The Portland Phoenix

The Boulder and the Beautiful: Rock piles and scenic vistas at the Table Rock Loop Trail

shannon in the rocks

Phoenix writer Shannon Bryan feigns terror amid the rocks. (Courtesy Danielle Pensinger)

Table Rock is a lure for many hikers. This scenic perch offers views of the Mahoosuc Mountains in Grafton Notch State Park, in Newry, and a picture-perfect place to enjoy a backpack picnic. But there are so many enormous, exquisite boulders to appreciate (and pose with) on the way up — and those rocks deserve glory, too.

Table Rock is a vista point on Baldpate Mountain, but it’s a destination in its own right. While some hikers tack on the extra miles to reach Baldpate’s east and west peaks, sticking to the more moderate 2.4-mile Table Rock Loop Trail is plenty rewarding.

Shannon's friend Danielle poses among the boulders
Hiker Danielle Pensinger poses behind boulders on the Table Rock Trail. (Portland Phoenix/Shannon Bryan)

The trailhead to Table Rock is on Route 26 across the street from the Old Speck parking lot. Soon after hitting the trail, you’ll be confronted with two routes: the white blaze trail (which turns to blue when it separates from the Appalachian Trail, about halfway to Table Rock) is the easier going of the two. But the orange blaze trail, with its piles of massive boulders and explorable nooks and crannies, is a whole lot of fun — and steeper.

My recommended loop takes the steeper orange blaze trail up and the blue/white trail down (your knees will thank you). Hikers are advised to give themselves time to loiter among the enormous rocks. Climbing in and around a pile of boulders can be remarkably appealing.

My last visit to Table Rock was during a similar time of season, after the fall leaves had been completely shed from the trees. Even without the bold colors that define autumn hiking, the terrain here makes this hike memorable. Plus the conifers do a fine job keeping things green as you climb.

The orange trail gains 900 feet in elevation in the span of 0.8 miles — some steep going. But things begin slowly from the parking lot. It’s mostly bare branches and darting chipmunks at first, and the occasional glacial erratic. Before long, the stones become increasingly prevalent, like you’re on the outskirts of a rock city where land is more affordable but the nightlife isn’t as lively.

You’ll encounter stone steps, placed by human hands, and then rhinoceros-sized rocks, dropped by a passing glacier ages ago.

At spots along the trail, huge rocks are piled to create small hollows, just big enough for the bottom half of an average adult. My hiking friend Danielle and I climbed inside most of them. While we goofed off, other hikers passed, including a couple familiar with the trail who said, “If you like those tiny caves, wait until you see the one up ahead.”

Our curiosity piqued, we continued on, stopping to take in the view at a scenic lookout.

Then we came upon the impressive glacial rubble the other hikers told us about. Boulders the sizes of cars, buses, and tiny houses leaned against each other like overtired children. They seemed both like they might tumble at any moment and like they’d hold fast forever. We poked around the piles, scrambling over here and crouching under there.

Our hunger spurred us on, and we continued up to Table Rock — and lunch.

Danielle Pensinger takes in the view from the lookout on the Table Rock Trail in Grafton Notch State Park. (Portland Phoenix/Shannon Bryan)

The Table Rock vista is 900 feet above the trailhead and offers excellent views of Old Speck Mountain and Grafton Notch. It’s also a place where you could walk right off the edge and plummet a pretty good distance — so don’t do that. In summer, I’d like to eat a sandwich while sitting there in the sun. On this November day, though, the wind was fierce and brisk, so we tucked back into the trees and ate our sandwiches there.

To complete our loop, we took the blue blaze trail down. It’s a little longer and easier going, and includes some neat features, like an iron-wrung ladder. The blue blaze trail connects to the Appalachian Trail and the blazes become white for the rest of the way down to the parking lot.

For hikers looking for more mileage and elevation, this route can be extended to 7+ miles by including Baldpate Mountain.

Or, do like we did, and turn the day into a Table Rock tour and head to another Table Rock in Dixville Notch in New Hampshire. It’s a 40-minute drive on Route 26 between the two Table Rocks — and the Table Rock precipice in Dixville is breathtaking and feels a good deal more precarious.

Shannon Bryan is a writer and outdoor enthusiast who lives in South Portland. Find her at

Table Rock, Grafton Notch State Park

How to get there: From the intersection of US Route 2 and ME Route 26 in Newry, follow Route 26 approximately 12 miles north to where the Appalachian Trail crosses the road. Coming from Route 2, the trailhead and parking area will be on the left. Parking lot is on Route 26 at Old Speck Mountain; the Table Rock trailhead is across the street. Loop is 2.4 miles, just under 900 ft. elevation gain

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