Maine’s spectacular Baxter State Park and majestic Acadia National Park get the lion’s share of attention from people writing about Maine’s outdoors, with good reason. Both are worthy of their accolades, with loads of activities to do in a serene setting. However, there’s a third state park that deserves to be covered in the same breath as these two, and doesn’t get nearly enough love – Grafton Notch State Park.

Grafton Notch State Park occupies 3,192 acres in Oxford County, but including the abutting Mahoosuc Public Reserved Land balloons the area by an impressive 9,993 acres. The notch is bisected by Route 26, and the park spreads out on either side of the road between Newry and Upton. The feel of the area calls to mind the great state parks of Crawford Notch and Franconia Notch in New Hampshire – a consistently beautiful drive, with plenty of pull-offs and activities marking the roadside.

There are many outdoor activities within Grafton Notch and the Mahoosuc Lands, although hiking is probably the main draw. Grafton Notch is one of the 82 sites on the Maine Birding Trail. The guide promises that peregrine falcons, songbirds and northern forest species can be spotted in the park.

Deer, bear and moose are also common sights. Anglers can find wild brook trout, cusk, sculpin and several suckers at lower elevations, though higher spots are dominated by brook trout. Speck Pond is the fisherman’s best bet – it is stocked with hatchery-reared trout.

Hikers have the most options in the park, with choices from short day hikes to some of the most difficult miles of the entire Appalachian Trail. On the shorter end of the spectrum, the Table Rock Loop Trail provides great views of Old Speck. Located on the east side of Route 26, the 2.5-mile loop climbs 900 feet, some of them shared with the AT.

The shorter but more challenging Eyebrow Loop Trail, on the west side of Route 26, is one of my favorites. In the space of about a mile, it climbs an impressive 1,200 feet, much of it up iron ladders and across rock faces. After a short walk through hardwoods, the trail is all metal cables, iron rungs, and up, up, up. The top of the trail provides nice views of Table Rock and the Old Speck summit.

Longer day hikes climb from Route 26 to the peaks of Baldpate or Old Speck; each is a 7.6-mile loop on the east or west side of the byway.

For serious hikers, the crown jewel of the region is the 39-mile Grafton Loop Trail. Completed in 2007 after six years of work spearheaded by the Grafton Loop Trail Coalition, it connects nine peaks and hosts seven campsites. It’s a multiday high-elevation hike, something that’s surprisingly rare here in Maine beyond the AT (and has much more elbow room than its well-traveled sibling).

Like the New Hampshire notches, Grafton has attractions that are practically drive-in. Screw Auger Falls and Mother Walker Falls are both impressive waterfalls only yards from the side of Route 26. A quarter-mile loop visits Moose Cave, a waterfall and gorge that cut 45 feet into bedrock.

One can’t-miss roadside attraction south of the park? The renowned Puzzle Mountain Bakery, a farmstand on 26 that sells unbeatable jams, pies, cookies, whoopie pies and other treats on the honor system.

Even if you don’t plan on leaving your car, Grafton is worth the visit for the drive from Newry to Upton, also known as the Grafton Notch Scenic Byway. The route parallels Bear River, and leads travellers by the Mahoosuc Range and dramatic bluffs and waterfalls. At 21 miles from start to finish, the byway can be tackled by cyclists looking for a day trip; just be aware that with two lanes and thin shoulders, you’ll be sharing the road with cars.

Josh Christie is a freelance writer and lifetime outdoors enthusiast. He shares column space in Outdoors with his father, John Christie. Josh can be contacted at:

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