Table Rock, Grafton Notch State Park
This Grafton Notch hike offers extraordinary views after a relatively easy, short climb. That is, the hiking is moderately easy if you go up the Appalachian Trail for 0.9 miles and then take the 0.5-mile trail that cuts straight over to Table Rock. There’s just a bit of a clamber up rocks and rungs to the flat rock ledge at the end. Table Rock sticks out of the side of Baldpate Mountain 900 feet above the valley road, offering great views of Old Speck Mountain and down the notch.
Be careful, though, because the cliffs plummet straight down!
For those who want more of a challenge, you can take the Table Rock Trail up, blazed in orange. This 0.8-mile trail is very steep, with lots of climbing over boulders and huffing up stone steps. I’d advise not going down it, but rather returning on the AT. But it’s an interesting trail because you pass under the cliffs that make up Table Rock, and squeeze around huge fallen boulders. You can explore the slab caves here, although we didn’t.
The total loop is about 2.7 miles according to my GPS.
Directions: You can leave from the huge parking area for Old Speck Mountain, off of Route 26. Cross the road on the AT, and you’ll reach the junction with Table Rock Trail in about 0.1 mile, heading off to your right.
Goose Eye Mountain, Grafton Notch State Park
There are several ways to reach the top of this fantastic mountain with two peaks (the taller is 3,974 feet). I’ve just hiked the 4.6-mile Wright Trail so far, which leaves from Bull Branch Road, a dirt road that is maintained well enough for low-clearance vehicles.
The Wright Trail in Grafton Notch State Park and Mahoosuc Public Lands initially lulls you into a peaceful state of calm for the first 2.5 miles, before startling you wide awake when the trail begins to ascend steeply. The first half of the trail follows Goose Eye Brook, which has lovely cascades and pools all along this stretch. Those who don’t want to summit the mountain can meander alongside the brook, possibly swimming in one of its deeper pools if it’s hot enough. (You can see on my map where we left the main trail to check out pretty spots in the brook. You’ll start to see nice stuff around 0.6 miles in.) The trail ascends gradually, offering a gentle walk through the woods. You’ll have to cross a few streams, though, jumping from rock to rock.
The nature of the hike changes when you reach the campsite, at 2.5 miles. Here you’ll make a crossing over Goose Eye Brook, which can be difficult. Then the trail starts to head steeply up. You’ll get a bit of a reprieve after a half mile or so of climbing, when the trail flattens a bit before climbing again. Shortly, at 3.1 miles, you’ll emerge over tree line on a spectacular but very exposed ridge. The wind can come gusting at you without many nearby peaks to blunt its force!
After walking along the ridge a short ways, you’ll dip back into the forest again before reaching the Appalachian Trail. Turn left and you’ll arrive at the lovely summit of Goose Eye in 0.3 miles (passing southbound the At to Mt. Carlo on your right at 0.2 miles). Views abound all around. If you had turned right at the AT back when it intersected with the Wright Trail, you could climb steeply for 0.1 mile to the summit of North Peak, which has great views of Goose Eye.
When we hiked this trail in September, 2021, it was very muddy, especially at the top along the ridge.
Swimming: After your hike, you can plunge into the popular Frenchman’s Hole, which is on Bull Branch Road about 1.1 miles before the parking area for Wright Trail. Kids like to jump off the rocks into the deep pool underneath the waterfall. You can also cool off in one of the pools you’ll pass alongside Wright Trail.
Directions: Follow Sunday River Road for 7.8 miles; it’ll switch to gravel at around 6.5 miles. When it take a sharp left to cross Bull Branch river, you’ll come to a fork in the road. Go right onto Bull Branch Road. You’ll pass Frenchman’s Hole in a little under a mile on your right. On hot days, it’ll be mobbed here! Continue another 1.1 miles or so to the end of the road, blocked by a gate. There’ll be a large parking area here. Walk back along the road a short ways to see the trailhead kiosk (on your right if you’re walking away from the parking area).
Dunn Falls, near Grafton Notch State Park
Just 2.5 miles or so farther up Upton Road from the Cataracts Trail is a slightly longer loop trail that brings you to a beautiful, tall waterfall and enticingly swimmable pool. The trail is not quite in Grafton Notch State Park, but it is part of protected lands.
The trail splits quickly after the trailhead. To the right is the white-blazed Appalachian Trail, and to the left is the Dunn Falls trail, blazed in blue.
I recommend taking the Dunn Falls trail — in other words, going clockwise around the loop. It continues along mostly flat, if not a bit downhill through forest, until it splits at 0.8 miles at an intersection next to the stream. Take this spur trail to the right, and in about .2 miles you’ll reach the bottom of the falls.
Return back along this spur, and take a right at the main path to continue the loop. In 0.2 miles, you’ll reach the intersection with the AT (and a nice look down the waterfall gorge), and you can head back to the parking area in 0.8 miles.
Directions: From Andover, to the east, follow Upton Road about eight miles to the parking area. There is a dirt parking lot on the right side of the road, about 100 feet or so beyond the trailhead and the Appalachian Trail crossing. The AT here is marked with rock cairns.
