The 9.4 mile loop run around – but not over - Miles Knob (via Miles Notch Trail, Red Rock Trail, and Great Brook Trail) is a run for those days when you are seeking a little “me time” in the woods. Located in Maine, on the quiet side of the White Mountains, you’re unlikely see more than one or two people, even on a Summer weekend.
The loop’s layout is up, across, and down. There are a few tremendous vantage points along the ridge on the across section but you should pick this route when you value a Stairmaster workout over spectacular views.
And if that’s what you’re seeking, the Miles Knob Loop certainly delivers with few super-pitched sections but consistent steep & steady climbs that cover 2/3 of the distance. Don’t be fooled by the 500’ starting elevation and 2,241’ peak elevation at Butters Mountain as this loop offers total vertical of 2,750 with a profile that resembles a serrated knife.
I’m not a big fan of out-and-back routes. And while point-to-point runs let you cover a lot of ground, the logistics are too much of a hassle for this solo runner. So I often find myself searching the White Mountain trail map for the “perfect” loop route - always a goldilocks quest, looking for distances that are just right. Unlike the other two options, where you can roll-your-own mileage, loop distances are fixed. And somedays you feel like a nut (ready to head out at 4:30 AM for an all-you-can-eat buffet like the Pemi) but somedays you don’t (when all you want is a light but filling mid-day snack). The Miles Knob Loop supplies the latter with plenty of punch but a distance that can easily be tackled in a morning or afternoon.
Depending on the direction you run, you can either start or finish with ~2 miles of easy fire road. I like to save the “easy part” for the end and always run the counter-clockwise direction described below.
The Mile Notch Trail starts from a small, well-marked parking area a mile up Hut Road in Stoneham Maine. You begin with a slow easy climb for a ½ mile but, before you can even find your groove, the terrain pitches up significantly - the hallmark of this loop. Heading up this first short 600’ climb, you realize your heart will be getting a workout today. The trail levels out for a milli-second then heads steeply down as you quickly lose all of the altitude you just gained – a trend that will continue to a lesser degree for the next 5 miles. You start to feel a little whipsawed as the trail then immediately heads back up for 1.3 miles on the longest sustained climb of the day. Halfway up, you remind yourself that you picked this loop because you LIKE steep, steady climbs.
Along this section you are climbing in the V of the Miles Notch while the granite walls of Miles Knob tower above you, partially obscured by mature trees. After reaching the notch’s apex, you have a few minutes for some active recovery before turning left onto the Red Rock Trail. As you start the “across” section, you’ll be disappointed if you’re looking for the classic wide-open ridgeline run as the trail is primarily in the woods while alternating between steep climbs and descents right from the start. But about halfway along the ridge there ARE a couple of spectacular views of Kezar Lake to the south and then – from the top of Butters Mountain – nice vistas to the north so take a few minutes here to appreciate the scenery. There are a few damps spots and some sections here are a little overgrown but the trail is fairly easy to follow as long as you stay alert. There are very few blazes anywhere on this loop so do not get overly worried if you haven’t seen any markings for a while.
You eventually reach the Great Brook Trail and have 3.4 miles to go. The first half is the same steep terrain you’ve encountered all day – only now it’s a continuous downhill. There is an easy crossing of Great Brook (which should only be a challenge in flood conditions) and the trail soon merges with a gently sloping fire road (take a right onto this road). Stay on what is clearly the main road even when it heads slightly uphill - don’t be fooled into taking the one road veering off downhill to your left (been there, done that). If you’ve got anything left in the legs, the going is easy all the way home. Eventually you take a small bridge back over Great Brook as you reach the terminus of Hut Road. You then have maybe a mile to go on the gravel Hut Road to return to the Miles Notch Trailhead – time to put your head down and get it done!
Will be doing this tomorrow sept 21!
Jen Blastow ran this in 2.59.00 in Sept of '15, good luck!