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.
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′.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Recommended Guidebooks and Maps:
- Appalachian Mountain Club White Mountain Guide
- AMC White Mountain National Forest Map Set
- Exploring New Hampshire Map from the Wilderness Map Company
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