Difficulty: Strenuous. The trail crosses a river and several smaller bodies of water and the full loop is about 8 miles. The Gulf Hagas Rim Trail, which follows the banks of the West Branch of Pleasant River, has a few sections where the trail climbs gradually in elevation. On the way back, hikers usually loop around at the Head of the Gulf and take the Pleasant River Tote Trail, which runs parallel to the Gulf Hagas Rim Trail but farther from the riverbanks. This trail is easier to traverse, with less roots and changes in elevation. Hikers can opt to shorten the trip considerably by using one of two shortcuts, which connect the Gulf Hagas Rim Trail to the Pleasant River Tote Trail earlier in the hike.
How to get there: From Brownville, drive north on Route 11 and turn left on the Katahdin Iron Works Road, a little less than 4 miles north of Brownville Junction. There will be a sign to Katahdin Iron Works just before the turn. Follow this road 6.8 miles to the gatehouse, where you register and pay a fee of $6 per person. Beyond the gate, take a hard right. The road will reach a fork two times; always veer left. The road reaches the trailhead parking area about 6.8 miles from the gate. A kiosk marks the trailhead.
Information: Deep within the 100-Mile Wilderness, Gulf Hagas is often referred to as the Grand Canyon of Maine. It is where the West Branch of Pleasant River flows through a slate canyon, forming a series of waterfalls, pools and chutes. The Gulf Hagas Rim Trail follows the banks of the river. Several short side trails lead to lookout points near waterfalls along the way. The major waterfalls are Screw Auger Falls, Hammond Street Pitch, The Jaws, Buttermilk Falls, Stair Falls and Billings Falls. The Gulf Hagas area is part of the Appalachian Trail corridor, which is federally owned and managed under the auspices of the National Park Service and the Appalachian Trail Conference.
From the Katahdin Iron Works Trailhead, hike about 0.2 miles. The trail reaches the West Branch of Pleasant River. Here, the Appalachian Trail turns left and leads to Chairback Mountain. Do not take that route (heading north on the AT). Instead, sit on the rock by the riverbank and switch your hiking boots for water shoes. There is no bridge. In order to continue on the trail (heading south on the AT), you must wade across the river, which at this point is about 150 feet wide. In the summer, the water is typically knee deep. In the spring, the water level is usually much higher, and the current is swifter. Screw Auger Falls is located about 1.5 miles from the parking lot. Just before the falls, the Gulf Hagas Rim Trail separates from the AT. From there, it is about 3 miles to the Head of the Gulf and where the trail joins with Pleasant River Tote Trail, the trail that hikers typically take back to Screw Auger Falls. This trail is a more direct route back (and therefore, a bit shorter), but it’s farther from the river and does not pass by the waterfalls.
Personal note: Gulf Hagas is a remote area. Help for lost or injured hikers may be many hours and miles away. I would always hike Gulf Hagas with a hiking buddy or two. Cell reception may be nonexistent. Bring an emergency blanket, first aid kit and headlamp, just in case you have to leave an injured hiker behind while you go for help. Purchase a map for $2 at the Katahdin Iron Works check-in station on Katahdin Iron Works Road. Bring water shoes to wade across the river. The rocks are slippery.