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19 May 2013

A Pleasant Springtime Hike to Puzzle Mountain (Maine)

Perhaps a reader of this Blog will be able to provide some information as to origin of the name "Puzzle Mountain", otherwise it will remain a mystery  to me.   Regardless, my friend Marty and I decided to drive over to Maine and hike to this mountain that is bestowed with such an intriguing name.  It would be a new destination for both of us.

To reach Puzzle Mountain (3,133 ft.) we began at the eastern trailhead for the Grafton Loop Trail which is located on the east side of Rt. 26 (4.9 miles north of its junction with Rt. 2 at Newry, ME).  We decided to forego incorporating the Woodsum Spur Trail into our itinerary.  We just did a simple 6.4 mile (round-trip) hike using the same route for both the outbound and inbound leg of our trek.

A portion of the Grafton Loop Trail, and all of the Woodsum Spur Trail, is located on the Stewart Preserve, which was named after Bob Stewart, who donated the land to the Mahoosuc Land Trust for permanent protection from development. The Woodsum Spur is named after Ken Woodsum, a forester and conservationist who was instrumental in protecting Puzzle Mountain, and who first explored the route of the current trail with Bob Stewart.

And so, with that brief introduction, perhaps the rest of the story can best be told by the photos taken during our hike.
Starting point for hike to Puzzle Mountain (eastern trailhead for Grafton Loop Trail)
Hiking through a beautiful spring-green forest
At about 2.4 miles into the hike, the trail reaches exposed ledges which offer spectacular views of the Sunday River Ski Area, Grafton Notch, and the distant Presidential Range.  If you should want a shorter hike, then these first ledges would make a fine destination unto themselves.
Southwesterly view: Sunday River Ski Area (left); Presidentials (center, distant horizon)
Zoomed view of Presidentials from lower ledges of Puzzle Mountain
Marty admiring northwesterly view toward Old Speck and the Baldpates
Couple who posed while looking northeasterly from main viewpoint on Puzzle Mtn
Sugarloaf Mountain (4,250 ft) is one of the peaks visible in the next photo.  It's the third highest mountain in Maine, after Mount Katahdin's Baxter Peak (5,268 ft) and Katahdin's Hamlin Peak (4,756 ft).   In the caption below the photo, I've made an attempt at identifying the major peaks.  Corrections from any reader will be most welcome!
Zoomed northeasterly view: Saddleback & the Horn (left); Sugarloaf  & Spalding (right)
When you are at the main viewpoint, you might think you have reached the top of the mountain since there are three metal benchmarks (triangulation stations) at this location in close proximity to each other.  One of these benchmarks is shown in the next photo.
One of metal benchmark discs at main viewpoint on Puzzle Mountain
However, the true summit of Puzzle Mountain is about 0.3 miles (as the crow flies) from this main viewpoint where most hikers stop (see map presented below).
Approximate location of main viewpoint in relation to Puzzle Mountain's true summit
(Click to enlarge)
As the map indicates, a short bushwhack is required to reach the Puzzle Mountain's true summit.   It's a completely wooded summit with no views (see next photo).  The only thing of interest is a canister where peakbaggers can sign the logbook.
Woods surrounding Puzzle Mountain's true summit
On the way from the main viewpoint to the true summit, there is one short steep spot.  However, the trail builders thoughtfully embedded a set of metal rungs to assist hikers with negotiating this vertical slab of rock.
Metal rungs to assist hikers with negotiating a vertical slab of rock
I'll conclude with a "photo bouquet" of some of the spring wildflowers that were seen during this hike.
A "photo bouquet" of some of the spring wildflowers that were seen during this hike
To sum it up, this trek to Puzzle Mountain was similar to a hike that was done to the Baldpates in September 2012 (click HERE to read that report).  As to which one I prefer, that would be a tough choice!  They were both thoroughly enjoyable adventures in the Grafton Notch.  For any reader who has never hiked in this area, I would highly recommend that you give it a try.    


