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New Hampshire's Baldface Range

Baldface Range's icy swimming holes and heights will get any hiker worked up.

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Meandering rivers, emerald pools, 4 miles of open ledges yielding remarkable views of New Hampshire and Maine’s peaks and valleys-no wonder the traverse of the Baldface Range is one of the finest hiking loops in the White Mountains.

Rising more than 3,500 feet from the valley of the Wild River, Baldface is often overshadowed by some of the more popular ridges to its west. So while the crowds head to Mt. Washington, the mighty Presidentials, and Franconia, Twin, and Willey ranges, Baldface stays relatively untrammeled once you get beyond the dayhiker zone.

The Baldface Circle Trail is a spectacular overnight trek, a 91/2-mile loop over the North and South Baldface peaks. You’ll scurry up steep granite ledges during a thigh-burning climb that gains more than 3,000 feet in elevation before reaching the bare summit of North Baldface. It’s worth every grunt and groan, though. Hiking the broad ridgeline, you’ll be surrounded by treeless, open expanses and views that stretch clear to the other side of heaven. You can hike the ridgeline and ascend South Baldface, make your way down the steep ledges to Baldface Shelter, and head out the following day. But you won’t want to leave too soon because this is a land of many options. Baldface is located in the 775,000-acre White Mountain National Forest, so you can enlarge your loop to continue for days or weeks, and end up back at your car without retracing a step.

We put together a 20.2-mile loop by hiking the craggy ridge crest over the knob of Mt. Meader to the north, then dropping to the banks of the beautiful Wild River. After dangling our feet in the icy water and peering at the surrounding peaks, we headed up to 4,832-foot Carter Dome via the Black Angel Trail. The last day we looped back around via Perkins Notch, crossed the high waters of Wild River, hooked up with Baldface Circle Trail and followed it down from South Baldface. About a mile before the trailhead, we took the side path to Emerald Pool, a deep pond the color of cat’s eyes, fringed with cool granite slabs. If you can handle the intense cold, a plunge is the perfect way to wash away the dust of three days on the trail.

QUICK TAKE: Baldface Circle Trail, NH

WHERE: Baldface Circle Trail is located in northeast New Hampshire (straddling the Maine state border), about 150 miles (3 hours) north of Boston.

THE WAY: From Boston, take I-95 north to NH 16 north. At Conway, follow US 302 east to NH 113 north, just over the Maine line. The trailhead leaves NH 113 about 0.2 miles north of the AMC Cold River Camp driveway.

TRAILS: Seven trails connect to form the 20.2-mile loop, which is a great backwoods weekend trip. Baldface Circle Trail includes more than 4 miles of open ledge with unobstructed views.

ELEVATION: The trailhead lies at about 500 feet. Steep ledges ascend to the 3,591-foot summit of North Baldface. If you continue on to Carter Dome you’ll top out at 4,832 feet.

CROWD CONTROL: Visitation peaks in July and August, and again during fall foliage in late September. Weekends are busiest. Dayhikers and nearby residents crowd the first mile of the Baldface Circle Trail on hot summer days, seeking the cool, crystal-clear waters of Emerald Pool.

PIT STOP: If you don’t mind crowds, head to North Conway. Elvio’s on Main Street has the best pizza in the world, according to patrons. Eastern Mountain Sports is also here, if you’re looking for outdoor gear.

WALK SOFTLY: Stay on trails in alpine and subalpine areas to avoid damaging sensitive plants.

MAPS AND GUIDES: All the details you need are on the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Carter-Mahoosuc Map, #7 ($2.95 paper, $5.95 Tyvek, 800-262-4455). Another good resource is DeLorme’s Trail Map to the White Mountain National Forest ($4.95, 800-452-5931).

MORE INFORMATION: White Mountain National Forest, Saco Ranger Station, 33 Kancamagus Hwy., Conway, NH 03818; (603) 447-5448. Also, Appalachian Mountain Club, P.O. Box 298, Gorham, NH 03581; (603) 466-2721.

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