QUICK TRAIL FACTS
- Preserve Size: AT Corridor
- Trail Mileage: 9 miles
- Pets: yes
- Difficulty: challenging
- Sights: waterfalls, slate gorge, West Branch Pleasant River
The legend of Gulf Hagas has spread wide, and while it is located in a remote spot in northern Maine, the trails here tend to attract many hikers.
Part of it must be marketing! Gulf Hagas is described as the Grand Canyon of the East, which I think might be a touch overblown? Regardless, the deep slate gorge and the many waterfalls of the West Branch of the Pleasant River, glimpsed from high clifftop perches, are stunning, even while their beauty is more subtle than the Grand Canyon.
Gulf Hagas is part of the Appalachian Trail corridor, and the Maine Appalachian Trail manages the trails in the area (with the cooperation of KI Jo-Mary, a commercial logging company that owns 175,000 acres in the North Woods. You’ll have to register at the KI post on the drive in.) In the AMC-KI trail brochure for Gulf Hagas, visitors are warned that it is easy to underestimate the difficulty of the hike. While there is no significant elevation gained, the three miles along the Rim Trail can be strenuous and tiring, even for experienced hikers. There are a lot of small scrambles up and down, many roots and rocks to navigate, and side trails to explore to look at cliffs and falls.
The distance of the complete loop of Gulf Hagas, starting either from the north or south, is almost nine miles. But you can use two different side trails to make your loop shorter. It’s recommended you return via the flat and easy Pleasant River Tote Trail to complete the loop; this will also ensure you’ll make faster time on the return.
It felt to us as if the views were more dramatic and the hiking more rugged at the northern end of Rim Trail. If you start here, you’re also follow the flow of the West Branch of the Pleasant River, descending roughly from 1,100 feet to 800 feet. So, on one hand, you might want to start low to hike up and get the best views at the end of the Rim Trail. But on the other hand, you might want to start high for what might be an ever-so easier walk? Another argument for starting from the upper lot is you skip having to ford the river, as you do if you closer to the souther trailhead. In fact, we saw hikers coming from the south side taking their boots off TWICE!, to cross both the river and another stream upriver.
We hiked in from the upper parking lot. The large parking area is across the street from the trail. Look for the trail close to the signs for the outhouse and the trailhead kiosk. Continue past the toilets and stay left when the path intersects with the lodge-to-lodge trail. In half a mile, you’ll take a right on a dirt road, and soon after, will see a sign on the right for the Rim Trail. This first section of the trail is relatively flat and easy — things only start to get rough when you reach the Rim Trail.
Directions: From Greenville, take the KI Road past the gatehouse to a big T-juntion and sign for the AMC lodges and Gulf Hagas trailheads. Go left if you want to start from the upper lot. It’s about 2.5 miles farther on. Go right for about 5.5 miles to the lower lot trailhead.