home to the highest density of nesting bald eagles in Maine. These majestic birds can often be seen perching high in the evergreens lining the water. In addition, a wide variety of waterfowl and migratory birds are often observed from the shore.
The preserve is open from dawn to dusk. Practice “Leave No Trace” ethics while visiting by picking up trash, leaving nature as you find it and respecting other visitors and wildlife. Fires and camping are not permitted. Stay on trail to avoid trampling vegetation. Dogs are permitted but must be kept under control at all times.
Exercise caution when walking, especially along the shore where wet rocks may be slippery. Because the currents at Reversing Falls change so rapidly, it’s unsafe to wade or swim at any time, and boating should only be done with an experienced local guide.
For more information, visit downeastcoastalconservancy.org or call 207-255-4500.
Personal note: The water was calm and nearing high tide on Sept. 15, when I arrived at Reversing Falls Park with my dog, Oreo. Following the trail along the shore, we soon came to a side trail leading to the grassy shore of a small cove. There I found the broken bow of a wooden boat. Distracted by the wreckage, I didn’t see the great blue heron wading in the water until it took flight. I watched as the large bird, long legs dangling, circled the cove then headed over the treetops.
Continuing on the trail, Oreo and I marched to the tune of several different forest birds, including a noisy group of black-capped chickadees and a fiercely drumming hairy woodpecker. But the real wildlife watching came at the far end of the trail, at the tip of a rocky point. There we watched dozens of cormorants swim, dive and fly low over the water, their long necks outstretched and their blue eyes glowing in the sun. Across the water, a bald eagle perched at the top of an evergreen tree, chattering at something.
As I sat on the sunbaked rock, I heard a loud “huff.” At first, I thought it was Oreo, who likes to huff and puff as he pulls on his leash and rolls on the ground. But then I realized the sound had come from the water. I turned and just a few feet from me was a seal, its head breaching the surface of the ocean. After a second or two, it ducked underwater and swam away. But looking closely, I spotted the glistening heads of several more seals swimming through the channel.
Clockwise from left: A bald eagle perches high in an evergreen tree near Reversing Falls in Pembroke; a wrecked boat can be found along the shore; a cormorant. Credit: Aislinn Sarnacki / BDN
Waiting on the point, Oreo and I watched as the current picked up and the water started to boil and swirl. We then walked back to the parking area, pausing at overlooks to watch the falls emerge and the rapids grow. By the time we left, the water was roaring. It was interesting to watch the dramatic change. If you have a few hours, I highly suggest it. You’ll likely see plenty of wildlife while you wait.
How to get there: The large gravel parking lot for the park and preserve is located at the end of Reversing Falls Road in Pembroke. To get there from Route 1 in Pembroke, turn east onto Ayers Junction Road, which is next to the Irving gas station. Drive 0.1 mile, turn right at the stop sign, then take an immediate left to drive up a small hill on Leighton Point Road. Drive 3.3 miles, then turn right onto Clarkside Road. Drive 1.2 miles, then turn left onto the dirt Reversing Falls Road and continue for 1.5 miles to the parking area. Just before the parking area is a split in the road, veer left. (If you veer right, the road will take you down to a picnic area by the water, but not to the trails or the falls.)
Aislinn Sarnacki can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @1minhikegirl, and Instagram: @actoutdoors. Her guidebooks “Family Friendly Hikes in Maine,” “Maine Hikes Off the Beaten Path” and “Dog-Friendly Hikes in Maine” are available at local bookstores and wherever books are sold.