Ryan Linn said...

Gorgeous! John, I'm kind of jealous... I've been to Puzzle Mountain four times since the Grafton Loop Trail opened, and I've never had a view other than the inside of a cloud. Maybe the fifth time will be a charm. In the meantime, at least I can enjoy your photos of it :)

1HappyHiker said...

Ryan, Thank you for your compliments. But, Wow! Perhaps it is me who should be jealous of you for having visited Puzzle Mountain four times! Were any (or all) of your visits done in conjunction with hiking the entire Grafton Loop Trail? If so, I’d be interested in having a link to any report(s) that you posted.

And yes, surely the fifth time you visit Puzzle Mtn will be the charm and you’ll enjoy some stunning views!


Ryan Linn said...

Well, it's a little less fun to visit in the pouring rain ;)

Each visit was at least doing a part of the Grafton Loop Trail, which is one of my favorite backpacking trips around. I have two trip reports from some of those hikes, but due to the weather and a dead camera battery, there weren't many pictures. Here are the links:

Maybe I'll have a better trip report if I can make it out on the trail this summer!

1HappyHiker said...

Ryan, thanks for the links to your Grafton Notch reports! Thanks to your gift with words, I was able to clearly ‘picture’ your adventures. Photos were unnecessary. ;-)


Rita Wechter said...

After reading this post and viewing your pictures, I have to say that I would find it puzzling indeed as to why anyone wouldn't want to attempt this hike!
The spring greenery, the expansive views and the wildflowers all make this a winner of a spring trek.
Also I just love those metal rungs—every time I find something like that on a trail it's like being on the playground again!

Thanks for another fine report about a wonderful destination, John!

1HappyHiker said...

Hi Rita,

This was indeed a very nice hike. As indicated in my report, it was the first time that either Marty or I had visited this particular mountain. I had read some good reports about it, but there’s no substitute for experiencing something firsthand.

And regarding those metal rungs, it didn’t occur to me to equate them to playground equipment, but now that you mention it, I completely agree! Scrambling up cliffs/ledges is pure “playground” fun for me. But strangely enough, I abhor climbing fire towers! Go figure! If there is a mountain peak that involves climbing a tower (especially a tall one) in order to get a view, then I’ll sometimes avoid visiting the peak entirely. Or, I’ll try to find some alternative way of getting a view by bushwhacking to a cliff/ledge, etc.


Summerset said...

Very lovely indeed! We've been recently considering doing some hiking in Maine and you've certainly whetted the appetite. Now, just to figure out how to fit that in with the other hiking plans this summer. Your trip report from Old Speck last year was helpful, too, although not sure we'll tackle that until maybe July. Thanks for posting these trips, looks like summer is really on the way!

Steve Smith said...

Nice report with your usual great photos, John! Puzzle is a lesser-known gem, as Old Speck and Baldpate get most of the ink in that area. It's a long drive to Grafton Notch but well worth it.


1HappyHiker said...

Hi Summerset,

You and other members of your family should consider doing a few hikes in Maine. I think you’d find it enjoyable. However, I realize that Maine would be a bit of a drive for you from your home in southern NH. Perhaps you could consider the overnight backpacking option? As I understand it, there are some nice shelters along the Grafton Loop Trail, as well as other locations in Maine.

Thanks for posting your comments!


1HappyHiker said...

Steve, thanks for the kind words about my photos!

You are so right about Puzzle Mountain being a lesser-known gem. I’m uncertain why it gets so little notoriety. Personally, I would rank Puzzle Mountain about dead even with the Baldpates. And whereas Old Speck is nice, and it is a 4K peak, I wasn’t as impressed with it as I was with Puzzle Mountain and the Baldpates!

Also, as you correctly state, the drive to Grafton Notch is well worth the drive. And actually, as compared to some Evans Notch trailheads, it takes me only about 10 minutes longer to drive from Bethlehem to trailheads in Grafton Notch.


