Puzzle Mountain

Map kiosk, Puzzle Mountain parking area, Newry, Maine

Puzzle Mountain (3,133 ft) in Newry, Maine, is a lollipop-style loop hike incorporating the Grafton Loop Trail and the Woodsum Trail, for an approximately 7.7 mile hike with expansive western Maine views, including Sunday River. The mountain is supposedly named after the discovery of a soft vein of rock on the mountain that was subsequently lost, making it a puzzle. Parking is available at a medium-sized parking area off Route 26, with a map kiosk. A map is available from the Mahoosuc Land Trust, which manages the 485 acres of Stewart Family Preserve land on which Puzzle Mountain sits. A detailed description is also available in the venerable Maine Mountain Guide.

Morning sun, Grafton Loop Trail, Puzzle Mountain

The blue-blazed trail crosses an ATV trail and then after about a quarter mile, a logging road, until beginning to climb by a small stream cascading down. Due to recent late May rains, the trail was slippery and the streams in the surrounding woods seemed to multiply. I knew this presaged a slippery trail with lots of bugs, and the clouds of mosquitoes were unrelenting. Clear spring streams criss-crossed the trail, which was a spooky green tunnel in the morning fog of beech leaves, birch, and hobblebush, with toads hopping out of the way.

A Maine Appalachian Trail Club (MATC) register box was there to log the hike a little over 3/4 of a mile in. The sun began to light the way and changed the tunnel to an emerald forest, with trillium and other wildflowers dotting the sides of the trail, awaiting full bloom. This green deciduous forest ended abruptly as the trail circled a ridge with viewpoints over the valley surrounding the Bear River, switching to rocks, moss, and pine.

Viewpoint, Grafton Loop Trail, Puzzle Mountain

A little over 2 miles along, there is a viewpoint facing west toward the Presidential Range. The trail switches back through giant fractured mossy boulders, steadily climbing, and I frequently heard the sound of Blackburnian warblers. Also piercing the morning air were ovenbirds, red-eyed vireos, a black-throated green warbler, a ruby-crowned kinglet, and a broad-winged hawk.

Puzzle Mountain summit from below, Grafton Loop Trail

At about 2.3 miles a broader overlook beckoned, with wide views to the west and north, and another quarter mile or so along, the trail split with the Woodsum spur trail. I continued left along the Grafton Loop to the Puzzle Mountain summit. At about 2.8 miles there was a short spur trail towards an overlook, marked by a small wooden sign that says boulders and caves. A small playground of dark crevices and looming boulders sat below the main trail.

Boulders and caves, Grafton Loop Trail, Puzzle Mountain

As the treeline opened up, there were expansive views of Sunday River and beyond. A dark-eyed junco sang to me as I climbed, reaching the spur enroute to the summit at about 3.1 miles, where there were views in all directions above the morning clouds. Fresh moose pellets dotted the trail that winds through the rolling terrain after the viewpoint.

View from Puzzle Mountain, Newry, Maine

The hike turned for me here, taking the Woodsum Spur clockwise, as suggested on a hand-painted sign near the beginning of the day. The rains and snow melt had swollen the trail, and saturated the rocks, causing a slippery descent, even with hiking poles. There were beautiful wildflowers, birds, and extensive scenic views, but given the treacherous nature of the trail, I would have done this as an out-and-back on the Grafton Loop, and enjoyed the Woodsum Spur on a drier day.

Woodsum Spur Trail, Puzzle Mountain

My total hike was about 7.7 miles, exploring every spur trail, and taking a break at the summit, for a little under five hours round-trip. I didn’t see other hikers until my return trip, past the Woodsum Spur intersection, when groups of 2 to 6 hikers began filtering up the mountain. Dogs are allowed, but must be leashed. For refreshments after the hike, the town of Bethel is close, and Le Mu Eats is great. For to-go bakery items, a self-serve, honor pay cart/kiosk is close to the mountain, at Puzzle Mountain Bakery.

View from Woodsum Spur Trail, Puzzle Mountain

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