Difficulty: Moderate. Most of the 6-mile hike follows old logging roads that travel over gentle hills, with a short, narrow hiking trail leading to Orin Falls at the far end.
How to get there: From a bend in Route 11 at the center of Stacyville (a town that is just north of Millinocket and Medway), turn left onto the gravel Swift Brook Road. Set your odometer to zero. In about 1 mile, you’ll cross a bridge over Swift Brook. At 5.2 mile, veer left to stay on Swift Brook Road. At about the 7 mile mark, you’ll cross over the East Branch of the Penobscot River on a long, one-lane bridge high above the water. At 9.8 mile, you’ll pass by Sandbank Stream Campsite, and at 10.1 miles, you’ll pass a sign for Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument by a wetland area. At 12 miles, you’ll arrive at the beginning of the Katahdin Loop Road loop. Turn right and reset your odometer. In 1.3 miles, turn right onto Orin Falls Road. Drive approximately 2.5 miles to the trailhead parking area. Start your hike by walking past a gate that blocks the old logging road off from vehicle traffic at the far end of the parking lot.
Information: The hike — or bike ride — to Orin Falls was one of the first day trips established in the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. Most of the 6-mile, out-and-back hike follows an old logging road, with the last leg of the hike turning onto a narrow woodland trail that leads to the edge of Wassataquoik Stream at Orin Falls, a series of cascades and rapids tumbling around large granite boulders.
From the trailhead at the end of Orin Falls Road, the hike starts at a gate that bars vehicle traffic and follows an old logging road along a glacial esker, which is a ridge of sand and gravel formed by glaciers thousands of years ago. Just a short distance from the trailhead, you’ll come to a signed intersection where you’ll turn left to hike toward Orin Falls. Shortly after, the International Appalachian Trail joins the logging road on your right, where it descends through the woods and crosses Wassataquoik Stream in a fordable location, then travels west then north to the top of Deasey Mountain (and on to cross the border into Canada).
The IAT is a fairly new trail that is still in development. In a sense, it’s a huge expansion to the popular National Scenic Appalachian Trail, which spans from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Katahdin in Maine. Proposed by Maine fisheries biologist Richard Anderson in 1994, the IAT follows the remnants of the Appalachian Mountain Range across countries and overseas. As of July 2015, there were IAT walking trails in Maine, New Brunswick, Quebec, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Ireland, Isle of Man, Wales, England, France, Spain, Portugal and Morocco. And the IAT will continue to expand, according to the trail’s official website, iat-sia.org.
After joining with the IAT, the old logging road leading to Orin Falls descends a gentle hill to an old wooden bridge that spans Katahdin Brook, an outflow from nearby Katahdin Lake in Baxter State Park. Beyond the bridge is the IAT Wassataquoik Campsite that includes a picnic table, fire ring and a lean-to that was constructed in 2008, and donated by Katahdin Forest Products.
Past the campsite, the old road passes through a section of hardwood forest where you can find woodland flowers such as trillium and trout lily, according to an interpretive brochure for the Katahdin Loop Road published this month by Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. Many different birds call this forest home, including the sharp-shinned hawks, scarlet tanager, spruce grouse, northern parula, ovenbird and a number of different species of warblers.
At the halfway point, about 1.5 into the hike, you’ll come to an intersection where the IAT turns left onto a logging road, striking west to Barnard Mountain, another popular hike in the national monument. The way to Orin Falls is straight ahead and marked with a sign.
Continuing through the forest, past raspberry and blackberry bushes, clusters of young pine trees and crossing the boundary from Township 3, Range 8, to Township 4, Range 8, the old road travels over a few gentle hills. At nearly the 3-mile marker, the hike turns right onto a narrow footpath that travels through a mixed forest to the banks of the Wassataquoik Stream at Orin Falls. This trail, measuring just a few hundred feet long, is well-groomed and marked with a brown sign that reads “Orin Falls.” It includes a couple narrow bog bridges, a wider wooden bridge and rock steps.
At the edge of Wassataquoik Stream, named after a Native American word meaning “place where they spear fish,” you can rock hop clear across the stream at low water. Small gravel beaches are scattered along the banks, and large boulders make for great places to sit, picnic and fish. This location also includes several fairly deep pools located among the boulders and ledges that make for great swimming holes. And for anglers, brook trout have been found in this stream in recent years.
Dogs are permitted but must be leashed. Mountain biking is also permitted on this trail, though ATVing and snowmobiling is prohibited. Hunting is also prohibited in this area of the monument.
For more information about the trails in Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, visit the government website for the land at https://www.nps.gov/kaww or https://friendsofkatahdinwoodsandwaters.org/, which is the website of the nonprofit Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, a nonprofit group that advocates for the monument.
Personal note: A half-squished alien-like bug landed on my chest, its legs still twitching, and I hastily brushed it off.
“That’s not the first bug you’ve thrown at me today, is it?” I asked my BDN co-worker John Holyoke as we walked along the old logging road toward Orin Falls on Aug. 10.
“Nope, and it won’t be the last,” he said.
To that I grumbled, but in truth, I didn’t really mind. John, who sits directly across from me in the BDN office in Bangor, is always joking around with me. I expect nothing less. And after six years of writing and filming my “1-minute hike” column, he was finally joining me on a hike. It was a big day.
Actually, it was our second hike together that day in the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. We had warmed up with a short hike over an esker and down to a small pond near the south entrance of the property. Feeling good about that, John decided to join me on the longer hike I’d planned to Orin Falls. Carrying his fly rod in a long case tipped onto his shoulder, John walked quickly down the old logging road, trying to outrun the horse flies and mosquitoes.
If you attempt this hike any time from late spring through summer, bring effective bug repellent and cover as much skin as you can bear with clothing. The road dips down into a forest filled with stagnant pools of water that are prime mosquito breeding grounds. I envied John for his baseball cap, which protected his head from the circling deer flies and monstrous horse flies. As it stood, I’d brought all-natural bug repellent, which John poo-pooed (saying it probably attracted flies rather than repelled them) then used in copious amounts — as did I.
The destination, we found, was well worth the long walk and itchy bug-bitten legs. Orin Falls, though no great waterfall, was a sight to behold. The clear water of the Wassataquoik Stream churned and tumbled around and over granite rocks and boulders that had been rounded by erosion into smooth, organic shapes. Boulders larger than cars were scattered throughout the stream, along with smaller boulders perfect for rock hopping.
Just minutes after our arrival, the blanket of clouds that had hung over us that all morning broke up and sunlight painted the colorful stones of the streambed. A breeze swept upstream, scattering the biting flies, and I was in heaven.
Navigating the rocks, I explored upstream as John sat down to enjoy the view. We lingered there a while, then headed back the way we came, stopping now and then to inspect blueberry-filled bear scat and photograph toads, woods frogs and garter snakes.