Gulf Hagas: the “Grand Canyon of Maine”
During my recent stay at the Maine Wilderness Lodges I kept hearing about the “Grand Canyon of Maine”. Gulf Hagas is a beautiful feature in the 100 Mile Wilderness, and is one of the Top 10 Fall Hikes in Maine. There are two access points to the gulf, both of which are off of the Katahdin Iron Works (K-I) road accessible from the nearby towns of Greenville (ME 15/6) and Brownville (ME 11).
Close to AMC’s Gorman Chairback Lodge is the parking for the Rim Trail, maintained by the Maine Appalachian Trail Club (MATC). Please note that there are two river fords which may be difficult in spring or after heavy rains. The Rim Trail passes through The Hermitage, one of the few remaining stands of virgin old growth forest in New England.
About 5 miles north of the parking for the Rim Trail, about a mile from Little Lyford, is the parking for Head of the Gulf Trail, maintained by the AMC. Since I was visiting after heavy rains, with a forecast of showers throughout the day I opted for the Head of the Gulf Trail. This is a great trail for those who do not want to ford a river as well as for families with children. You can also access the Head of the Gulf trail from Little Lyford as a 1.0 mile hike from the lodge to the start of the Head of the Gulf Trail.
Within the first 0.1 mile the trail intersects the Lodge to Lodge trail, the trail connecting Gorman Chairback and Little Lyford; a fantastic 6.5 mile nordic ski trail in the winter! After 0.5 miles, you then merge with the fire road crossing the bridge over the West Branch of the Pleasant River, and then heading back onto the hiking trail after 0.1 mile. After 1.2 miles of easy hiking on flat terrain with great networks of bog bridges you have the choice of The Rim Trail or the Pleasant River Tote Road.
Since the rain held off in the morning I chose to start my loop with the Rim Trail while it was still dry, as this trail is on rock cliffs which overlooks the Gulf Hagas. Throughout this trail are fantastic viewpoints into Gulf Hagas.
There are fantastic loops throughout the Gulf which vary in distance, to do the longest loop from the Head of the Gulf Trail would take you down to Screw Auger Falls, which has great swimming holes in the summer. Loops range from 4-10 miles depending on what you choose to do!
There are natural and man-made contributions to the formation of Gulf Hagas. The bedrock of Gulf Hagas is slate, part of the Carrabassett formation.
Slate has sharp, angular edges when it fractures as easily seen when hiking along the Rim Trail. Due to years of erosion through the friction of water, sand and pebbles many of the gorge walls have been polished and are now smooth and vertical.
Logs were once “driven” (meaning that the wood was cut upstream, and then traveled downstream) through the gorge to provide the fuel for the smelting operations which took place downstream at Katahdin Iron Works. A few spots within the gorge were as narrow as 8 feet and were referred to as the “Jaws”. Due to this narrow canyon it caused log jams, so they were widened by the use of dynamite. Log drivers are responsible for naming most of the major waterfalls and rapids in Gulf Hagas. The Gulf was designated a National Natural Scenic Landmark in 1969, then became part of Appalachian Trail Corridor, owned by the National Park Service in 1985. The Maine Appalachian Trail Club and the Appalachian Mountain Club currently maintain the trails in the Gulf.
Although when I was there during my trip I had some rainy weather, but the outlook for the next few days including this weekend is looking fantastic! Stay tuned as we will be having some foliage updates in the next couple of weeks, as it is looking like prime foliage in the next week!
For any general questions, conditions information, or trail advice, please feel free to contact us here at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center front desk. We are available by phone at (603) 466-2721 every day from 6:30 AM to 10:00 PM or by email at email@example.com. To make reservations at AMC Lodges and Huts, please call (603)466-2727 available Monday through Saturday 9am-5pm.
Backcountry Information Specialist
AMC Pinkham Notch Visitor Center