The 8 Best Day Hikes in Maine’s White Mountains

Four gentle treks and four high-country rambles through Maine’s stretch of the Whites.

Atop Caribou Mountain. Photo by Chris Shane.
By Will Grunewald
From our August 2022 issue

Short and Sweet

Four peaks under 2,000 feet that offer adventure for the whole family.

On Lord Hill. Photo by Tory Welton.

Lord Hill

Elevation: 1,257 feet
Route: 2.6 miles out and back via Horseshoe Pond and Conant trails
Trailhead: 3.3 miles south of the Brickett Place on Rte. 113, turn left on Deer Hill Rd. (becoming Shell Pond Rd. and Evergreen Valley Rd.). Follow for 4.5 miles to the Horseshoe Pond Trailhead.

This easygoing, lightly traveled route up Lord Hill mostly follows overgrown woods roads before intersecting the Conant Trail for the last two-tenths of a mile to the top, where nice vistas of surrounding mountains come through breaks in the trees. Plus, the vantage of the horseshoe-shaped Horseshoe Pond below is worth the short hike in its own right. Follow the same way down, or spend time exploring connecting trails: from the summit, Mine Loop Trail passes former feldspar mines, and day permits are available for anyone who wants to see what they can chisel out.

Big Deer Hill

Elevation: 1,367 feet
Route: 4.3-mile loop via Deer Hills Trail and Deer Hills Bypass
Trailhead: 2.5 miles south of the Brickett Place on Rte. 113, park at the Baldface Circle trailhead. The Deer Hills Trail begins on the east side of the road.

The Deer Hills Trail crosses an old dam on the Cold River, then ascends through ledges to Little Deer Hill, with nice spots to grab a view along the way. The trail drops down the other side of Little Deer before climbing a moderate grade to the top of Big Deer, with limited glimpses of the surrounding slopes. The trail continues down the south side of Big Deer Hill and eventually intersects the Deer Hills Bypass (though a bit farther ahead is a short spur trail that leads to a cool natural spring), taking hikers back to the trailhead.

Along the Lord Hill Trail. Photo by Tory Welton.

The Roost

Elevation: 1,374 feet
Route: 1.8-mile loop via the Roost Trail and Rte. 113
Trailhead: 7.9 miles north of the Brickett Place on Rte. 113, park at the north trailhead, past Hastings Campground.

It’s hard to imagine superior bang for buck. The treed top of the Roost is a mere half mile from the road, and other than a series of steep rock stairs at the start, the trail follows a gentle pitch most of the way. At the summit, a sign points down a short side trail — the footing can be a little tricky — to a rocky overlook that takes in the Wild River valley and a dramatic sweep of the Carter-Moriah Range. Continue down the Roost Trail to its other trailhead, then walk the six-tenths of a mile along the roadside back to the start.

Blueberry Mountain

Elevation: 1,781 feet
Route: 4-mile loop via White Cairn and Stone House trails
Trailhead: 1.2 miles south of the Brickett Place on Rte. 113, turn left on Stone House Rd. At the fork, veer right and follow for a mile to the parking area at the gate.

Continuing past the parking area, turn left on White Cairn Trail for a short but challenging leg-burner of an ascent. The loop around the summit provides excellent views from ledges, and the Stone House Trail makes for a slightly easier descent. While there are other approaches to Blueberry Mountain, from the west and the north, this one has a clear advantage: a quick detour on the way down leads to Rattlesnake Pool on the way down, a natural ice bath for sore legs, and a beautiful spot to linger.

Rarefied Air

The four highest peaks in Maine’s Whites reward sweat with lofty views.

Coming down off the rocky summit of Caribou Mountain.
Coming down off the rocky summit of Caribou Mountain. Photo by Chris Shane.

Caribou Mountain

Elevation: 2,850 feet
Route: 6.7-mile loop via Caribou and Mud Brook trails
Trailhead: 5.7 miles north of the Brickett Place on Rte. 113

“It’s not the destination; it’s the journey.” Trite but true on Caribou Trail, which passes so many stop-and-stare cascades along Morrison Brook that one quickly loses count. None of those is more spectacular than the 25-foot Kees Falls, dropping down smooth, mossy rocks into a deep, shaded pool, accessible via a short scramble on an unmarked side trail, about two miles from the parking lot. The steady climb — rarely very steep — eventually levels off in a saddle before a final push to the wide and rocky summit, with excellent views in all directions and plenty of room to spread out. Continuing down Mud Brook Trail pays off with a lovely runout along the eponymous brook at the end.

