In 2016, when Katahdin Woods and Waters became a national monument, public access to four gorgeous waterfalls along the East Branch of the Penobscot River was preserved. Getting to these pitches is possible year-round, but takes much less effort in warmer weather when you can park your car at the Haskell Gate and spend eight easy miles trail running or mountain biking to these locations.
The International Appalachian Trail runs for 50k connecting the north and south entrances to the monument. Most of the IAT, with the exception of mountain sections, is old logging roads where mountain bikes are welcome. The IAT from Haskell Gate to the waterfalls is pretty flat for Maine, which combined with the clean footing, makes the trip accessible for folks who want some wilderness but don't want the challenge of elevation or terrain.
The East Branch is a popular canoe trip. The campsites and portages along the river give you excellent access to the water views. The combination of portage trails and the IAT, both incredibly well marked, brings you to each waterfall.
Lentil and I set out in the afternoon, she on her mountain bike and me trail running, planning to enjoy the afternoon warmth and golden light. Except for blowdowns, we were able to run and ride alongside each other, chatting on the way. We ski into Stair Falls every spring and decided to skip the half-mile spur to that waterfall in order to spend more time at the other pitches. But if you've never been, take the time to travel the side-trail to the canoe portage and follow the portage trail downstream. Once you reach the riverbank, look upstream to get a beautiful view of the falls with The Travelers in Baxter State Park on the horizon.
Haskell Rock Pitch comes next. The viewpoint for this waterfall is right off the IAT, so you can't miss it. The vantage point give you a view of the falls upstream and the churning waters as they pass downstream
Not too further down the IAT you'll come to your only major trail intersection. Although the trail narrows as the IAT bears left, and the blowdowns become a little more frequent, it's still mostly double track and remains relatively easy terrain.
Next you'll arrive to Pond Pitch. The campsite is close to the IAT and offers a lovely view of the East Branch, but follow the portage trail downstream to the base of the falls where you can take in the full pitch.
Finally, the Grand Falls hut is right on the IAT. The portage trail leaves from behind the hut. Follow it downstream to the cliffside viewpoint. The water drops dramatically through the falls and courses through the deep ravine below. It's stunning, and well worth the effort of the run, even without the other three waterfalls on the route.
Reversing direction and getting back to your car at Haskell Gate is quick work, staying on the IAT and skipping the spurs and portage trails. Lentil and I handled the return in less than an hour and saw a moose on the access road on our way out of the monument.