Old Speck is the tallest and northern-most mountain in the Mahoosuc Range which stretches for 30 miles across the Maine-New Hampshire frontier. Never heard of the Mahoosucs? Not to worry, you're certainly not alone. The Mahoosucs are just to the northeast of the famous Presidentials in the White Mountains region of New Hampshire. They are rugged, beautiful, and see very little traffic.
The Appalachian Trail runs along the Mahoosucs for their entire length and provides a fine route for a tour of this scenic and rocky range. It is widely claimed that the single hardest mile of the entire AT occurs at Mahoosuc Notch a few miles south of Old Speck. The Notch is a mile of trail which winds through (literally in many cases) huge piles of tallus and boulders shed from the mountains on either side. It is a complete playground for some and an arduous workout for others.
Old Speck reigns supreme in the Mahoosucs rising 2500 feet above Grafton Notch and Maine State Route 26. A small observation tower was built on its summit in the last ten years and provides spectacular views in all directions from the lofty Presidentials to the south to the jumbled, nameless peaks of northwestern Maine to the north. It makes a fine starting point for a multi-day traverse of the Mahoosucs or a rewarding day-hiking destination in its own right.
There are three trailheads that access Old Speck. The most convenient trailhead for Old Speck is the AT Trailhead in Grafton Notch State Park. From Bethel, Maine, follow Rt 2 'east' for 6 miles to Newry. Bear left onto ME26 and follow it for 12 miles to Grafton Notch State Park. There are various interesting sites along the way such as Screw Auger Falls and Moose Cave. The AT parking area is on the left side of the road and is large and well-signed.
Alternatively, the west side of Old Speck can be accessed from the Speck Pond or Mahoosuc Notch Trailheads. Both are located on the Success Pond Road which runs from Berlin, NH, to Grafton Notch, ME. The Success Pond Road starts in Berlin from Hutchings Street; it is dirt but is fine for most passenger cars. The Mahoosuc Notch Trailhead is 10.9 miles down Success Pond Road on a 0.3 mile side road on the right. The Speck Pond Trailhead is another 1.5 miles from Berlin, 0.8 miles down a right-hand side road.
The Standard Route up Old Speck follows the AT most of the way. A quarter mile from the trailhead, the trail splits with the right fork climbing steeply up and over the Eyebrow, an exposed, crescent shaped cliff face with good views. The left fork stays lower longer but eventually climbs steeply to rejoin the Eyebrow trail. Whichever path you choose, you will soon be climbing steeply through beautiful coniferous forest with intermittent views to the east into Grafton Notch. When you at last reach the ridge 3.5 miles from the trailhead at 4000', the AT bears right. The summit is a rewarding few tenths of a mile to the left along gradual, forested ridge.
Descent is along the AT back to Grafton Notch. It is also possible to descend the bare northeast ridge directly and then cut left to regain the main trail. This is a much harder proposition, however, and it is easy to get diverted onto the remains of an old fire trail which descends in a leg-numbingly no-nonsense manner to the Notch.
An alternate, longer route starts from the Speck Pond Trailhead and ascends to the broad, bare summit of Mahoosuc Arm. The trail then descends for a mile to the breathtakingly scenic Speck Pond. This is one of the prettiest high-altitude ponds in New England. A shelter and tent platforms allow hikers to spend the night here and explore further. There is a caretaker in residence during summer months and fees run to $6 per person. An easy loop trail leads around the pond and over Mahoosuc Arm. From here, sunsets are spectacular and the view south into the famous Mahoosuc Notch is impressive. The trail from Mahoosuc Notch enters here as well.
Speck Pond makes a lovely destination in and of itself, but the summit of Old Speck is not far away. Hike a rewarding 1.1 miles from the Pond over a small hump and up a bare, glaciated rock ridge to the summit and the viewing platform.
No red tape. Parking is free and no permits are needed. The Speck Pond caretaker will collect camping fees from you ($6 per person per night) during peak season (June 1-October 15).
Old Speck is open for climbing all through the year. Deer Hunting season is in November and hikers are advised toward extra caution. Snow may persist on the trails into June; crampons may be helpful in the early season.
Camping is not allowed in the State Park which extends from Grafton Notch to the summit of Old Speck. Outside of this area, however, camping is allowed. The Speck Pond Campsite is lovely and is highly recommended. There are tent platforms, an AT-style shelter, and a composting privy.