I believe deeply in asking the ranger about their favorite hikes. You get the best insider knowledge and their recommendations often bring you to places of quiet beauty. When the gatekeeper at Matagamon and the ranger at South Branch both, separately, got poetic in their descriptions of the Howe Brook Trail, I knew it was one of the special places in Baxter State Park.
What nobody told me: you can canoe instead of hiking the first mile of trail! You can take the Pogy Notch Trail for the first mile along the shore of Lower South Branch Pond, or you can rent a canoe ($1/hr!!!) at the campground and paddle across the pond to a marked takeout. From there, you are just a few yards north of the intersection with Howe Brook Trail.
The trail follows Howe Brook upstream for two miles, where it ends in a waterfall. Along the way, you will pass several cascade falls, most of which have a gorgeous swimming hole at the bottom. It's a consistently beautiful hike, with perfect place to snack, swim or just ponder life all along the way.
My plan for next year is to do the Traveler Loop, which leaves from the same trailhead, on a long summer day and then treat myself to this as a recovery hike the day after. I'm fairly confident I'm up to the challenge of trying each swimming hole!