There are great views of the notch from some notable spots that don’t require much effort (but you can still tell your friends you hiked part of the historic Appalachian Trail).
Grafton Notch State Park has waterfalls, a cave and a couple of big mountains. With Old Speck Mountain topping out at 4,170 feet and Baldpate Mountain East Peak (3,780 ft.) and West Peak (3,662 ft.), a lot of occasional hikers might be intimidated. But a trip to this state park does not need to include a summit experience. There are great views of the notch from some notable spots that don’t require much effort. And you can tell your friends you hiked part of the historic Appalachian Trail after your visit.
If you are looking for a short (less than a mile), level terrain hiking trail, there are a few that lead to interesting geological features in the park. Each stop is well-marked with signs on the road and offer an informational kiosk to ensure visitors learn about the area’s geology. The highlight of the park for the non-hiker is Screw Auger Falls. It’s a great picnic spot so be sure to pack a lunch to take in the view at the falls. All the stops mentioned below have signs clearly marked on the park’s road (Route 26), which runs about 5 miles total through the notch.
For those who are looking for a serious hiking challenge, the larger 21-mile Grafton Loop Trail offers several backcountry camping options near the summits.
And for folks with canine friends, like most of Maine’s state parks, this one is dog-friendly too.
All the signage at the park is clearly visible from the road. Photo by Wendy Almeida
The multi-tier view of Screw Auger Falls. Photo by Wendy Almeida
The expanse of exposed rock near Screw Auger Falls makes for a great picnic area for visitors. Photo by Wendy Almeida
A closer look at Screw Auger Falls. Photo by Wendy Almeida
One of many informational kiosks in the park. This one teaches visitors about the geology of Screw Auger Falls. Photo by Wendy Almeida
Screw Auger Falls is the best waterfall in the park. There is an expanse of exposed rock, smaller falls and pools of water before you get to the lower falls (follow the wooden fence to get to them). It is a popular picnic spot because of all the exposed rock giving visitors plenty of options for a dry place to sit down. There are also numerous kiosks to explain its fascinating geology in more detail. There are bathrooms near the parking area and only a minimal walk is required to get to the falls. This is simply a stop you don’t want to miss when you visit the park. There is a sign clearly marking the falls from the park road when you enter from the south.
Falls are clearly mark from the park road once you enter the park | Grafton Notch State Park, Route 26, Newry | 207-824-2912 | In season, May 15 to Oct. 15 (although it is open year-round) | Grafton Notch State Park website | Driving directions to park
There are two lower-elevation destinations, one on each side of the notch, that are great look-out points for anyone with an average fitness level. Each also offers a chance to get a new perspective from your previous visit’s perch.
THE APPALACHIAN TRAIL TO TABLE ROCK
The trail to Table Rock, a prominent ledge rock jutting out of the mountain you can see from the trailhead, is approximately a three-mile hike on the east side of the notch. Hikers can choose to hike up the Table Rock Trail, a rocky climb where you’ll see slab caves and loop back down the Appalachian Trail (AT). Or simply hike up and down the white-blazed AT for an easy-to-follow trail. Plus, if you stay on the AT both up and down, you’re even more likely to meet a “thru-hiker.” August and September are particularly popular months to meet a hiker traveling the length of the trail – from Maine to Georgia – for both south- and northbound treks. My kids have enjoyed chatting with thru-hikers they meet on the AT over the years and it makes for an interesting geography (and history) lesson. And if you want to be a “trail angel” (the official AT term), you can pack some extra candy bars or baked goods in your pack to share with the folks hiking the 2,100-plus miles. It’s all part of the AT experience, which you can share, even if you only spend a few minutes on the trail.
TRAIL: Appalachian Trail, Table Rock Trail
TRAILHEAD: About 12 miles from the intersection of Route 26 and Route 2 in Newry. It’s marked on the left side of the road. GPS Coordinates: 44.59, -70.9471 | Get directions
ELEVATION GAIN: About 900 feet
SUMMIT: Table Rock is not a summit, it’s a vista point on Bald Pate Mountain at 1,400 feet.
MILEAGE: approximately 3 miles roundtrip to Table Rock
DIFFICULTY: Moderate for people with an average fitness level. Difficult for children under 8 years old.
BATHROOM: Outhouse at trailhead
NOTE: There are metal bars, also known as “staples,” that serve as stairs you have to climb to get onto the ledge of Table Rock. There is an unmarked alternate path (on the left when facing stairs) around these bars if you look for it. Also, there is a $2 per person fee requested at the trailhead.
THE EYEBROW TRAIL
The Eyebrow, on the west side of the notch, is a trail on Old Speck Mountain that offers a lot of variety for hikers – from the cable handrails to the iron rungs and metal ladder to aid hikers across a small open rock face. My family really likes these features because we don’t see them much on the mountains we’ve climbed. Although this trail is a steep climb, it’s only 1.2 miles to the open ledges and rewards hikers with a nice view (and Table Rock directly across the notch). The Eyebrow Trail intersects with the Old Speck Trail (part of the AT), which has some nice waterfalls and offers a much easier descent. It also gives hikers a looping option to the trailhead for a total of 2.4 miles. Although a bit less mileage than Table Rock, it is the more challenging climb.
TRAIL: The Eyebrow, Old Speck and Appalachian trails
TRAILHEAD: The same trailhead as Table Rock. GPS Coordinates: 44.59, -70.9471 | Get directions
ELEVATION GAIN: About 1,200 feet
SUMMIT: The Eyebrow is not a summit, it’s a vista point on Old Speck Mountain at 1,525 feet.
MILEAGE: loop is about 2.4 miles
DIFFICULTY: Moderate for people with an average fitness level. Parents of kids under 12 should use caution at open rock face.
BATHROOM: Outhouse at trailhead
NOTE: The terrain is dirt with an open rock-face crossing that has iron rungs and a small ladder. There is also a cable handrail in one particularly steep area as well.
Moose Cave is in “a 600-foot gorge carved from granite by glacial meltwater” that’s only about three feet wide where the Bear River flows through it. It’s hard to get a photo of the cave but if you walk across all the wooden platforms that follow the length of the gorge, you’re sure to be fascinated by the rushing water through the large boulder tunnel of fast moving water. The cave was named after “an unlucky moose” that fell into the mass of boulders and if you take the time to read the kiosks on the trail you’ll learn even more about the place.
The cave sign is clearly mark from the park road | Grafton Notch State Park, Route 26, Newry | 207-824-2912 | In season, May 15 to Oct. 15 | Grafton Notch State Park website | Driving directions to park
These falls are a little harder to see because it’s in a deep gorge covered in boulders that doesn’t offer a clear view of the actual falls. But you can see them if you look through the boulders. There is a very short trail leading to the falls from the parking area and a kiosk to explain how the falls were formed.
The falls sign is clearly mark from the park road | Grafton Notch State Park, Route 26, Newry | 207-824-2912 | In season, May 15 to Oct. 15 (although it is open year-round) | Grafton Notch State Park website | Driving directions to park