Holly Zschetzsche hiking
Holly Zschetzsche hiking the trail at Step Falls Preserve in Newry, early September, 2022. (Portland Phoenix/Shannon Bryan)
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Maine has an abundance of nooks and crannies.

Some are well-known and frequently visited; others feel like a secret we ought to keep to ourselves.

And sometimes, even the popular spots don’t make a blip on our radars, until one day we find ourselves in some dazzling new-to-us place wondering how we’d never been there before.

Holly Zschetzsche
Holly Zschetzsche lounging in one of the pools at Step Falls in Newry in early September. (Portland Phoenix/Shannon Bryan)

It’s like turning down a side street in your neighborhood that you never knew existed—and probably still wouldn’t, despite living there for a decade, were it not for the fact that you bought a gently used armchair off Facebook Marketplace and needed to go pick it up.

Step Falls in Newry was like that for me.

Perhaps you’ve known about Step Falls forever. Maybe you’ve slid into the cold pools of water on a hot summer day or enjoyed a weekend picnic on the smooth granite while the waters of Wight Brook cascade down the hill. Makes sense. Judging by the number of cars jockeying for spots in the parking lot in early September, Step Falls hasn’t been a secret for a long time.

But I’d never been—never heard of it—until a month ago. Sure, Newry is more than a few streets over from South Portland, but I’ve spent plenty of time hiking and skiing the terrain in Newry. How did I not know?

At least I found out about it just in time for leaf-peeping season, because this is one stunner of a spot for enjoying fall foliage.

Step Falls sees most of its visitors in the summer, when families and friends converge here to wade and swim and sit in the sunshine. They’ll dare each other to slide into the frigid plunge pools and let out semi-startled gasps when the water hits their skin.

Grafton Notch state park in distance
From Step Falls in Newry, you can see the eastern edge of Grafton Notch State Park. (Portland Phoenix/Shannon Bryan)

But the vista is the real draw. From the falls, you gaze upon the mountainous eastern edge of Grafton Notch State Park. Come autumn, the color palette here must be wondrous, an amphitheater of red, yellow, and orange.

The falls are part of Step Falls Preserve, a 24-acre preserve managed by Mahoosuc Land Trust. The trail leading to Step Falls is 3/4 of a mile, the incline increasing with your proximity to the top of the falls. The trail features stone steps in spots and plenty of entry points to the falls, where you can peel off to take advantage of the many refreshing pools or an unoccupied plot of rock.

Those pools are the work of ice and water, which has spent a great deal of time carving through the underlying granite, creating chest-deep pools and shallow paths that make for splendid natural water slides.

In the fall, you might opt to skip a dip and instead bring a blanket and some hot apple cider to drink while you enjoy the colorful scenery. And if it’s your first time there, you’ll probably scan the falls and the foliage and wonder, “How have I not been here before?”

Shannon Bryan is a writer and outdoor enthusiast who lives in South Portland. Find her at shannonkbryan.com.

Step Falls Preserve, Newry: How to get there

From Bethel, head east on US-2 and turn left on Rt. 26 (Bear River Road). Step Falls is 13.7 miles from the US-2 junction on the right.

Dogs welcome on leash or under voice control.

FMI: www.mahoosuc.org/step-falls-preserve

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