Poplar Stream Falls is located in Carrabassett Valley, a town famous for its ski resort, Sugarloaf USA. The falls lie a few miles east of resort, accessible by either a short and uneventful hike or a long and enjoyable one. The falls can be accessed by mountain bicycles or hiking in summer and cross-country skis or snowshoes in winter.
There are two drops here, each on a different water source. One set of falls, a 24-foot horsetail with a swimming pool below, is on Poplar Stream, just below a bridge on a private dirt road owned by the Penobscot Indian Nation. The other falls is a 51-foot horsetail on South Brook. These falls fan beautifully down a steep rock face into a wide sunny pool. These two streams merge only 0.1 mile downstream of each of the falls.
Once difficult to find, these falls are now easily accessible by the newly constructed Poplar Stream Falls Hut and its related trail network. This welcoming hut, which offers backcountry accommodations, hot meals and hot showers year-round, is part of the grand vision of the Maine Huts and Trails® organization. They hope to create a system of 12 “rustic, yet comfortable” backcountry huts stretching across 180-miles of trail from Bethel to Moosehead Lake. Two huts are already in service, and a third (Grand Falls Hut) is slated to begin construction in 2010.
Although you can reach these falls more easily by the private dirt road, we highly recommend using the trailhead on Gauge Rd to create a memorable loop by visiting many of the new trails, both set of falls, and the fantastic Poplar Stream Falls Hut.
Due to the construction of a Maine Huts & Trails® hut facility near the falls, several new trails have been constructed to the falls. As such, the following trail information will be significantly different from the first edition. The trails described below depict the most enjoyable route to visit both waterfalls and the new hut. There is an easier and shorter way to visit just the falls—see the “Special Note” section within the driving directions.
The starting point of this hike is now the new Gauge Rd trailhead. There is a large billboard display here with a detailed trail map to help you attain your bearings. The trail begins behind this display and immediately enters the woods on a wide well-maintained path. After only 0.1 mile, you will reach a junction; take a left onto the “Cut-Off Trail”, which will merge back with the main trail after an easy 0.3 mile. Taking this cut-off trail is optional, but it does reduce the hike by 0.2 mile. When you connect back with the main trail, take a left to continue heading north towards the falls and the hut. Hike for 0.1 mile along the main trail and you will reach a junction with the Narrow Gauge Trail. Take a right and in 0.2 mile you will reach another junction, this time with the Falls Loop Trail. Take a left and hike along this blue-blazed trail for 1.1 miles as it closely parallels Poplar Stream for the majority of its distance. When you reach a hikers bridge over South Brook, follow the trail as it heads right towards the magnificent 51-foot falls.
To find the other waterfall, which is on Poplar Stream, follow the blue-blazed trail uphill on a well-designed rock staircase. This staircase is about 100 feet away from this first waterfall. Just beyond the top of the staircase, look for a slightly less obvious trail on your left. This is the spur trail that will guide you 0.1 miles to the falls. Once you are done visiting this second set of falls, backtrack to this junction.
At this point, you will have a choice to make. If you wish to visit the new Poplar Stream Falls Hut and make a large loop out of your hike (which we highly recommend that you do), take a left and hike onward for 0.4 miles while passing two signed junctions along the way to the hut. When you are done visiting the hut, take a left at the trail junction that is 0.1 mile south of the Hut. Follow this new trail for 1.4 miles and you will arrive back at the junction with the Falls Loop Trail, which you passed much earlier. From here, follow the original trails you took at the start of your hike to return back to your vehicle. Helpful signage posted at every conceivable junction assures that you should not get lost returning to your car. Just make sure you follow signs to the Gauge Trailhead and do not confuse it with the Narrow Gauge Trail! If you wish to skip the hut and return to the parking area, take a right and head back down the rock staircase to the first set of falls. Cross the bridge downstream of the falls, and follow the trails that originally guided you here.
Directions for this particular waterfall are not posted online. Please see directions in our published guidebook, New England Waterfalls: A Guide to More Than 400 Cascades And Waterfalls, or you can email us and we will happily provide them to you. When requesting directions via email, please remember to specify which particular waterfall(s) you are looking for directions to.
SPECIAL NOTES / UPDATES SINCE THE 2ND EDITION:
There is an easier and shorter way to reach these two waterfalls. Instead of taking a right onto Gauge Rd, continue 1.8 miles further down Carriage Rd (assuming the access gate is open, as it often is) and take a right onto an unmarked road. Follow this bumpy dirt road for 0.2 miles to a parking area on the right just before the road curves left and crosses a bridge over Poplar Stream. The 24-foot horsetail waterfall described above is located just below this bridge.
To reach the more impressive waterfall on South Brook, find the blue-blazed trail that runs parallel to Poplar Stream and hike along it with the river on your right. Follow this trail for 0.1 mile and you will reach a T-junction. A left would direct you towards the Poplar Stream Falls Hut. Instead, take a right to descend a lengthy rock staircase and the 45-foot falls will be presented to you on your left.