Hiking the Grafton Loop – Camping in Maine

Come along for 4 days of hiking, backpacking and camping in Maine.

For this trip, we’ll be backpacking a loop hike of the Grafton Loop in Maine’s Grafton Notch State Park.  Full GPS track data along with points of interest (campsites, water sources, etc) available for download on the Trip Data Page.

Grafton Loop - Route Overview

Grafton Loop – Route Overview

The Grafton Loop is a roughly 39 mile, 9 summit hiking loop formed by connecting a portion of the Appalachian trail with the Grafton Loop Trail.  Portions of the trail traverse both Maine’s Grafton Notch State Park as well as a good deal of private land.  For this reason, designated campsites are mandatory for most of the loop’s route, along with a restriction on campfires.  For those of you who like to stealth camp, you’ll have to do a bit more planning for this trip.  It took several years to come to an agreement with all of the land owners the that trail traverses, so it’s best to stick to the script and keep them happy so we can continue to enjoy this route.

The four of us chose to do the loop clockwise over the course of 4 days.  Many people choose to do it in 3 days, and a rarer few do it in 2.  Don’t be deceived by the rolling beauty of the photos you see though – the Grafton Loop is still in the White Mountains region and has it’s fair share of strenuous elevation and steep inclines, littered with roots and rocks.  If rain is expected, be prepared to move carefully on the many sections of solid and potentially slick rock faces on the balder summits.  We stacked up nearly 13,000 feet of elevation gain over the course of our trip.  Not too shabby.  For comparison, that’s almost 3,000 more feet than the Pemi Loop.  Be aware of your group’s capability, as well as desired amount of relaxing versus mileage, and plan your number of days accordingly.

Summits: Bald Mountain, Puzzle Mountain, Long Mountain, Lightning Ledge, Old Speck, West Baldpate, East Baldpate, Miles Notch, Sunday River Whitecap

Parking: 985 Maine 26, Newry, ME 04261 Near intersection of Rt 26 and Eddy Rd


Hike approximately one half mile south from parking lot to the Grafton Loop Trailhead located at 44.530831,-70.825252.  Note: Parking is not allowed here at this trailhead, hence the road hike.

Trails Used Day 1:
Grafton Loop Trail
Setup camp at the Slide Mountain Campsite
Day 1 Mileage: 10.86 miles
Day 1 Gross Elevation Gain: 4,094′

Elevation Profile Day 1

Elevation Profile Day 1

Trails Used Day 2:
Old Speck Trail / Appalachian Trail
Grafton Loop Trail
Stealth camp in col between West Baldpate Mountain and East Baldpate Mountain
Day 2 Mileage: 11 miles
Day 2 Gross Elevation Gain: 4,364′

Elevation Profile Day 2

Elevation Profile Day 2

Trails Used Day 3:
Grafton Loop Trail
Setup camp at Stewart Campsite
Day 3 Mileage: 13 miles
Day 3 Gross Elevation Gain: 3,596′

Elevation Profile Day 3

Elevation Profile Day 3

Trails Used Day 4:
Grafton Loop Trail
Return to parking lot and Graton Loop Trailhead on Rt 26
Day 4 Mileage: 4.5 miles
Day 4 Gross Elevation Gain: 843′

Elevation Profile Day 4

Elevation Profile Day 4

Trip Totals:
Distance: 39.36 miles
Gross Elevation Gain: 12,807′

Elevation Profile for Entire Route

Elevation Profile for Entire Route

 

16 thoughts on “Hiking the Grafton Loop – Camping in Maine

  1. We live about 30 minutes from Grafton Notch and have spent many afternoons hiking these mountains. My favorite are the Baldpates, and Old Speck was our first 4000 footer! Welcome to our neck of the woods!

  2. I am just fifteen and about to buy my first pack to start backpacking with. I would like a pack I can use a long while to begin with and can’t decide between a 48 liter or a 60 liter (a big difference, I know). Which size would you recommend for just starting out? Or maybe an in between?

