This route starts and ends at the Lower South Branch Pond (LSBP) beach at the north end of the pond. The water is perfect for a post hike dip. Right off the bat at 0 miles, you have to cross the wide but shallow outlet of LSBP. Since this is the wettest spot on the loop, it would be smart to remove your shoes and socks for the crossing and then put them back on after, for dry happy feet. The trails are fairly steep and technical, especially on the Traveler side of the loop. The trail is hard to find in some sections as well, so study your map well, use a gps or the Hiking Project mobile app
if you feel you need to, and bring a map for sure. Trails Illustrated makes a great, waterproof one. There are great views of both LSBP and Upper South Branch Pond (USBP) from all the mountain tops as well as distant views of Katahdin. This trail is not too long but will take you from 4-7 hours as it is technical, schwacky (hard to find and overgrown in places) and steep. Bring more food than you think you need and a way to purify water.
Bring extra food and water, or at least a way to purify water as the route will take you from 4-7 hours.
Once you get to the inlet of USBPond, top up with water as there is no other option on this route.
Check in at the South Branch Pond ranger station between the parking lot and the beach before you head out. There is a cool relief map in the ranger station. Head down to the beach and veer right where you'll see the outlet from LSBP. When I was there, stepping stones were not there so wet feet were unavoidable. I took my shoes and socks off and re-booted after the crossing. There are bridges at all other sizable creeks as this is a dry, rocky run - when it's dry ;).
This is the South Branch Mountain Trail
(SBMT). It winds through the woods for a blissful 1/4 mile and then goes up. There are a few squirrely views of the Traveler and the ponds once you get up high on the ridge of South Branch Mtn.
The real views open up on Black Cat Mountain just to the south of South Branch Mtn at 2.5 miles. I guess you could say it is above treeline, but just by a hair. The trail is a bit hard to find here as it is not a popular trail, but check out the views, eh? Follow the ridge south as it gets steeper and keep an eye out to the right where the trail enters the scrappy woods again and descends steeply and winds down the south ridge.
At about 2.8 miles, the trail veers to the northeast and traverses the southeast face of Black Cat Mtn on its way down to the Pogy Notch Trail
and the south end of USBPond at 4.3 miles. This is where you want to fill up your water as the rest of the trail is dry. Go north on the Pogy Notch Trail
for .5 miles as it traverses the lower western slopes of the Traveler with it's steep sides and giant boulders.
At about 4.85 miles, you'll come to the Center Ridge Trail
that goes off to the right. This takes you up to the Peak of Ridges through steep, semi-open ledges with tall Red pines. The wind through these trees is mesmerizing. You'll get some stellar views and enter the alpine zone at about 5.8 miles. Here the trail gets more technical with jonky rocks.
The Peak of Ridges at 6.75 miles and 3254', has exposed and slanted rock slabs. This portion is real mountain terrain with 360-degree views. From here you descend into a smallish saddle and then up to the Traveler at mile 8 and 3,477 feet.
Follow the ridge down and around to the North Traveler Mtn in another saddle. The lower descent into this saddle is the most difficult route finding, as the cairns are small and there are a lot of small, bushy birch saplings. I don't know what else to tell you except to stay sharp and consult the Hiking Project mobile app
or your GPS or map.
It is unclear to me where the Center Ridge Trail
, Traveler Mtn Trail, and The North Traveler Trail
begin and end. I can assume it is at the summits, BUT.....there is only one trail to follow from the beginning of the Center Ridge Trail
at 4.85 miles till you are very nearly done at The North Traveler Trail
at the north end of the LSBPond at 13.16 miles.
So, where were we? Descending the ridge on the Traveler keep an eye out for the trail as the alpine terrain, open slabs of heavily weathered basalt and small trees don't make it obvious. At mile 10, you'll begin the ascent to North Traveler Mtn. If you are on this section in August, the blueberries are amazing. I underestimated the time it would take me to finish this route and had to rely heavily on blueberries for energy AND water, so eat up and enjoy.
The summit of North Traveler is at 3,152' and 10.7 miles. From here the descent on The North Traveler Trail
is quite nice with some grassy meadows, and not too steep until you get to mile 12 where it gets quite steep, loose and rooty. The views of LSBPond are sweet down this section. You'll reach the bottom at just over 13 miles, but even the map is unclear on which trail you'll be on at this point.
In any case, go right and follow the signs to the SBP Ranger station and campground. Dont forget to take a dip in the pond as deer ticks are becoming more and more common even in Baxter State Park. Besides, it feels nice after conquering such a strenuous loop!
Look for moose, porcupines, and birds of prey up high just below treeline. I am amazed how many times I see moose signs up close to treeline.