About Dunn Falls
Dunn Falls seemed to be one of those waterfalls where I really had to work to see. Even though our sampling of waterfalls in the state of Maine was very small, I somehow got the sense that this waterfall typified the wild and off-the-beaten path feel given how seemingly undeveloped much of the state of Maine was. In any case, I felt that the effort I had to put in to both find and reach the waterfall were worth it, and I truly did feel like I was in a place where peace and solitude amidst some raw Nature was achievable at a waterfall that was worthwhile to go out of the way for.
The waterfall experience experience was actually two main waterfalls. There was a Lower and Upper Dunn Falls. The lower waterfall featured a pair of steep drops in a narrow ravine mostly hidden from sight until I was able to get right into the ravine itself (see photo at the top of this page). It was said to have a cumulative drop of 80ft. There was a fallen log that was stuck within the narrow crevice that somehow gave it a bit of character underscoring the drama of how rough weather and flooding could have put it there, but who knows how much longer it will be there.
Meanwhile, the upper waterfall featured a sloping and fanned out shape over a 70ft cumulative drop. It was lighter flowing than the lower waterfall and the viewing was a bit more awkward thanks to the rocks and jumble of foliage beneath its largest tier as well as how close I had to stand in front of it. However, the large plunge pool that was out-of-sight below of this upper drop at the base of its lowest tier looked very inviting. If there was ever a place for a quiet swim in peace and solitude, this would be it (in the Summer, that is; the water was way too cold during my Autumn visit).
My pre-trip reading of our copy of the New England Waterfalls book made a real good suggestion of doing a loop hike that went straight to the pair of waterfalls first, then return on the Appalachian Trail. It said that this route was only 2 miles, but I swore that the hike was much longer than that, plus it featured a lot of elevation gain and loss that was steep in many places and fairly rough (making me glad that I didn’t bring our daughter and Julie on this hike). Some of the steep climbs and drops were even on the Appalachian Trail itself, which made me wonder just how the trailblazers would expect people with heavy packs to do this hike. In any case, my GPS log said I had hiked at least 2.6 miles, and it took me nearly 2.5 hours to finish at a quick pace tempered by numerous photo stops (what can I say, I like to take my time taking photos).
The trail began from an unassuming pullout besides the road (see directions below). Then, I had to explore a bit and walk along this road for about 200ft east towards a pair of trail openings on both sides of the road. The white hash that was marked on the road itself next to the south opening along with an Appalachian Trail signpost on the opposite side of the road for the north opening assured me that I had found the right place to start the hike. The path that I had to take was going downhill from the south opening (i.e. the one with the white blaze on the road).
After descending some steps, I quickly got close to a junction next to the brook. A sign indicated that the Cascade Trail was on the left while one of the Appalachian Trail junctions was on the right. This would be the beginning and end of the looping part of the hike so per the advice of the New England Waterfalls (NEW) book, I kept left and followed the brook downstream past a series of some small cascades and rapids.
After about 0.5 miles from the Cascade Trail junction, I encountered a fairly long and rocky stream crossing. The NEW book said this stream might deep enough to wade across during times of higher runoff so I had brought hiking sandals just in case I had to do that if the stream was deep enough to get inside my hiking boots. However, it turned out that the stream was low enough that carrying the weight of the hiking sandals wasn’t necessary for this crossing.
Immediately following this stream crossing, the trail steeply climbed uphill towards a ridge. The steep climb felt like a little bit of deja vu where the Bemis Brook Trail detour to get back to the Arethusa Falls Trail involved some rough scrambling where paying close attention to the hashes kept us from getting lost. In the Dunn Falls hike, I had to follow blue hashes (or blazes) while being careful not to fall and tumble back down the mountainside.
Once I was on the ridge, the hiking was much easier once again as the trail undulated then eventually descended back down towards the brook once again. At the bottom of the descent, the trail turned to the right and continued amongst a flat leafy section of forest before getting to the next stream crossing – this time of the Ellis River – about 0.2 miles from the first stream crossing. This particular crossing was also long and required me to do some rock hopping, but I could imagine how crossing it with the boots off might be required if the water level of the river was any higher than when I saw it.
Beyond this second stream crossing, the trail then took me to a fork on the trail. There was a cluster of blue hashes, which further hinted to me of the decision to make. Once again using the NEW book as the guide, I knew that going left at this fork would’ve continued towards the Appalachian Trail while the right fork would lead me towards the Lower Dunn Falls. So I went right and followed this somewhat narrower and rockier trail (eroded in some spots) for another 0.2 miles until I could hear the sounds of rushing water get louder.