    • Hey, Ghost. Careful – you might get sick of me, haha. I would like to get back up to the ADK’s one of these days, but not sure when. Mike was actually in the Catskills with his family for an overnighter last week. Stay tuned to his channel, he’ll posting a video of it in the future.

  3. Hey, Thank you for the data. First things first, what are the wildlife reports from the area? Bear hangs, canisters? Any worry about the wildlife? Second, what filtration system are you using, I have had bad luck with them and want to get one that will hold up but accommodate my lightweight style. My wife is a beginner, I am hesitant on taking her on this loop, it would be her first trip. I was maybe looking at Pemi loop, what would you recommend and also take into account which trip you liked more (aesthetically, camp spots, accessibility, etc.)

    Thanks a lot!

    Cheers

    • Hi Evan,

      I can answer a few questions as we live right by Grafton Notch and have hiked this loop many times. Bear bagging is fine. I have not seen any in this stretch but it is still best to hang your food. Be sure to bring a stove if you plan to cook as Maine prohibits fires almost everywhere. I can’t comment on Sean’s water system currently but I know he has used the Sawyer Squeeze previously and his reviews were what inspired us to get the same system. We have used it all over and had WONDERFUL success with it. It is lightweight, easy to use, and works. I will say that for a first trip, this one is a beast. If she has been day hiking regularly in places with good elevation gain, she will be fine but if she is new to hiking as well as backpacking I would be concerned that this may turn her against it all together. The ups and downs are quite rigorous and if you look at the rating for the loop, I believe if is labeled advanced or rigorous and is appropriately named. Many of the thru hikers we have spoken to comment on this stretch (along with the Mahoosuc Notch) as being some of the toughest they have encountered. Just my two cents. My husband and I hike here all the time and we were pretty sure we were going to die the first time. Now we know what to expect and have more experience under our belts so we can take it in stride.

      Best wishes,
      Ilse

      • Thank you so much! I think we may stay away from this one until she is a little more experienced. The dilemma I am facing is making her happy. She wants a hike with breath taking views, but I don’t want her to be hurting too much. I looked at the Cranberry Wilderness route, and that looked better but she didn’t like the fact that there weren’t any mountain top views. Any suggestions in the area for an easier elevation difficulty, but still with at least one view like from Grafton.

        Thanks again for your help

        • Howdy again! Can you give me a little more information? I am not sure where you live and how far you want to drive. Also, do you want to start with a day hike and then progress to a multi day trek or is she ready to head out for a few days? How much elevation gain would be reasonable for her? We live in Rumford Maine and typically hike around this area, the Maine and NH AT, and the Whites so I can offer lots of ideas if you can give me a feel for what would be about right for her. Breath taking views are not a problem up here at all! LOL My profile pick is a quick 90 minute hike in our neck of the woods with about 3600 feet of gain. Glad to help!

  4. Hi Sean – Love the videos man. Your channel is by far my favorite on YouTube.

    I noticed you were using a Nemo 3P on this trip. Are you able to get four people in it? All my backpacking trips are done with the wife and kids and we currently have a Tarptent Hogback (4p). To be honest, I don’t like it, because it’s not a very versatile tent when it comes to dividing weight and packing.

    Any input you have on the Nemo will be greatly appreciated.

    Kind regards,

    Jason

  5. Hi Sintax77,

    My buddy and I are planning to do the Grafton Notch loop in a couple of weeks. Your video is great and very helpful to get the lay of the land. One question we’ve had a hard time answering is regarding water supplies on the southern section of the loop. Your GPS data sheet shows a bunch of sources, but there seems to be only one source between Sargent Brook campsite and Town Corner campsite – the river near the road crossing at the southern end. Is that true or can we count on other sources before or after the Stewart campsite? We’re hiking counter-clockwise starting at the northern parking lot. Thanks for the info.

    Carl

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