There are three things one should always do before heading out on a hike:
Look at a map.
Check the weather.
Leave your giant dog at home (for hikes with challenging terrain).
It took me three separate attempts to complete the short 2.1 mile Table Rock Trail Loop at Grafton Notch State Park. Why? Because I didn't do any of the aforementioned things.
On the first attempt, my friend Becca and I found ourselves at a giant section of boulders that Romy (my giant dog) could not navigate and we had to turn back. Read that story here.
On the second attempt with just Romy, I decided to take a different route, avoiding the boulders altogether. This would have been a good plan had I looked at a map, which didn't happen. What did happen, was I met a very sweet older couple in the parking lot who had hiked this trail for 26 years and they gave me directions on how to avoid the boulders. I was so confident that these directions were solid, that I never checked a map. Not lucky for me, I'm a visual learner, so those auditory directions went in one ear and out the other...and we found ourselves back at the darn section of boulders. Again.
This time, I decided to forge on, attempting to carve out a path for us around the boulders. Which somehow landed us smack in the middle of them, where we stayed for two hours because my terrified dog hunkered down and refused to budge. I tried everything I could think of: trail of snacks, bushwhacking side routes, motivational speeches (Yes, I was having these with my dog. They were loud and my arms were flying all over the place. I must have looked like a real lunatic). None of these ideas worked.
After two hours of this madness, I resorted to the only option that was left - tough love.
In my best stern voice, I said to Romy, "We are going to count to ten and then we are going to stand up and hike over the scary boulders."
On ten, I pulled on that leash with all I had, and moved my big girl over those boulders and back down that mountain. We made it to the bottom, but we did not complete the Table Rock loop. Here's a picture of the spot where Romy proved that she is, in fact, the world's most stubborn dog.
On the third attempt, I was dropping Finn off at Sunday River and wanted to stretch my legs with a hike before the long drive home. The trailhead for Table Rock is only about 20 minutes from the ski mountain, so my plan was to hike the loop and also explore the destinations off of Route 26 that I'd passed countless times on my way to the Grafton Notch parking lot: The Moose Caves, Screw Auger Falls, and Mother Walker Falls (I could say Mother Walker over and over because it makes me laugh and I feel like I'm getting away with something).
I did look at a map this time and I did leave my giant dog at home. What I didn't do, was check the weather. Finn will ski in rain, sleet and wind, so we were going regardless of the weather. No point in checking because it wouldn't change the plan.
When I got to the Grafton Notch parking lot, it was empty, which is never a good sign. Still, I was driven by my goal of finally completing the Table Rock Loop and once I have a bee in my bonnet, nothing is stopping me.
This time, I followed the loop counterclockwise, taking the white trail to the blue trail. If you want to avoid the boulders, this is the way to go:
Park at the Grafton Notch parking lot off of route 26. This is also the parking lot for Old Speck and Baldpate. Once parked, cross the street and you will find the trailhead off to your left.
Follow the white trail until you've reached the fork. Head right for the orange trail and harder section of boulders, or stay straight on the white trail for the easier route, which is what I did...the third time.
Follow the white trail, until you've reached this sign for Table Rock where you will take a right onto the blue trail. (Note, you will have passed another sign for Baldpate Mountain, since the white trail is part of the A.T. and the route to Baldpate. Just continue on, you're heading in the right direction and will soon branch off towards Table Rock).
4. You will eventually arrive at a steep section with some rocks to climb (nothing like the orange trail though). Head straight up this patch of rocks. The blazes are tricky to find, but they are there. I had to pause several times until I'd found them again. If you look at the tree to the right, you will see a faint blue blaze. The rocks look tricky, but they don't hold a candle to the boulders on the orange trail.
Soon after this section, you will come to some rungs in another section of rock. Just beyond this is the Table Rock overlook.
When I realized I would finally reach the overlook, I was overjoyed. Until I arrived - to a thick mass of cloud cover. No view whatsoever.
This is when I realized the parking lot was empty because of the weather, not because the Thanksgiving tryptophan had won and all the hikers were glued to their couches (my original theory). Always. Check. The weather.
I sat on the slab of rock, laughing at myself and my third failed attempt at a view from Table Rock, when something magic happened. The wind picked up and the clouds moved, revealing sections of mountain in a beautiful display of layers.
With every hike, I am exposed to something brand new. I never know what it will be - a new view or a new lesson learned. Whatever it is, it's always a gift. Cheesy and so true. This is why I love the mountains and will keep coming back until I'm too old to climb. And then I'll watch climbing documentaries on Nat Geo.
I descended via the orange trail (go right after leaving the overlook) because I wanted to show those mother walking boulders who was boss. And that I did.
I also had enough time to explore the Moose Caves, Screw Auger Falls and Mother Walker Falls on my way out. Read all the details on those sweet spots here.
Here is the All Trails link to the Table Rock Trail Loop, where you will find maps and directions to the trailhead: https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/maine/table-rock-trail-loop
I suggest downloading the map beforehand, since you won't likely have reception here.
Whenever you explore this hike, may you have good weather, a good map, and a small dog that fits in your pack.