This easy 1.6 mile hike is a great beginner’s sample of what it’s like to hike in the White Mountains region. You get great views, rocky summits, and a little bit of rock scrambling. It’s a popular family hike, so expect a crowd! We enjoyed the scenery so much, that we returned a second time to hike just the Artists Bluff portion with our little pug, Wookie!
When compared to all the surrounding mountains, Artists Bluff and Bald Mountain are downright tiny – topping out at around 2,300 feet. However, both summits offer outstanding views and the trail is just rugged enough to provide a fun little challenge. We thought it was a perfect recovery hike after our Vermont backpacking trip just a couple days earlier. We started off by parking in the Echo Lake lot. Exiting the lot, we took a right and walked east along the road (back toward the interstate) for a short distance. Across the road there is a clearly marked path with a sign pointing the direction toward Artists Bluff.
As you enter the woods, bear to the right. The return arm of the loop trail is to the left. The trail immediately begins a steep climb over rocky terrain. You’ll pass boulders and climb up stone stairs for a couple tenths of a mile. At .25 miles, you’ll reach a large boulder marked with red directional arrows and labels. Follow the marked spur trail to the right out to Artists Bluff. Enjoy the fantastic view of Echo Lake and Cannon Mountain Ski Area. You can see I-93 trailing its way through Franconia Notch. On the eastern side of the highway, you can see towering Mount Lafayette and Eagle Cliff. If you’re feeling adventurous and energetic, use another day to hike to the summit of Mt. Lafayette and take in the splendor of Franconia Ridge.
After enjoying the views from Artists Bluff, follow the spur trail back to the marked boulder at the junction. Follow the red blazes in the direction of Bald Mountain. The trail will meander up and down hills, crossing a saddle and climbing a small knob before reaching the Bald Mountain spur. This junction is about .65 miles into the loop. The spur trail circles around the shoulder of Bald Mountain, climbing gently until you reach the ledges directly beneath the summit.
From here, there is a little over a tenth of a mile of steep boulder scrambling. Near the top, you will pass through a brief pine-covered area before stepping out onto an expansive dome of bare rock. Pay attention to where the trail exits the trees and steps out to the view. We kind of lost the way and had to backtrack to find the trail again. It wasn’t a big backtrack, but still worth noting. The view from the summit of Bald Mountain includes the ski area and a little bit of the lake, but it also includes views of mountain ranges to north and glimpses west into Vermont. It’s really an excellent vista!
After we spent some time enjoying the view all to ourselves – Artists Bluff is infinitely more popular than Bald Mountain – we made our way back down the spur trail. After returning to the junction with the loop follow the trail downhill for about .3 miles. At this point, you should see the road and alternate parking through the trees. Turn left, continuing on the loop for .4 miles. The last .4 miles parallels the road and returns you to where you started at the Echo Lake parking area.
As Christine mentioned, we hiked this one twice. It’s an easy hike to fit in just about any day you have some extra energy while in the White Mountains. The first time we hiked it, we wanted to make sure it would be OK for Wookie to join us on a future hike. We always like to get him out for a hike or two on our vacations.
We knew there was rain coming later in the first day we hiked it, so we wanted to tackle it early. The trail up to Artists Bluff is short but steep. There are lots of boulders to scramble up, but if you take your time, most people should be able to handle it. On the first day, we came across two girls at the summit that were celebrating the view with morning mimosas. I could tell it was a nice moment for their friendship. We left the summit and backtracked until we veered off to the trail to head towards the Bald Mountain summit. On our way to the second summit, we came across a large family group from New Jersey. They had decided to do the full loop but skipped the summit of Bald Mountain. We could tell this was a family that didn’t do much planning for hiking, because they had a lot of questions about distance, directions, and terrain. It wasn’t long before we came to the junction where the Bald Mountain summit side trail is marked by a sign. It was a short, tough scramble up, but once we got to the top the views were great. The wind was incredibly strong that first day, so it was hard to stand straight and actually take a picture. We could only imagine how strong the wind was on the summit of Mt. Washington, just about an hour’s drive away.
The views from Artists Bluff are a bit more picturesque with the lake below, but you get a highway view also. From the summit of Bald Mountain, the views are mostly of mountains beyond. You also will find that most people only hike to Artists Bluff and don’t take in nearby Bald Mountain, so there is more solitude on that summit.
We made our way back down to the junction and bore right to continue the loop and head back to the car. When we were almost back, we came across the same family that we had seen earlier. They were exhausted from the hike and were dreading their walk back to the car at the alternate parking lot. We offered to give them a ride, but they politely declined. One of the family members was then going to hike to the car and come back and pick them up.
On the second trip to do this hike, we just did the short trip to Artists Bluff. We were very proud of Wookie tackling the hike without any trouble. It was so cute to watch him navigate the boulders climbing up and down. On the ascent, his tail was down sometimes as he does when he is feeling less confident, but it was curled tightly on the way down as he was confident he knew the way back. He truly enjoyed himself up on the top and took in the scenery. We often wonder what is going through his mind at times, but we could tell that the view made him happy. We love our little hiking buddy!
It had been quite a while since I’ve been on a new hike. Whenever I see Adam and Christine put on their hiking clothes and grab their trekking poles, I’m hoping that I can come along. They usually leave me behind since a lot of hikes are tough on a short-legged pug like me, but this time my luck turned.
I enjoyed the hike up Artists Bluff but some of the boulders were huge. You can always see my quick brain working to find the easiest path up, but there were some steps that were just too large for me. Adam had to lift me up a few of them and on the return had to carry me down a couple. I mean, there is no need to overdo things when you have a perfectly capable human to take some of the danger out of it.
At the top, I did look out quite a bit and enjoyed the view. I was startled to see cars on the highway. This was my first hike ever where I could see and hear cars below, so it had me cock my head to the side as I was trying to figure it all out. We sat at the top for a good while and enjoyed the view. It was quite windy at the top, but the scenery was beautiful. I made my way quickly down in hopes that there would be an extra bowl of food at the end for all of my efforts. Instead of dog food, Christine surprised me with a glazed munchkin from Dunkin Donuts. I gulped it down and settled into a goof nap on the car ride back to grandma’s house.
- Distance – 1.6 miles
(Check out the stats from Map My Hike)*
- Elevation Change – 433 ft.
- Difficulty – 2. Most of this hike is very simple with easy terrain, however the ascent to the summit of Bald Mountain will require scrambling over bare rock. There are a couple steep, but short, climbs.
- Trail Conditions – 3. The trail is generally well maintained and traveled. There will be some rocky areas and muddy areas.
- Views – 5. Excellent views from both Artists Bluff and Bald Mountain. The Bald Mountain view is especially panoramic.
- Waterfalls/streams – 0. You will see water in the viewshed, but there is none along the trail.
- Wildlife – 2. You will likely see birds, chipmunks, and squirrels.
- Ease to Navigate – 3. There are several junctions where trails intersect. There are also two places you can begin your hike. However, everything loops back, so you should find the trail system easy to follow. Pay attention to where the trail enters/exits the summit area of Bald Mountain. It is not clearly marked and is easy to lose if you’re not paying attention.
- Solitude – 0
Directions to trailhead: Parking coordinates are: 44.178537, -71.696247. There is a large parking area near the entrance to Echo Beach. To begin the hike, park in the lot. On foot, take a right onto Profile Road and walk about a tenth of a mile along the road. The trail begins on the north side of Profile Road. You will see a sign marking the loop.
* MapMyHike is not necessarily accurate, as the GPS signal fades in and out – but it still provides some fun and interesting information.