Hiking in Maine is no easy feat when it comes to gorges and summits, and one trail combines the best of both worlds to create a hike that's altogether beautiful and challenging. Gulf Hagas is part of the Appalachian Trail and its 100 Mile Wilderness, and while thru-hikers regularly traverse its trails, that doesn't mean it's an easy one to complete. However, it is worth the work, and the only proof any hiker needs is in one of its many scenic vistas.

Before setting foot on this trail, though, it's best to know which way to approach it and which trails are easy, recommended, and challenging. There's a reason that Gulf Hagas has been given the nickname of Maine's Grand Canyon and it's not only for the views, alone.

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Gulf Hagas, AKA The Grand Canyon Of Maine

From below, the Gulf Hagas really does have similar features to that of the actual Grand Canyon in Arizona. While it's not nearly (and not even close to) the size of the Grand Canyon, it does feature the same canyon-like waterway system that runs through both. This is due to the Pleasant River, and the Gulf Hagas refers to the western branch of this river. As it winds four miles between two rocky cliffsides, hikers will pass by smaller rivers, beautiful waterfalls, and, of course, have views over the Gulf Hagas gorge, itself. At four miles long and 100 feet deep, Gulf Hagas is no modest canyon, and it's one worth seeing at least once for avid hikers.

Hikers should know that the gorge is located in a very remote part of the state, with the closest town being Bangor, roughly two hours away. The grove of the oldest white pines in Maine, known as the Hermitage, is located on one side of Gulf Hagas and is also a national landmark. Along with hiking, many people come to this area for creeking, kayaking down its rapids, exploring its smaller pools, camping, and to seek out one of five named waterfalls in the area.

Related: These Are Common Myths Everyone Believes About Hiking The Appalachian Trail (Debunked)

The Approaches To The Gulf Hagas Loop Trail

Hikers can start the approach to Gulf Hagas from the east and the west. Both trails have their advantages and disadvantages, with one making use of a section of the Appalachian Trail and the other following the Old Pleasant River Road. These trailheads will guide hikers to the loop trail.

East Approach

  • Start at the Western Branch Pleasant River parking lot and walk to the Appalachian Trail intersection.
  • Hike for roughly .2 miles before reaching the Western Branch Pleasant River.
  • The left AT trail will bring hikers to the Gulf Hagas Brook and Gulf Trail Junction through the Hermitage.
  • Hikers can cross the Gulf Hagas Brook via the log that bridges the 20-foot gap, before reaching the Rim Trail junction and Pleasant River Tote Road.

West Approach

  • Hikers will start at the Upper Gulf parking lot and follow the trail down to the Old Pleasant River Tote Road.
  • After crossing Hay Brook via the bridge, hikers can follow the Head of the Gulf Trail, which runs parallel to the Western Branch Pleasant River.
  • From there, it'll be about another mile before reaching the Pleasant River Road and Rim Trail junction.

Hiking The Gulf Hagas Loop Trail

Once hikers have reached the Gulf Hagas Loop Trailhead via either approach, the real fun begins. This loop is between eight and nine miles round-trip, with two trails making up the loop. It's rated as moderate/advanced, or difficult, for inexperienced hikers. The trail is heavily hiked, though, with terrain varying from dirt and forest floor to rock and stone ledges.

*It's important to note that the trail can be started at either Rim Trail or via the Appalachian Trail to Pleasant River Tote Road. Rim Trail is the more difficult terrain of the two. 

Things To Know While Hiking The Hagas Gulf Loop

  • Hikers will be fording a river that can be knee-deep on adults for 150 feet, so proper, waterproof footwear should be worn.
  • Starting at the Appalachian Trail (east approach) is recommended over the more challenging starting point of the Rim Trail.
  • The section of AT that runs with the river is relatively flat and manageable.
  • The Rim Trail is strenuous and doesn't offer direct overlook views of the gorge; stop-off points include Hammond Street Pitch and Cole's Corner toward the end of the hike, along with Buttermilk Falls, Billings Falls, and Stairs Falls early on the Rim Trail.
  • A popular stop-off point is Screw Auger Falls, which can be found on a side trail similar to the other Rim Trail scenic stops.
  • Hikers should be very cautious when crossing waterways, as heavy rains can cause currents to be far stronger than they initially appear.
  • The fee to hike the trail is $15 for non-Maine residents, $10 for residents of Maine.
  • A detailed map can be found via AllTrails, here.

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