Rain showers in early fall caused colorful leaves to fall off the trees, which is disappointing. But this is the fall for you. With pleasantly cool temperatures, stunning scenery and pumpkin lanterns, there is also a lot of rain. And that can mean big things for some hiking destinations.
Now is the perfect time to visit Maine’s scenic streams, streams, and rivers. As the precipitation flows over the landscape, it fills these streams, making their features – such as waterfalls – more spectacular.
Of course, you’ll want to wear waterproof boots with good tread and maybe use hiking poles for more balance. Wet rocks, roots and bridges are generally slippery. Typically for hikers, after it rains, if something feels slippery, it’s slippery. And if it doesn’t look slippery, there’s always a good chance it’s slippery.
When planning an outing a few days ago, I took all of this into account and decided to visit one of the waterfalls in Maine. I have a few guides 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 chasing the fall foliage too. And to find the most colors, based on the statewide fall foliage conditions report on mainefoliage.com, I had to drive north or west. Most of the biggest waterfalls in Maine are in the western part of the state so I was lucky.
Clockwise from top left: A vibrant canopy shelters the trail to Moxie Falls on Monday, near The Forks; leaves litter a long wooden staircase that leads to Moxie Creek and the Moxie Falls viewing platforms; and Moxie Falls, one of the largest waterfalls in Maine, stands 90 feet high and is accessible via an easy 1.6 mile trail. Credit: Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki
I was also looking for a hike that would be relatively easy as I would be joined by my dog, Juno, who is celebrating her first birthday. And since the drive from my house would take at least a few 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 definitely planning at least two hikes.
The day went perfectly.
Our main goal was to walk 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 is one of the tallest falls in New England. An easy 1 mile walk leads to wooden platforms perched on cliffs near the falls, providing vantage points perfect for watching the tumultuous water plunge into a pool below.
To get there, we hiked part of the Old Canada Road National Scenic Byway, which stretches nearly 78 miles from Solon to the Canadian border. The Robbins Hill Scenic Area in Solon marks the southern end of the road and we reached it about halfway through our journey to the Bangor area waterfall. It was the perfect place to take a break.
Covered with meadows, the 600-foot hill offered unobstructed views of the Kennebec River Valley and the High Peaks region. Right from the parking lot, we could look west to see a range of some of Maine’s tallest mountains, with Saddleback, Abraham, and Sugarloaf among them. Picnic tables dotted the mown grass, and a network of easy, ADA-compliant trails looped around the prairies.
We stayed there for a while, walking all the trails, which totaled about 1.5 miles. Juno played with a young Weimaraner, a large breed of dog with a silvery, silky coat and large floppy ears. And one of us pooped on the lawn, twice. (Yes, I picked up after her.)
Then we took to the road again, heading north along the edge of the Kennebec River. After hiking this route years ago in October, I knew the fall foliage could be especially spectacular along this route. However, at the end of September, the fall foliage was not yet quite at its peak. Still, I spotted quite a few shiny trees – mostly maples, which are some of the first to turn.
In Bingham, I stopped by Jimmy’s Market, a family-owned Hannaford business that kind of mixes the heritage outside of Maine and the grocery store. Hand-painted signs featuring black bears and moose tell you what you’ll find in each aisle. And at the deli you can order a take out lunch which is exactly what I did.
Moxie Falls parking was easy to find. From Highway 201, just past the confluence of the Dead River and the Kennebec River at 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.
Spots of color decorated the wide, smooth path. It all depended on the tree towering above. In some sections, bright red maple leaves littered the path. While in other areas round leaves of yellow aspen or golden birch 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 visible along the trail to Moxie Falls. Credit: Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki
Large yellow mushrooms with white spots (from the Amanita family) were growing in a large cluster not far from the trailhead. And a bunch of pure white mushrooms worshiping a rotting tree stump caught my eye as well. At first I thought it might be oyster mushrooms, which are popular foods. But suggestions on the “Maine Mushrooms” Facebook page directed me to angel wing mushrooms, which are poisonous. This is why I am not picking mushrooms yet.
A long wooden staircase led down to Moxie Creek, where a side path continued to the water just above the falls. There Juno waded through the shallows as I hopped from rock to rock. Since we were just upstream of a 90 foot cliff, there was no way I would let go of her leash.
The trail continued downstream, through the woods and over a series of platforms and wooden stairs to reach two viewpoints at the top of the cliffs. From there the frontal view of the falls was spectacular. The water was cascading down, clinging to the rocks along the way. The dark slate walls of the gorge rose on all sides. The magnitude of it was difficult for my brain to process.
If I had continued on Route 201 that day I would have found Cold Stream and Parlin Falls, both accessible by a trail. But instead, Juno and I decided to hike near Pleasant Pond Mountain on the Appalachian Trail in Caratunk, which is another story for another day.
There seems to be an endless array of outdoor adventures in Maine. In Westrich’s “Hiking Maine Waterfalls” guide, he lists 67 hikes to waterfalls within state borders. Moxie is just one of them. It really gives me the chance to live where I live where the next big adventure is just a short drive down a scenic drive.