Cataracts Trail, Grafton Notch State Park
Grafton Notch State Park has several amazing waterfall areas, all quite close to the road and easily accessible. The famous ones are off of Route 26 — like Moose Falls and the legendary Step Falls. But Cataracts is a great option for waterfall lovers. And because it’s a little farther out of the way, it’s visited less, I think.
From the trailhead on Upton Road, the path is a fairly easy .4-mile walk uphill (albeit over rocks and roots) to an impressively tall, narrow waterfall, and to the beautiful pools above it. Take some time to explore around the pools, and swim if you can!
The .4-mile trail curves at the end away from the stream to an outhouse. A well-worn trail continues beyond that point — but it is not drawn an any official map, so I am not sure where it ends up. It appears to continues into park land, so I don’t think someone would be in danger of trespassing on private property if they explored it.
Directions: Take Upton Road west from Andover for 5.4 miles. Right before a short bridge, you’ll see a pullover on the right side of the road for several cars. The trailhead kiosk is across the street.
Grafton Loop Trail (West), Grafton Notch State Park
If you like long hiking days, the 38.6-mile Grafton Loop Trail, in Grafton Notch State Park and Mahoosuc Public Lands, offers a wonderful challenge. You could backpack the trail over two or three days, or you can park two cars at either end of the traverses and split the loop into two (very long!) one-day hikes.
We did the 16.3-mile Grafton Notch Loop on the south side in one day (or some would refer to it as the west side), and have yet to do the other side, unfortunately. We started from the Old Speck Mountain trailhead (north end of the park) and ended at the Grafton Notch trailhead.
The western loop includes several summits, but only two of them—4,180-foot Old Speck and 3,335-foot Sunday River Whitecap—offer views. But holy moly, does Sunday River Whitecap offer glorious views. It’s an amazing mountain, with a beautiful, open summit and raised walkways and stone walls to keep hikers from damaging the fragile alpine habitat. And because it’s so hard to get to — about 10 or 7 miles in either direction — you are not likely to share it with many people. Or at least, we were surprised we had it to ourselves on a sunny Sunday in September.
More details: Western Loop, starting from the north end: The first 3.2 miles of the trail begin along the well-traveled Appalachian Trail, blazed in white. This is the steepest and most popular section of the 16.3 miles. At 3.5 miles, you leave the AT and head left on the Grafton Notch Loop trail. In 0.3 miles, you’ll reach the Old Speck Mountain summit and fire tower. The views are great from the tower—for those brave enough to climb up. The good news is that the hard part of the hike is over; you will not be gaining huge elevations from here on out. In fact, much of the rest of the route is flat or slightly downhill, until you start ascending Sunday River Whitecap, which is much easier than Old Speck. From this high point—metaphorically, that is, since it’s lower than Old Speck but so spectacular—you make the long way down to old farm roads and then out to Route 26.
Directions: Hikers start the Grafton Loop at either the trailhead parking for Old Speck Mountain, or at the Grafton Trailhead. Because you can’t park at the end of the trail coming down Bald Mountain on the western side, you have to walk 0.6 miles to the official parking lot, on the right.
Eyebrow Trail, Grafton Notch State Park
Eyebrow Trail in red (at the north end of the map); Grafton Loop Trail in blue
This is a tough little trail! But the views are lovely from the ridge, as you can look all the way down the notch. We think it’s called the Eyebrow Trail because the trail curves over an exposed cliff with rock grains that are curved like an eye. You can see this pattern in the rock wall when you’re standing below it in the parking lot.
You can pick up the Eyebrow Trail from the parking area for the Old Speck Mountain trail and others. Both trails—for Old Speck and Eyebrow—start out on the Appalachian Trail. In about 0.1 miles, the red-blazed Eyebrow Trail branches off to the right. I recommend taking this and doing the Eyebrow Trail loop counterclockwise, to get the very steep portion out of the way first. Then you can descend on the less steep Appalachian Trail. The Eyebrow Trail has rungs, a steel rope, and a ladder to assist hikers over the steepest section of exposed ledge.
Directions: The trail starts from the big parking lot at the bottom of Old Speck Mountain, off Route 26 in Grafton Notch Park.
Step Falls Preserve, Newry and near Grafton Notch State Park
Along Route 26, you can make several stops to check out pretty glorious falls. The first one, Step Falls, might be the nicest, with the stream running over smooth, wide rocks into deep pools for at least half the length of 0.5-mile trail. I bet this place is a zoo on a hot summer day.
Although there is a place for handicap parking here, the trail is not too, too easy. It’s short, though. It ends at a private property line.
Farther west along Route 26, you can also take a short walk (1/4-mile) at Screw Augur Falls and at Moose Cove. Mother Walker Falls is in between the two — and is not quite as impressive as the other spots. At Moose Cove, the trail is wide and easy, with steps, boardwalks, and overlooks.
Directions: Going west on Route 26 toward the state park, you’ll see the preserve parking lot on the right, just before Wight Brook, about eight miles from Route 2. It’l the second preserve you’ll pass — the first is for Stewart Family Preserve and Grafton Loop Trail. The preserve is ten miles from the New Hampshire border, 14 miles northwest of Bethel and one-half mile southeast of Grafton Notch State Park.
My pics include some shots from Screw Augur and Moose Cove.
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