Rain showers early this autumn have been knocking colorful leaves off the trees, which is a bummer. But that’s the fall for you. With comfortably cool temperatures, stunning scenery and jack-o’-lanterns, also comes plenty of rain. And that can mean great things for certain hiking destinations.
Right now is a great time to visit Maine’s scenic brooks, streams and rivers. As rainfall runs over the landscape, it fills up these waterways, making their features — such as waterfalls — more dramatic.
Of course, you’ll want to wear waterproof boots with good tread, and maybe use hiking poles for added balance. Wet rocks, roots and bridges are usually slippery. As a general rule for hikers, after it rains, if something looks slippery, it is slippery. And if it doesn’t look slippery, there’s still a good chance that it’s slippery.
When planning an outing a few days ago, I took all of this into account and decided I’d visit one of Maine’s waterfalls. I own a few guidebooks that could help me, including the 2020 book “Hiking Waterfalls Maine: A Guide to the State’s Best Waterfall Hikes” by Maine author Greg Westrich. But I already knew where I wanted to go.
You see, I was also chasing the fall foliage. And to find the most color, based on the statewide report of fall foliage conditions at mainefoliage.com, I needed to drive either north or west. Many of Maine’s largest waterfalls are in the western part of the state, so I was in luck.
Clockwise from top left: A vibrant canopy shelters the trail leading to Moxie Falls on Monday, near The Forks; leaves litter a long wooden staircase that leads down to Moxie Stream and viewing platforms for Moxie Falls; and Moxie Falls, one of Maine’s largest waterfalls, is 90 feet tall and can be reached by an easy, 1-mile trail. Credit: Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki
I was also looking for a hike that would be relatively easy because I would be joined by my dog, Juno, who is celebrating her first birthday. And since the drive from my house would be at least a couple of hours, I knew we would need to stop somewhere along the way to stretch our legs and poop in the grass. (Well, only one of us would do the latter.) So I was really planning at least two hikes.
The day turned out perfectly.
Our primary goal was to hike to Moxie Falls, a popular destination just north of a town called The Forks in western Maine. With a vertical drop of 90 feet, it’s one of the tallest falls in New England. An easy 1-mile walk leads to wooden platforms that are perched on cliffs near the falls, offering the perfect vantage points to watch the rushing water as it plunges into a pool below.
To get there, we drove along part of the Old Canada Road National Scenic Byway, which stretches nearly 78 miles from Solon to the Canadian border. Robbins Hill Scenic Area in Solon marks the southernmost end of the route, and we reached it about halfway through our drive to the waterfall from the Bangor area. It was the ideal spot to take a break.
Covered with meadows, the 600-foot hill offered open views of the Kennebec River Valley and High Peaks Region. Right from the parking lot, we could look to the west to view a chain of some of Maine’s tallest mountains, with Saddleback, Abraham and Sugarloaf among them. Picnic tables dotted the mowed grass, and a network of easy, ADA-compliant trails formed loops around the meadows.
We stayed there a while, walking all the trails, which total about 1.5 miles. Juno played with a young Weimaraner, a large breed of dog that has a silky silver coat and big droopy ears. And one of us pooped on the lawn, twice. (Yes, I picked up after her.)
Then we were on the road again, heading north while following the edge of the Kennebec River. From traveling that road years ago during October, I knew that the fall foliage could be particularly spectacular along that route. However, in late September, it wasn’t quite peak fall foliage yet. Still, I spotted quite a few bright trees — mainly maples, which are among the first to turn.
In Bingham, I stopped at Jimmy’s Market, a family-owned Hannaford that somehow blends Maine outdoor heritage with groceries. Handpainted signs sporting black bears and moose tell you what you’ll find in each aisle. And at the deli you can order lunch to go, which is exactly what I did.
The parking lot to Moxie Falls was easy to find. From Route 201, just beyond where the Dead River and Kennebec River converge in The Forks, I turned right onto Moxie Lake Road and drove about 2 miles to find the parking lot on my left. The property is owned and managed by the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands.
Patches of color decorated the wide, smooth trail. It all depended on what tree towered overhead. In some sections, bright red maple leaves littered the path. While in other areas, round yellow aspen or golden birch leaves dotted the ground.
From left to right: Moxie Falls; a cluster of white mushrooms grows on a rotting tree stump; and colorful fall foliage is seen along the trail leading to Moxie Falls. Credit: Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki
Large white-spotted yellow mushrooms (in the Amanita family) grew in a big cluster not far from the trailhead. And a bunch of pure white mushrooms adoring a decaying tree stump caught my eye as well. At first, I thought they might be oyster mushrooms, which are prized edibles. But suggestions on the “Maine Mushrooms” Facebook page have pointed me toward angel wing mushrooms, which are poisonous. This is why I don’t forage mushrooms yet.
A long wooden staircase led down to Moxie Stream, where a side path continued to the water just above the falls. There Juno waded into the shallows as I hopped from rock to rock. Since we were just upstream of a 90-foot cliff, there was no chance I was letting go of her leash.
The trail continued downstream, through the woods and over a series of wooden platforms and stairs to reach two viewpoints atop the cliffs. From there, the head-on view of the falls was spectacular. Water cascaded down, catching on rocks along the way. The dark slate walls of the gorge rose up on all sides. The scale of it was tricky for my brain to process.
If I continued up Route 201 that day, I would have found Cold Stream Falls and Parlin Falls, both of which are accessible by trail. But instead, Juno and I decided to hike the nearby Pleasant Pond Mountain on the Appalachian Trail in Caratunk, which is another tale for another day.
There seems to be no end to the number of outdoor adventures in Maine. In Westrich’s “Hiking Maine Waterfalls” guidebook, he lists 67 hikes to waterfalls within the state’s borders. Moxie is just one of them. It sure makes me feel lucky to live where I do, where the next grand adventure is just a short drive up a scenic road.