Just to the west of the New Hampshire-Maine border lays the White Mountain National Forest that protects its namesake – the White Mountains. While White Mountain National Forest is home to a number of trails including a portion of the Appalachian Trail as it nears its northern terminus in Maine, one of the most challenging and beloved trails within climbs up Baldface Mountains. This 8.3-mile loop gains over 2,500 feet in elevation as it travels across the two summits of the North Baldface and South Baldface mountains.
Although the fact that it scales two summits makes the Baldface Loop seem overly daunting, you don’t need to be a mountain climber to tame it. However, this hike is likely to take all your daylight hours to complete.
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Quick Facts about the Baldface Trail
- Length – 8.4 miles
- Trailhead Location – Follow signs in North Chatham, NH into park. Trailhead is 16 miles in on the right.
- Total Elevation – 3,606 feet
- Elevation Gain – 2,536 feet
To the Emerald Pool
The trailhead is located in the foothills, making for a rather unceremonious start to what can turn into such an epic hike so quickly. Soon sparse forest begins to transform into more rough and hilly terrain as you approach the first split. At the junction you will come to one off-shoot trail just before the proper split that defines the beginning and end of the loop. While you can go either way, almost everyone goes to the left purely to get the ascent out of the way as quickly as possible. Left is also the direction that gets you to the trail’s best sights quickly, just in case you need to turn around for weather or any other reason.
However, before you make the journey towards South Baldface, it is recommended to go right onto the off-shoot trail. It isn’t even a quarter a mile in length, but the dip does take you down to the beautiful Emerald Pool. This pool is like a little hidden paradise featuring clear mountain waters and framed by forest and the occasional seasonal lady’s-slippers.
To South Baldface Summit
Once you take the junction heading toward South Baldface, you will want to keep left at the next split. You can actually go either way, but the small side trip on the left leads to Chandler Gorge. It only adds on a half a mile to your journey, but the rocky chasm and the cascading stream that cut it over thousands of years is much more interesting that the alternative that just leads through forest. The trail here also features some nerve-fraying steep drop offs that reminds you to watch where you are walking.
After reconnecting with the main trail, you cross a small, easy to hop stream and pass a storm shelter. Storms are frequent in the area, so you may want to make a note of it in case you need to wait out some rain. From there on, the trail leaves the forest and begins its challenging climb up steep rocky ledges. As some sections of the trail are now dangerously close to being all vertical, you will definitely need to use your hands for a few scrambling sections.
This section can be confusing because the views at times make you think you have reached the summit, only to round a bend and find more of a climb. False summits would be terrible if not for their views. However, when you finally do find the true summit of South Baldface, marked with large cairns, you are treated to truly endless views. Although it is the smaller of the two mountains, you are treated to a beautiful view of Mount Washington to the west and the forested North Baldface to the northeast. Other than that, it is all beautiful forest and sky, making you truly feel like you are on top of the world.
To North Baldface Summit
The trip to the North Baldface summit isn’t nearly as difficult or as long. Although it is larger than South Baldface, it is only by a few feet and you have already completed your big push in elevation. Heading to North Baldface does take you back down into some pine forest, but it isn’t long before the huge boulders and slabs reappear. They also serve as landmarks that you are close to reaching the North Baldface summit.
Unfortunately, the view from the summit is not quite as grand. Mount Washington looks grand, but very much the same from just the slight change in angle and South Baldface can be hard to see through the trees.
Leaving the summit of North Baldface puts you on a pine-needle-and-root-riddled trail that marks the rather unremarkable last leg of this loop. The descent is significantly more drawn out than the ascent was, and, as it heads through endless forest, not very much fun.
One highlight is Eagle Crag which resumes the steep drop-off you saw in Chandler Gorge. From there on, things get a little more interesting with multiple creek crossings and steep rocky trail. Hikers need to remember to beware slick rocks though, as a fall here won’t be painless.
After one final creek crossing, one that fills the Emerald Pool just a distance away, you are brought back to the junction, and thus, the end of this fantastic hike.