The key to a successful waterfall hunt is your stealth approach.
Movements should be slow and steady as you draw closer, lest you risk scaring the waterfall off. Consider scenting yourself with aromas familiar to the waterfall by showering with water before your hunt. I’m also an advocate of catch-and-release waterfall hunting, so the falls can live their fullest life as important members of the natural ecosystem and other hunters will have the pleasure of capturing them, too, with their eyes and cameras.
Last year, on a cool bluebird day common during a Maine spring, a few friends and I plotted out a day trip with a single goal in mind: See many waterfalls. It’s a respectable way to spend your time in the shoulder season when waterfalls are fat from melted winter snow and your hiking legs aren’t quite ready for miles in the mountains.
Plus, waterfalls are highly irresistible in any season, whether they spill modestly through a gorge or tumble dramatically down a 90-foot rock face.
Feeling a healthy sense of “get out of Dodge,” we selected Coos Canyon, Angel Falls, Cascade Stream Gorge, and Smalls Falls. All are in the Rangeley/Sandy River Plantation region and can easily be combined into a one-day, waterfall-hopping road trip adventure.
Begin your hunt with easy prey. Coos Canyon is right off Route 17 in Byron (less than a two-hour drive from Portland) and has a parking area just steps away from water-smoothed rock you can amble onto for some lovely views.
The Swift River has carved a determined path here, which you can enjoy from above or take in from the Byron Village Road bridge. This is a popular swim and picnic spot in warm weather, and it’s a nice way to whet your appetite for the waterfalls to come.
Don’t forget to sit in the oversized Adirondack before you leave, because it’s there and it’s fun to watch your friends struggle to climb out of it.
My favorite waterfall in the area is Angel Falls, on Bemis Road, Township D, in West Central Franklin (a 15-minute drive from Coos Canyon). The waterfall itself is sensational, featuring a 90-foot rush of water down a rock face, but getting to the falls feels wonderfully secretive, too: a long dirt road, an easily-missed turn, a parking area with a graffitied boulder at its center, and blood-red blazes marking the way.
The trail to the falls is a one-mile round trip, and it gets prettier as you go. The terrain is easy-going and includes a few stream crossings where you’ll need to step from rock to rock. Expect to take your time loitering by the falls; pack some snacks and water and sit back on a rock to enjoy.
Cascade Stream Gorge
Cascade Stream Gorge is cool. The trail, off Town Hall Road in Sandy River Plantation (a 35-minute drive from Angel Falls), is a one-mile out-and-back, following Cascade Stream much of the way and looping through the woods on the return.
There are several spots where you can stop and watch the stream pour through moss-covered bedrock (or take a dip if you’re so inclined). It’s wildly green in the spring with an abundance of wildflowers and other plants, and the rock formations are fine to look at, too.
A popular spot for a picnic and swimming in the summer, Smalls Falls on Route 4, Township E, in West Central Franklin (an 11-minute drive from Cascade Stream Gorge) boasts a 54-foot total drop, which is divided up into cold pools and short falls.
From the parking area off Route 4, there’s a staircase leading to the base of the falls. Some people hang out here and wade into the water, but most head up the root-covered rock path to the top of the falls. The footing is really uneven here, so bring hiking boots or sneakers and watch your step. It’s worth the steep trip up, though: The rock formations are mesmerizing to look at and you’ll continue to be wowed as you hike.
Shannon Bryan is a writer and outdoorsperson who lives in South Portland. Find her at shannonkbryan.com.