Route: Baldface Circle Trail (NH)

Submitted by Jesse Wall on Wed, 07/15/2020 - 02:31pm
New Hampshire, US
Maine, US
9.1 mi
Vertical Gain
3,600 ft

The Baldface Circle Trail is one of the most rewarding loops in the White Mountains with nearly 4 miles of open ledge/alpine zone travel. Located in the northeastern corner of the Whites near the New Hampshire and Maine border, the trail is a challenging and strenuous 9.1 mile loop [signs list it higher but rarely is a gps track seen with much more than 9.2] 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 higher summits in New Hampshire and Maine. Few trails anywhere in NH offer a true scramble like the ledges of South Baldface, a brutally steep hand-over-hand climb that often suffers oven hot temps in the baking summer sun. Well worth many visits!

On the Maine / New Hampshire border, the trails in the Cold River Valley and Wild River Wilderness Area are off the beaten track and don't get near the traffic or the attention of the White Mountain trails accessed from Rt 16 or The Kancamagus.  But for folks in Western Maine and the North Conway area, the Baldface Circle Loop Trail is a hidden gem that provides spectacular views at least 1/3 of the time.  And don’t let the 3,547 foot summit elevation fool you, the trailhead is at 500 feet so this hike's 3,650‘ elevation gain is just as, if not more, challenging than the much better known Mt Lafayette/Little Haystack loop in Franconia Notch. 

Right across from the trailhead is a well marked parking area on Rt 113 in Chatham NH.  Following the Baldface Circle Trail - which has a slight lollipop design - is simple. The "preferred" loop is clockwise as this has you climbing the steep granite faces rather than descending them which can be dangerous when wet/slippery.

After an easy 7/10 mile from Rt 113, the trail forks with the route to South Baldface heading left.  The next 1.5 miles climb gradually, leading you to the South Baldface shelter.  This is where the fun starts as you get above tree line and start climbing the granite face for which the Baldfaces get their name.  The going is quite challenging in this 7/10 mile segment with multiple steep scramble sections but you are rewarded as the views get increasingly spectacular.  This section ends with a climb to Baldface Knob, a wide open and expansive but slightly discouraging false summit. 

The final 1/2 mile to the South Baldface summit is a steady steep climb but without any of the pucker factor of the prior granite ledge.  Once at the top, you are treated to a spectacular panoramic view of The Presidential Range with Mt Washington smack dab in the middle.  

The trail then descends into a col on the 1.2 mile hike to North Baldface, but the views remain until you dart into the woods on the small climb that takes you to the North Baldface summit.  From there, you continue north along the Meader Ridge for 1.2 miles with tremendous unobstructed views to both the east and west.  While an option, the first trail you will reach in 9/10 mile is the Bicknell Trail (a fine alternate route) but you should continue another 3/10 mile to follow the Baldface Circle Trail loop.

Once you reach the junction of the Eagle Link, Meader Ridge, and Baldcface Circle Trails, take a right on the Baldface Circle Trail to start your descent.  You immediately enter the woods to scramble down several short steep sections.  Although you’ve got 3.7 miles to go, this is a trail for cruising from this point on so let gravity be your guide - especially if there have not been any recent rains.  With about 1 mile to go there is one crossing of the Charles Brook which is super easy unless the water is unusually high.  You’re almost home but, if you’re not going for a FKT, its worth the short detour to Emerald Pool for a brisk refreshing dip.   

Whether you spend a few hours or a full day, you will never forget your time summiting The Baldfaces.

GPS Track


Sara Bradley ran this loop in 2h36m1s on 8/30/2020.  BUT, she took the Bicknell Trail down from the ridge.  While only ~ 0.05 miles shorter, the FKT route is the Baldface Circle Trail all the way.  Sorry Sara, no FKT!

"No solo woman on the board yet, so here I am!  Super windy today but pretty dry. This is a great route- lots of challenge, amazing views, a legit scramble. Definitely not a lazy walk in the woods. Totally unsupported out there today, I carried all my crap including water (a couple crossings at the very end if you need some- but they are pretty late in the game.) "

The FKT on Strava is 1:48:15

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Also worth noting, the Strava segment that many people use to compare KOM times is NOT the FKT route that starts and ends at the road at the sign. Leslie's reported time is based off the segment that ends a good distance from the road. There was another segment created to represent the full route. Her time for road 2 road should actually be 2.12.10

Thanks, Jesse. I did not submit this FKT. Someone else must have done it for me. I would not have put that time down because I know that wasn't the full route, only the one specific Strava segment. I'm not sure why someone else submitted it. 

Thank you for pointing out these errors.  Looks like our Regional Editor attempted to fill out this FKT but did not realize that the segment is short. I have corrected Leslie & Neal's FKTs based on their activities on Strava.  The TH-TH times could be off by ~30sec or so.