East Royce Mountain

Elevation: 3,114 feet
Route: 3 miles out and back via East Royce Trail
Trailhead: 2.8 miles north of the Brickett Place on Rte. 113

There are three ways to hike East Royce from Route 113, all of which are perfectly pleasant, but the great advantage of the East Royce Trail over the other two is that it’s a mere 1.3 miles to the commanding views atop the highest peak in Maine’s section of the national forest. The trail is a steep, steady climb from the get-go — it feels like more than a 1.3-mile hike — but soon enough, the summit opens up to views of the Presidentials and other neighboring peaks to the south and west, and a path through scrubby growth leads to additional views north and east.

North and South Baldface

Elevation: 3,610 feet and 3,570 feet, respectively
Route: 9.8-mile loop via Baldface Circle Trail
Trailhead: 2.4 miles south of the Brickett Place on Rte. 113

The two Baldface mountains occupy something of an unusual spot: the peaks are in New Hampshire, but you can’t reach the trailhead without going through Maine, and the trail network extends, via the Royces, to our side of the border. So, we like to call them ours. The route spends several miles above tree line as it traverses the two exposed peaks, and it’s the most arduous of any around Evans Notch — on par with hikes in the White Mountains’ famously rugged Presidential Range. Best to go counterclockwise, since going up the exposed, steep ledges on South Baldface is safer than going down them. And it’s smart to get an early start, in order to have time to jump in Emerald Pool on the way down.

The view from the top of Speckled Mountain
The view from the top of Speckled Mountain. Photo by Tory Welton.

Speckled Mountain

Elevation: 2,906 feet
Route: 8.2-mile loop via Bickford Brook, Spruce Hill, and Blueberry Ridge trails
Trailhead: At the Brickett Place (requires a $5 fee at the self-service kiosk or a WMNF annual pass)

Starting out on Bickford Brook Trail, veer right on Blueberry Ridge Trail after seven-tenths of a mile. In another 2.8 miles, after significant elevation gain, Blueberry Ridge Trail intersects Bickford Brook Trail again. Turn right on Bickford Brook Trail and reach the summit in a half mile. Despite standing a smidge taller than Caribou, Speckled’s summit isn’t quite as open, though its many ledges provide plenty of perches for taking in the scenery, and the route is similarly rich in water features. On the descent, following Bickford Brook Trail the whole way, a short spur passes a series of waterfalls, Bickford Slides, that make a fine place for a dip before returning to the trailhead.

Meet the Mahoosucs

Neighbors to the national forest, they’re a can’t-miss appendage to Maine’s stretch of the Whites.

Photo by Chris Shane

Grafton Notch State Park and the surrounding Mahoosuc Public Reserved Land, some 30,000 acres every bit as rugged and spectacular as the summits to the south. Day-trippers will want to hit the trio of roadside wonders along Route 26 in the state park: Screw Auger Falls, a 23-foot cascade viewed from the rim of a gorge on the Bear River; Mother Walker Falls, a series of pretty little plunges farther up the gorge; and Moose Cave, where the river dances over boulders deep in a canyon before disappearing beneath a huge granite slab. Looming over the park, 4,180-foot Old Speck is Maine’s fourth-highest mountain and one of its finest day hikes, a 7½-mile lung-buster with an unsurpassed payoff: the view from the summit tower takes in tiered peaks deep into New Hampshire, as well as the U-shaped notch below, with its twin ribbons of river and road. Hands-down, one of the quintessential White Mountain vistas.

Backpackers can keep right on hiking from Old Speck, making a three-day (or longer) trek of the Grafton Notch Loop Trail, one of New England’s classic backcountry circuits. The 39-mile route, with primitive campsites and lean-tos along the way, includes breathtaking stints above tree line at Puzzle Mountain, Baldpate Mountain, Sunday River Whitecap (all topping out above 3,000 feet), and a few other jagged peaks.

Read more about Maine’s 50,000 acres of the White Mountain National Forest.