“The Grafton Loop Trail is a 38.6 mile, backcountry hiking experience in the Mahoosuc Mountains of Maine. The trail, which connects to the Appalachian Trail at Old Speck and the East Peak of Baldpate Mountain on either side of ME Route 26, highlights the natural features and mountain peaks of the area encircling Bear River Valley. Because of its length and the terrain it traverses, the trail is strenuous and requires appropriate equipment and preparation.”
I’ve had my mind set on trying some new longer loops this year, and The Grafton Loop was at the top of the list. The mountains of Maine are inviting and remote compared to the high peaks of New Hampshire that I am used to. They’re not as crowded, and the woods just have a whole different personality up there. We tackled the loop as a team of 6, we drove up to Gorham NH to spend night 0 at Hikers Paradise, a hostel I’ve stayed at a few times when hiking in the northern parts of NH.
After checking over all the gear and getting organized and a hearty breakfast, we set off for Maine, spotting a car at the Northern TH on RT26 before heading back to the Southern TH to start our loop. We traveled clockwise; our intention was to go all the way to Bull Branch tent site. We ended up getting caught up in a scary lightning storm atop Sunday River Whitecap, but the rain wasn’t too bad, and we got to Slide tent site and set up camp. This was a nice camp with good water sources and a bear box. After a hearty dinner we went to bed and int he morning we set out on the trail again, heading for Old Speck. The woods here were really nice, and soon we came to the fire tower at the summit. We spent time here taking in the views and eating some lunch. Just after Old Speck the Grafton Loop Trail joins the Appalachian Trail, and we met a few south bound hikers. There are some really nice views back to Old Speck on the way down, as well as some really nice waterfalls. Eventually we made it back to the parking lot, and we quickly did our resupply, crossed the road, and re-entered the woods for the eastern half of the loop. We pushed hard and gained elevation up to Baldpate lean-to. This was my favorite camp, it’s a large lean-to, great water source and privy, and a small fire ring. I think some group had been up there the night before having a 4th of July party, it was sad to see they left so much trash behind.
Day 3 was going to be difficult, we knew it from the get go. We got an early start and headed up towards Baldpate. This section is very ledgy and has some ladders in places. I really like this terrain and the views are fantastic from East Baldpate. Again we met more south bound hikers at the summit and chatted with them for a bit. We couldn’t stay long as we had a long day of hiking to get to our final camp, Stewart. We hiked up and over Long Mountain, and along the ridge, going past some very inviting campsites. Lane is right along the river and looked like it had some great swimming hole potential, but we really needed to push on the Stewart to ensure we’d have a nice easy 5 mile hike out on Sunday. This section was very overgrown in some places, and the bugs were much worse than the rest of the loop. It was a good 13 mile push, with an unwelcome climb halfway up Puzzle Mountain at the end, but we arrived at Stewart and met 1 solo Grafton Loop hiker. We set up our camp and made dinner again, and had a wash up in the stream. In the morning we packed up and headed for the summit of Puzzle. Again there’s some fantastic views of the whole park from the top, it really is nice to look back and see all the places we’d hiked over the past 2 days. We got down and back to our cars, had a celebratory beverage and headed to the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center for some much needed showers, and then onto Moat Mountain Smoke House & Brewing Co for a big lunch.
This was a great trip, my first time camping out for 3 nights. Surprisingly my legs weren’t even that sore after! East Baldpate was my 89th summit for the New England Hundred Highest list. I’m getting close!!
Distance: 37.93 mi
Elevation Gain: 12,710 ft