|Source:||Outdoors with Kids Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont (AMC Books)|
|Address:||44° 35.383´ N 70° 56.801´ W|
|Hours:||9 A.M. to sunset unless otherwise posted|
|Fee:||$3.00 adult Maine residents, $4.00 adult nonresidents, $1.00 children ages 5–11; $1.00 non-resident seniors; children under 5 and Maine residents 65 and older are free|
|Bathrooms:||Rustic restrooms at trailhead|
Spectacular views await after either a moderate one-way hike or a more challenging loop up chutes and ladders in the scenic Grafton Notch area.
Grafton Notch is one of Maine’s most spectacular recreational areas, rife with cascading waters, swimming holes, mountain peaks, and abundant trails. Backcountry terrain here can be rugged, and the 3,000-acre state park includes twelve of the most challenging miles along the whole Appalachian Trail (AT). This hike to Table Rock balances a taste of rugged backcountry adventure with family-friendly manageability.
The trailhead begins from the northern side of the parking lot. Take the white-blazed AT to your right, which leads briefly into the forest before crossing over ME 26. Cars often travel quickly over this winding road, so proceed cautiously. The trail picks up on the other side, marked by a brown sign of a hiker with a walking stick. Kids will enjoy balancing on the halved-log boardwalk that keeps them elevated from the soggy terrain below. After just over 0.1 mile of trekking though woodlands, the trail reaches a prominent junction. To the right, the orange-blazed, 1.3-mile Table Rock Trail beckons. Only experienced hikers and older children should attempt this trail, as it rises steeply through a series of tricky chutes and ladders and crosses potentially treacherous boulder fields on its way to the summit. The route as described here is a tamer adventure: bear left at the trail junction, following the whiteblaze AT.
You are likely to share this section of trail with sure-footed hikers loaded with big backpacks—particularly if you’re hiking in late summer and fall. Many of these travelers are part of an elite group of adventurers who hike the whole 2,000-mile AT from Springer Mountain, Georgia, to the top of Katahdin. Most “thru-hikers” appreciate a word of encouragement and congratulations (not to mention any fresh food you feel like sharing), so don’t be afraid to say hello.
The wide, rugged trail rises at a moderate grade through the forest, crossing a stream at just over 0.3 mile before briefly leveling. At approximately 1.0 mile, it reaches a second trail junction. Bear right (south) onto the blue-blazed trail at a sign for Table Rock, leaving the AT behind. The ascent is moderate most of the way to the summit (1.5 miles), save for the final few hundred feet, which is steep.
The large, flat summit juts out over its supporting base like a tabletop, offering a spectacular perch. On a clear day look for mountains in the Mahoosuc Range, including Puzzle Mountain, Old Speck, and Sunday River Whitecap. The granite slab is the perfect setting for lunch—just be sure kids sit far enough from the ledge, as the drop-off is extreme.
To descend, choose one of two options: retrace your steps down the moderate blue-blazed trail and the AT for a 3.0-mile round-trip, or create a loop via the challenging orange-blazed Table Rock Trail. If choosing the latter, be sure your whole group is prepared to descend down steep, rocky terrain that tests even the most sure-footed hikers (and rewards them with exciting features and plenty of great views).
The trail meets the summit at its northeastern corner before plunging down through woods into a gully. Keep your eye on the orange blazes, which are prominently placed to mark the way. At 0.1 mile, pass below the ledges supporting Table Rock before tracing the narrow path through massive boulders and alongside slab caves that are sure to delight hikers old and young. The rocky jungle requires patience and attention, though kids will likely revel in the challenge.
After picking through the boulder field, enjoy the views of Old Speck Mountain looming in front of you. The trail then leads down an impressive series of rock steps, stairways, and drainage devices installed by the Maine Conservation Corps over the course of four years. Can kids imagine how much sweat went into carrying and placing all those rocks?! Eventually, the steep grade becomes more gradual and, at 1.3 miles from Table Rock, reunites with the white-blazed AT. Turn left at this junction, continuing back to the trailhead.Plan B:
Grafton Notch offers a plethora of highlights, including one of Maine’s most heavily visited waterfalls, Screw Auger Falls. The 23-foot cascade is located 1.0 mile north of the Grafton Notch State Park entrance and accessible via an easy 0.1-mile jaunt off ME 26 from the large parking area (complete with picnic tables and bathrooms), and it’s easy to see why crowds are drawn here.Where to Eat Nearby:
The scenic, quaint mountain town of Bethel (less than a half hour’s drive from Grafton Notch State Park) offers a number of small diners, coffee shops, and markets where you can pick up provisions or sit down for an enjoyable meal.
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