Maine's Best Short Hike
Table Rock in Grafton Notch State Park
Table Rock in Grafton Notch State Park is the best short hike in Maine, and possibly in New England. It’s one of the best family hikes as well.
Bold claims, yes, but let’s take a look at the hiking checklist and see how it stacks up.
Above all else, great hikes need great payoffs at the end. Table Rock delivers big time, with a huge, flat, open rock ledge at the top complete with a dramatic drop-off at the edge and stunning views across the notch to Old Spec (third highest peak in Maine) and down the valley towards the park’s southern peaks including Puzzle Mountain and White Cap. It’s a huge reward for a relatively small investment of climbing 900 vertical feet in a bit over a mile.
Variety adds character to a hike, and Table Rock connects here as well thanks to two options for the way up (and down). The orange-blazed Table Rock Trail climbs directly up the north side of the notch, and after a gradual traverse tackles increasingly steep and rocky terrain with sections of fun scrambling. This is your route if you want more challenge and have kids who love to climb things. The second option is the white-blazed Appalachian Trail (yes, the one that runs to Georgia), which takes a more gradual route around the shoulder and approaches the top from a blue-blazed side trail up the back. In addition to the draw of putting your own footprints on the fabled AT, this route offers its own unique features including stream crossings and a steeper scramble right before the top.
Ask kids what’s fun about hiking and they’ll name everything except walking on a trail in the woods. No matter which route you take up Table Rock you’ll find wooden bridges, stream crossings, and even some iron rungs to climb. If you’re up for it, the steeper route up the front side truly delivers with stone stairways, sections of boulders to scramble over, and even more iron ladders. It’s more difficult, but we know a seven-year-old who did it on Crocs when her dad left her sneakers at home.
Accessibility is important, especially for day trips. The hike is only about twenty minutes up the road from Bethel and Sunday River which means lodging, good restaurants, and other activities are nearby. Close enough to be reachable, but far enough away to avoid the crowds that can plague other short-but-great hikes (we’re talking to you, Beehive).
So is Table Rock really the Maine best short hike? Lace up your shoes, hit the trail, and see for yourself.
Table Rock is a 2.4-mile round-trip with an elevation gain of 900 feet. We recommend heading up the Table Rock trail on the front side and down the AT on the back, unless you’re bringing younger kids, dogs, or are otherwise looking for the path of least resistance, in which case you can head up and back on the AT.
The trailhead is located at the large Appalachian Trail parking lot in Grafton North State Park, on Route 26 approximately 12 miles north of the intersection with Route 2. A site use fee of a few dollars is requested and can be deposited into a container by the large map. These funds help support the park, and are good trail karma.
Screw Auger Falls, located a few miles south on Route 26 still within the state park, provides an opportunity for a post-hike dunk to cool off in summer.