QUICK TRAIL FACTS
- Preserve Size: 34,955 acres
- Trail Mileage: 16 miles
- Pets: yes
- Difficulty: challenging
- Sights: views, forest habitats, streams, alpine habitat
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.