ELLIOTSVILLE TOWNSHIP – For an adventurous hike to a beautiful waterfall, check out Little Wilson Falls this autumn.
Actually, the adventure lies in finding the falls. One wrong turn, and a hiker could end up somewhere in the 100-Mile Wilderness.
“We know they are there,” some place
Rising east of Route 15 in Shirley, Little Wilson Stream flows east to meet Big Wilson Stream near Borestone Mountain in Elliotsville Township. Downstream from Moose Pond, Little Wilson Falls tumbles 57 feet through a dark slate gorge rimmed by thick woods.
Sunlight penetrates the gorge, and during low water, ledges along the stream’s southern shore provide good vantage points. High wa-ter pushes hikers back; no matter the flow, hikers should tread carefully.
Unlike some Maine waterfalls, a trail immediately accesses Little Wilson Falls. In fact, it’s the Appalachian Trail, the trail of trails (and tears) for many Maine hikers.
However, AT access does not easy access make. The Appalachian Trail literally abuts Little Wilson Falls; a few steps north from the trail accesses a popular gorge overlook. But here the AT meanders through the 100-Mile Wilderness, the legendary Maine forest stretch-ing from a Route 15 trail head in Monson to the Abol Bridge on the West Branch in Township 2, Range 10.
Little Wilson Falls retains minor legendary status because not all day hikers actually find the falls. Some hikers get “turned around,” yield to frustration, and call the effort “quits.” The popular Web site www.newenglandwaterfalls.com reports that “we have been unable to locate them on two separate attempts,” a comment that reflects on-the-ground reality.
“We know they are there,” newenglandwaterfalls.com reports. “For those looking for an adventure, finding the … upper falls is bound to be exciting.”
Now that’s an understatement.
Which way on the Appalachian Trail?
Guidebooks typically recommend accessing Little Wilson Falls via the AT. This is the truth: hikers follow the root-bound, terrain-hugging AT to and from the falls. No other route exists.
The guidebooks also almost uniformly recommend one particular way to reach the AT before hiking to the falls:
1. In Monson, turn from Route 15 onto the Elliotsville Road at the village’s western edge. A Piscataquis County chickadee sign identi-fies the turn from both directions.
2. Drive approximately 8 miles to where a bridge carries the Elliotsville Road across Big Wilson Stream. Just before the bridge (and slightly uphill from the stream), turn left onto a gravel road at a Y intersection.
3. This road accesses tent-only camp sites nestled alongside Little Wilson Stream. Drive carefully to another Y intersection and steer right onto another gravel road that crosses the stream on a bridge.
4. The Appalachian Mountain Club recommends that hikers “follow the gravel road to the left (past the bridge) for about 1 mile,” then park and hike 1.5 miles west (left) on the Appalachian Trail to Little Wilson Falls. The AT crosses Little Wilson Stream at 1.2 miles and abruptly climbs the stream’s steep south bank.
The 3.0-mile round trip should take 2½-3 hours, minimum. Allow time for photography at the falls.
For adventurous hikers, another AT and Little Wilson Falls access point exists. Overlooked by the guidebooks, a rudimentary and un-named trail reduces actual AT hiking to 0.3 miles and provides intimate contact with Little Wilson Stream. We’re talking “one slip and you’re in the drink” contact, especially during high flows.
Looking for an adventure? Let’s find this trail! And then the waterfalls!
5. Follow steps 1 and 2 mentioned earlier. At step 3, drive straight rather than veer right at the Y intersection.
6. Stay on the gravel road to its grand finale at a large parking lot next to Little Wilson Stream. In hot weather, campers and hikers of-ten cool off in the stream’s large pools.
7. Walk to the parking lot’s western edge (next to the stream) and examine the terrain. Notice the unmarked trails heading into the woods. Pick a trail, but not just any trail; think “stream” and “waterfalls” and bear right on the trail alongside Little Wilson Stream.
Why? The waterfalls rise upriver, so a stream-side trail should ultimately reach the falls, correct?
8. Marked by the occasional orange flag, this trail meanders along the stream, hugs the stream, climbs its hilly bank, twists around roots and beneath fallen trees, and ascends the steep bank deeper in the forest. Abutting brush and trees confine hikers to the trail, which seems to point nowhere.
9. Somewhere a sweaty 0.9-1.0 miles west of the parking lot, somewhere in Elliotsville Township, the unmarked trail meets the Appa-lachian Trail at a flagged T intersection.
Identified by white blazes, the AT rolls right and left. Which way to Little Wilson Falls? Remember that we kept Little Wilson Stream on our right while inbound and that we must travel on the AT to reach the falls. We surely did not pass the falls, did we?
Turn left, start hiking, and listen for the falls (think “Niagara” at lower decibels). We won’t regret venturing into the Elliotsville Township forest when we find what awaits us.