DMOutdoors said...

Beautiful photos, John. Those views and your photos are making me want to do this again sooner than later. Especially since I had no idea there was a summit canister on Puzzle Mountain!

1HappyHiker said...

Dan, thanks for the kind words about the photos!

And regarding the summit canister on Puzzle, I didn't really know beforehand that there would be one. But, since I was already so close to the high point, just took a chance and went off-trail to snoop around to see if there might be one. And sure enough, there was!


NL Eaton said...

Thank you for sharing another fine photo-report, John. It looks like you passed up the Woodsum Loop on this visit - it's a bit rough around the edges but is very worthwhile. That gives you an excuse to make another trip to Puzzle, as if you needed one!

1HappyHiker said...

Hi Nancy,

First of all, thank you for the kind words about my report. And secondly, thank you for providing me with an “excuse” to revisit Puzzle Mtn. At the time of doing this hike, I had this nagging feeling that it was a error of judgment to bypass the Woodsum Loop. Now that you’ve confirmed my suspicions, I’ll definitely have to make a return visit. But that’s okay! It’s something I’ll look forward to doing. :-)


Anonymous said...

My son read an old book about the naming of Mountains in Maine. I'm relay the best I can on the naming of Puzzle Mountain as best I can. It came about was during the colonial times, an outdoorsman was exploring the mountain and general area. As he was leaving he found a deposit of graphite. He made references to where he found it and wanted to come back. As he scaled down the face of the mountain, he had an axe that he held onto or he wouldn't lose it. After he left the mountain he went home vowing to return and find his cache. He went back many times searching for the graphite deposit and he never found it. He always said it was a puzzle where it was and the name stuck.
Puzzle Mountain Lodge

1HappyHiker said...

John, first of all, my apologies for such a tardy reply. For whatever reason, I just now received the comment that you posted. Funny things can sometimes happen in cyberspace!

Anyway, thank you so much for that exceptionally interesting information about the origin of the name for Puzzle Mountain. I'm truly appreciative of you taking time to share this with me and other readers of my Blog.


Anonymous said...

Wow, this was amazing to find your blog. I just drove back from Newry to Vt. tonite and was trying to find the old rd. to drive up to Puzzle.I guess i found it and the old logyard on Branch Rd. but it was gated. In 1975 we owned the 100 acres at the very top of the mtn., 2 other couples owned lots below us and one home was built, another started. We camped in a large LLBean tent our 1st summer and then built a very small shed roof cabin out of materials we had from an old ski house. We were married up there on the very top on a large rock we called Marriage Rock. Puzzle was our dream but it was rough being up there w/ 2 children and keeping jeeps, trucks and ski-doos going. We bought a home in Vt. in 1985 and sold our land in Me. We were told by locals that the land was sacred to the Indians and no one who tried fared well there, that the spirits did not want anyone up there. The 2 other couples went bankrupt and we left as it was just too difficult being the only landowners left as we were trying to form a community. We were also told that the name is basically from the fact that you think you are at the top and it is not the top so you keep going higher, thus it became a Puzzle. I don't know what the Indian name was. I am thrilled to find this blog and to know that Puzzle is being enjoyed as a hiking destination. Has anyone seen any evidence of the old homes at the top? Now i need to go back and find out how to get up there . Thank you so much ,i so thrilled to read about my old home.

Anonymous said...

I just tried to post as myself but don't know how so my post went up as anonymous, my name is Lisa Patrick

1HappyHiker said...


Thank you for taking time to post a reply to my blog. That is such a fascinating story about your days living on Puzzle Mountain.

You asked if anyone has seen evidence of any old homes while hiking this mountain. Sorry to say that I personally have not.

Best wishes to you for perhaps finding a way to visit your old home site on Puzzle Mountain!

If you have any follow up questions to ask of me, please feel free to contact me by e-mail at:
Randonneur8 AT yahoo DOT com.