When I realized that the falls was hidden out of sight in a ravine, I scrambled on the boulders that were in the way to get closer (being very careful not to slip and fall given how slippery they would be when wet), and eventually situated myself right in front of the impressive Lower Falls right beneath the fallen log spanning its narrow ravine. Since I didn’t bring a tripod with me, I had to get creative and use the boulders to steady the camera for that pleasing shot you see at the top of this web page.
This waterfall could’ve made me content to just see this one and go back to the trailhead, but I knew there was another waterfall to see so I backtracked on the rough spur trail to get back to the Cascades Trail, then I followed the other fork uphill which eventually brought me up towards the top of Lower Dunn Falls. There was yet another trail junction (this time I saw white blazes indicating the Appalachian Trail) so I turned right at this junction to cross the West Branch of the Ellis River above the Lower Falls making sure I was sure-footed so I wouldn’t fall over the waterfall below me, and then I encountered another trail junction on the other side of the river. This trail junction had a sign telling me that the trail to the Upper Falls was on the left while the trail back to connect with the Appalachian Trail was on the right.
There was a gorgeous view of the forest and the Autumn colors beyond the ravine containing the Lower Dunn Falls, and I used this as a little bit of a break to assess where I was at while also snapping more photos (being careful not to get too close to the edge of the cliff). Then, I took the trail on the left to pursue the Upper Dunn Falls.
The trail was much flatter and fairly easy to follow, and I once again had to follow blue-colored hashes to ensure that I wouldn’t lose the trail. The path pretty much followed the West Branch of the Ellis River in the upstream direction the whole way so I never lost my sense of direction here. After about 0.3 miles (with a minor rock climb along the way), I eventually get to the large and pleasing plunge pool fronting a small waterfall. At first I thought this was the Upper Dunn Falls, but then I saw that there were more somewhat concealed tiers further upstream from this sun-drenched tier of the waterfall.
So I continued to get closer to those hidden upper tiers, which involved scrambling up a steep embankment that went up and around the smaller waterfall. Then, I found myself next to the sloping upper tiers of the Upper Dunn Falls. I had to scramble a bit more on some fallen logs in order to get right into the middle of the stream so I could finally get a frontal look at the cascade before me, but the close proximity of the viewing spot with the 70ft slooping falls made the viewing a bit awkward. There was no way I could capture this falls in a single still without stitching.
Anyways, compared with the Lower Dunn Falls, the Upper Dunn Falls was a bit of an anticlimax. However, it was still a pleasant reward for the trouble to get here, and I’m sure at a warmer time of the year, I probably could’ve gone for a dip back at that large plunge pool below.
When I had my fill of this waterfall, I backtracked the 0.3 miles to the signposted trail junction at the top of the Lower Dunn Falls. Then, I went steeply uphill to the left (making sure I didn’t re-cross the river above the Lower Falls) where I was once again following white blazes to keep me from getting lost. I kept telling myself that this seemingly long and steep climb to regain the Appalachian Trail would be the end of the hardest part of the hike, but little did I know that the remainder of the hike after this climb would still undulate up and down along a ridge for the next 0.7 miles (from the top of the Lower Dunn Falls) before finally descending back towards the brook crossing next to the original trail junction at the very start of the hike.
After crossing the brook, I just had to go back up the steps and follow the road back to the parked car (as well as the awaiting Julie and Tahia) to resume our trip. Indeed, this wasn’t an easy hike, but it was rewarding. And I didn’t encounter another person the whole time I was on this trail. So I’d imagine if you want nice waterfalls without a crowd, going through the effort to see the waterfall ensemble that this loop trail had to offer would be just what the doctor ordered.
The nearest town of any significant size that we encountered while trying to find Dunn Falls was Bethel, Maine where the US 2, Hwy 26, and Hwy 5 meet. We’ll pick up the driving directions from here.
Heading east on the US 2 towards Bethel, Maine, we turned left to stay on the US 2 (while the Hwy 26 also coincided with it) and followed it for the next 12 miles towards Rumford Town where we turned left to leave the US 2 and continue on Hwy 5. We followed Hwy 5 for about 10.4 miles to its junction with Route 120 in the town of Andover, then we turned left at the junction onto Newton Street.
We followed Newton Street west out of Andover where it then became Upton Rd and eventually E B Hill Rd for about the next 8 miles passing through Andover West Surplus Town. Look for an unsigned pullout with room for about 3 cars or so on the right side of the road. This was where I was able to park the car.
Had we found ourselves at the Andover North Surplus Town, then we would have gone too far by about 0.8 miles.
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