This short hike leads to a series of waterfalls in Nahmakanta Public Lands
Difficulty: Easy to moderate, depending on how much of the trail you choose to hike. From the trailhead on Nahmakanta Road, you will reach the falls in just a couple tenths of a mile, however, you can continue south on the trail for about 1 mile to reach the Turtle Ridge loop trails. Watch your step. The trail travels over a forest floors that’s filled with exposed tree roots and rocks. Near the stream, the exposed bedrock can be slippery when wet. Also, be prepared to scramble over and between a few small boulders.
Information: Traveling along the bank of Musquash Stream in Nahmakanta Public Lands, a scenic hiking trail visits a series of small waterfalls before turning back into the forest and forming a small loop. This 0.9-mile trail is one of the many hikes located on the state-owned property, which encompasses 43,000 acres about halfway between Moosehead and Millinocket.
Constructed in 2013 by the Maine Conservation Corps, the trail is currently without a name. However, it’s marked on the Nahmakanta trail map, and in the near future, it will be a part of a longer trail that is being developed in the region.
Alone, the 0.9-mile trail is shaped like a lollipop: it starts out as one trail, then splits into a small loop at the end. Though it currently doesn’t feature any signs, it’s marked with blue blazes, and there are plans to add signs in the near future.
The hike starts at the trail’s north end, on the west side of the small loop. The waterfalls are on the east side of the loop. There the trail travels along the edge of the water for over 0.1 mile. Along the way, the trail splits so that people can travel through the forest when the water is high, and along the rock edge of the stream when it’s low.
Musquash Stream is called Penobscot Brook by some local residents, according to Nahmakanta forester Jay Hall. A fairly wide, fast-moving body of water, it’s formed by outlets from Little Penobscot and Sing-Sing Ponds, and flows into Second Musquash Pond. The waterfalls that the trail visits on the stream are a combination of cascades, slides and stairs, and they’re ever changing, depending on the water level.
Moving away from the stream, the trail travels through a mixed forest filled with large, moss-covered boulders. These are glacial erratics, moved great distances then deposited on the land by melting glaciers thousands of years ago.
And at the south end of the loop, a single trail branches off to connect to the Turtle Ridge Loop in just less than 1 mile.
Nahmakanta Public Lands is a state-owned chunk of conservation land deep in the woods, about halfway between Moosehead Lake and Millinocket. The unit encompasses 43,000 acres and features small mountains, 24 “great ponds” (10 or more acres in size), 22 campsites and about 35 miles of hiking trails, in addition to 9 miles of the famous Appalachian Trail.
Aside from the fees paid at the Jo-Mary Checkpoint, access is free. Camping on the property is first come, first serve. Dogs are permitted if under control at all times. Hunting and trapping is permitted, in accordance with state laws. For more information about Nahmakanta Public Lands, call 207-941-4412 or visit maine.gov/nahmakanta.
Personal note: After a night of good conversation, delicious food and stargazing, I felt refreshed and ready for a walk in the woods on Oct. 25. The morning was crisp and overcast as we left my friend Kris’s camp. Piling into one truck, the four of us — Kris, Wanda, Betty and I — navigated the gravel roads to the north parking lot for the trail leading to Musquash Stream.
Kris led the way, having hiked into the waterfalls several times before. As we walked through the forest, leaves crunched under our boots. We oohed and ahhed at the giant boulders, and stopped to photograph an unusual sight: a mushroom growing on top of a mushroom. More specifically, puffball mushrooms were growing on top of some sort of shelf-like tree mushroom.
I imagined our destination to be a bubbling brook — just a narrow body of water with a lazy flow. But not long into our hike, I began to hear the roar of the rushing stream as it permeated forest and I knew that I was wrong.
It had just rained, so the water was high, flowing over rock shelves and plunging over small ledges with a wildness that held us captive. We wandered the stream’s edge for a while trying to capture the beauty with our cameras. The water had so many features. It spilled over wide rock ledges in thin, clear veils. It frothed at the base of cascades, then spit out bubbles that swiftly floated and spun with the current. White foam snaked into abstract shapes as it filled quiet pools and accumulated along the shore.
There’s something about fast-moving water that’s soothing — like a campfire. I can’t put my finger on it, and I don’t think I want to. I’m OK with some things in nature remaining a mystery.
How to get there: From the center of Milo (where routes 11, 6 and 16 intersect) drive north on Route 11 for 23.4 miles, then turn left at the Jo-Mary Lake Campground sign onto the gravel Jo-Mary Road. This is a well-maintained logging road. Drive slowly and yield to logging trucks.
Reset your odometer. In about 0.2 mile, you’ll come to Jo-Mary Road Checkpoint. Pull over to the right and enter the gatehouse to register and pay a road use fee of $10 for Maine residents (per day), and $15 for non-residents, cash or check only. The checkpoint is open from 6 a.m to 9 p.m. daily, May through the middle of October, with the hours extending to 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Off season, the public does not need to register or pay a fee to use the road, however, many of the roads are not plowed, and some are used by snowmobiles.
After registering, continue on Jo-Mary Road for about 14.5 miles to Henderson Brook Checkpoint, which is an unmanned, electronic checkpoint manned by Jo-Mary staff. Along the way, several roads branch off Jo-Mary Road. I suggest carrying Delorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer to trace your route as you drive. Also, at some intersections, you can follow signs that read NLC (Nahmakanta Lake Camps) and DLWC (Debsconeag Lake Wilderness Camps). The biggest intersection is at about 6 miles, where you’ll veer right.
Just beyond the Henderson Brook Checkpoint, you’ll enter Nahmakanta Public Lands. Continue on Jo-Mary Road for about 5.7 miles, then turn left onto Nahmakanta Road. Drive about 0.8 mile and the parking area will be on your right. It has a great view of Katahdin. The trail is across the road.
For more of Aislinn Sarnacki’s adventures, visit bangordailynews.com/act-out. Follow Aislinn Sarnacki on Twitter: @1minhikegirl, and Instagram: @actoutdoors. Her guidebooks “Family Friendly Hikes in Maine,” “Maine Hikes Off the Beaten Path” and “Dog-Friendly Hikes in Maine” are available at local bookstores and wherever books are sold.