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Great Hikes: Baldface Circle Trail in Evans Notch

Hikers on South Baldface
Hikers on South Baldface (3570′)

The Baldface Circle Trail is one of the most magnificent hikes in the White Mountains with nearly 4 miles of open ledge rivaling the northern Presidentials in terms of views. Located in the northeastern corner of the Whites near the New Hampshire and Maine border, the trail is a challenging and strenuous 9.8 mile loop which climbs the Baldfaces (North and South), the two most challenging summits in the Evans Notch area. Burned by fire in 1903, these two bald mountains provide jaw-dropping views of the of the higher summits in New Hampshire and Maine, but weather conditions can be very harsh in the unprotected alpine zone here, so extra care should be taken to when hiking in high winds, winter, or bad weather.

Baldface Circle Trail sign on Rt 113
Baldface Circle Trail sign on Rt 113

The Baldface Circle Trail starts at a trail head parking lot on Rt 113, about one tenth of a mile north of the AMC’s Cold River Camp starting at an elevation of just 500′ which is low for White Mountain trails, where starting elevations are usually above 1000′.

Balface Circle Trail Map
Balface Circle Trail Map

The first section of the trail climbs to the summit of South Baldface (3750′), over 3000′ in just 3.7 miles, over open ledge with precarious and often wet footing, and should be bypassed by hikers with dogs, children, and anyone intimidated by unprotected scrambling. It is possible to bypass this section by following the Slippery Brook and Baldface Knob Trails which leave the Baldface Circle trail at 0.9 miles and then rejoin it at 3.2 miles after the ledges.

Emerald Pool
Emerald Pool

From Rt 113, the trail climbs gradually though open forest to Circle Junction at 0.7 miles. Shortly before this junction, there is a spur trail leading to a jade green swimming hole called Emerald Pool. This is a popular spot in summer and a good destination for adults and children interested in a shorter hike on a hot day.

Circle Junction
Circle Junction

Returning to Circle Junction, the trail climbs moderately following an old road now covered with rocks and leaves, past the Slippery Brook Trail junction at 0.2 miles and continuing to the South Baldface Shelter (space for approx 6), one of the few lean-tos left in the White Mountains. The shelter also has an outhouse and campsites.

S. Baldface Shelter
S. Baldface Shelter

The dreaded ledge portion of the Baldface Circle Trail starts just beyond the shelter and continues 0.7 miles to the intersection of the Baldhead Knob Trail. The climb is a steep scramble over slabs of terraced granite with few hand holds. The ascent increases in difficulty when the ledges are wet or covered in ice, when microspikes or crampons are required. This section of ledges are at the top of the Terrifying Twenty-Five list and there’s a good reason for it.

Scaling the South Baldface Ledges
Scaling the South Baldface Ledges

Once you’ve climbed the ledges (or hiked around them via the Slippery Brook and Bald Knob Trails), you reach an open false summit below S. Baldface. which is a good spot to take a break if the winds are calm and the sun is warm. This is an excellent view of North Baldface here, and you can gaze into the vast expanse of Charles Ravine, which stretches below the two peaks.

Bald Knob Trail Junction and False Summit of S. Baldface
Bald Knob Trail Junction and False Summit of S. Baldface

Otherwise, be sure to follow the rock cairns spread out in front of you during yourapproach to South Baldface. These are the only trail markers for the next several miles and you’ll want to pay close attention to their placement amidst the sea of rock surrounding you. After a half mile climb through more ledge and scrub, you’ll come to the large cairn on the top of S.Baldface’s open summit (see top photo). The views from South Baldface are quite grand and you can pick out moutains far north into Maine in good weather.

Views from South Baldface of Evans Notch, Mahoosuc Range, and mountains beyond in Maine
Views from South Baldface of Evans Notch, Mahoosuc Range, and mountains beyond in Maine

The Baldface Circle Trail continues from South Baldface to the North Baldface, passing through a col with a small false summit and stunted spruce. While there is some scrambling between the two peaks, it’s nowhere are strenuous or sketchy as the climb up the ledges on South Baldface.

North Baldface (3610')
North Baldface (3610′)

Like South Baldface, North Baldface is an open peak without any cover. Just 40′ higher than its sibling, North Baldface has even better views south and to the west, including a view of Mt Washington and its subsidiary peaks.

The Baldface Circle Trail continues over open ledge to Eagle Crag where it descends to Rt 113
The Baldface Circle Trail continues over open ledge to Eagle Crag where it descends to Rt 113

Leaving North Baldface, the Baldface Circle Trail continues over more open ledge dropping steeply in places where the butt muscle can be used to good effect. Continue following the cairns past the Bicknell Ridge Trail Junction to Eagle Crag, where the trail begins its descent back to Rt 113. The initial part of this section drops very steeply and roughly for several hundred feet. It levels off quickly and follows a sequence of old logging roads back to Circle Junction and back to Rt 113.

Total Distance 9.8 miles and 3600 feet of cumulative elevation gain

Final Stream Crossing on Baldface Circle Trail
Final Stream Crossing on Baldface Circle Trail

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7 comments

  1. Man, you guys are brave doing this in ice season. I wanted to do this hike all summer but could never find anyone to go with. Hopefully next summer. (I don’t want to do it in winter b/c I want to be able to hang out on the open ledges.)

    • I wasn’t that icy, but it probably is now with the sleet that’s falling today. It’d be a tough winter hike with any kind of wind – very exposed – with difficult escape route. I’ll go with you in summer, no problems. Evans Notch hiking is simply sublime. I love it up there!

      • If you wait for heavy ice to set in you could probably climb it on crampons without too much trouble. There is enough exposure though that some people would want to use a rope if they were on ice. I think I would be comfortable without using one but I thought I should mention it.

      • I’ll wait for summer, thanks, ice climbing not being my thing. :-) The other problem I had last summer was that the days I had free for hiking had lousy weather, and again, this is a hike I want to save for a really beautiful day.

        Yes, Phillip, let’s plan on it for next summer!

  2. This is a great hike! My friend and I did it as part of a 3 day backpack circumnavigating the Wild River Wilderness in September that also included traversing the Wildcats and Carters out to Moriah. The Baldfaces were probably the highlights for both of us. I’d like to get in a full Baldface-Royce traverse sometime, there’s some great hiking if you keep going past Eagle Crag.

  3. Overall, is this hike doable for a dog? He has done Adams, Washington and many other challenging hikes in ME and NH. I noticed the description about one part that might be best bypassed for animals and small children…

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