With all the great hiking in Maine, the Grafton Loop Trail (MATC trail map link) is a rarity for the state: a multi-day backpacking loop on the outskirts of the White Mountains. The eastern side of Route 26 is the longer (21.1 miles) and more difficult section.
Hiking in northern New England is no simple walk in the park. Consider that we’re also home to some of the finest micro-breweries in the business, and one has to wonder: What’s the point of all those rugged, root-tangled miles if the calories burnt aren’t immediately replenished by a pint of ale and good old pub grub?
The Appalachian Trail’s northbound ascent of Baldpate Mountain from Grafton Notch is a rocky, bruising trail in the summer that crushes the hopes of thru hikers looking for an easy stretch after the rigorous Mahoosuc Range. Add snow and this hike transforms into a backcountry winter wonderland where you’re more likely to encounter a moose than a fellow hiker.
At 281.4 miles, Maine accounts for only 13 percent of the 2,178.3-mile Appalachian Trail. Statistics, however, are for maps. Ask anyone who has completed the entire trail and they’ll likely tell you Maine is the toughest state of the 14 trail states.
The Old Speck Trail in Grafton Notch State Park is a near-perfect hike for intermediate hikers. Ascending Maine’s third highest mountain (fourth highest peak) at 4,180 feet, the trail itself has 2,700 feet of elevation gain featuring stop-and-stare scenery with steep climbs that will get your heart pumping and intermittent plateaus to catch your breath. In the winter, at the tail end of a three-snowstorm week, the morning after one of the storms, it’s a little more difficult. Interpretation of the word “little” is really something everyone has to judge for themselves—a key piece of information I may have left out of the sales pitch to my wife.