White Mountain National Forest: Carter Range and Wildcat Range

A two-day peak-bagging trek in the White Mountains, this 15.4-mile shuttle traces the spines of the Carter and Wildcat Ranges, cresting five 4,000-foot peaks.
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A two-day peak-bagging trek in the White Mountains, this 15.4-mile shuttle traces the spines of the Carter and Wildcat Ranges, cresting five 4,000-foot peaks.

Set aside two days for this shuttle hike across two iconic White Mountain National Forest ridgelines: you'll crest five 4,000-foot peaks, gain over 7,300 feet of elevation, and spend the night at a classic Appalachian Mountain Club hut at Carter Notch (reservations required). After dropping a shuttle car at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center (in the shadow of Mount Washington), begin hiking from the Nineteen Mile Brook Trailhead (about 3.8 miles up the road). Soon after leaving the state route, pick up the Imp Trail South near the beginning of a 4.3-mile, 2,800-foot climb up Middle Carter Mountain.
Traveling south along the Carter Moriah Trail (also the Appalachian Trail), the route wanders up and down Carter Range peaks on a mostly tree-covered path with limited views. Approaching Carter Dome, the route affords overlooks east to Mount Washington and Tuckerman's Ravine, as well as back north across the Carter Range itself. After 8 miles, begin a steep descent to Carter Notch and shelter for the night.
Day 2 begins with a stiff, 1,100-foot climb up Wildcat Mountain; at the summit, take in views east back to Carter Dome before a second wooded ridgeline trek through the Carter Range. Upon reaching Wildcat Mountain Ski Resort, descend to Pinkham Notch on green and blue ski trails. Summer hikers may opt to continue down the Wildcat Ridge Trail on the descent to NH 16 and Pinkham Notch.
Note: This is a strenuous hike all year long, but winter hikers should be prepared for difficult and icy trail conditions. Crampons are strongly recommended.
-Mapped by Michael Blair

PLAN IT

Click to PRINT AND GO

MAP Trails llustrated Presidential Range/Gorham, White Mountains National Forest ($12, natgeomaps.com)
GUIDEBOOK White Mountain Guide, Centennial Edition ($25, amcstore.outdoors.org) includes extensive planning info and maps.
PERMITS Recreation Pass, $5/week per car. White MountainNational Forest Office: (603) 536-6100, fs.fed.us/r9/forests/white_mountain/passes. Reserve a spot in Carter Notch Hut up to 60 days in advance. Self-service (Jan. 1 to May 29, Sept. 10 to Dec. 31) $43/night (non-members). Full-service (includes meals and bedding) $106/night. (617) 523-0655; outdoors.org/lodging.
SEASON Winter is key for solitude—and a stay in the fire-warmed hut ensures a toasty night—but navigation and conditions can be tough. In summer, this high route is easy to follow. Check for conditions at fs.fed.us/r9/forests/white_mountain.

LOCAL LINKS

GEAR

Ragged Mountain Equipment
279 NH 16/302
Intervale, NH
(603) 356-3042
Lahout’s Country Clothing
127 Main St.
Lincoln, NH
(603) 745-6970
GAS/GROCERIES

Cumberland Farms
60 Main St.
Gorham, NH
(603) 466-2157

GROCERIES

Waynes Market
173 Main St.
North Woodstock, NH
(603) 745-8819

RESTAURANTS

Mr. Pizza
160 Main St.
Gorham, NH
(603) 466-5573

Notchview Country Kitchen
437 US 3
Lincoln, NH
(603) 745-2043

MULTI-DAY GEAR LIST

Backpack
Three-season tent
Down bag, sleeping pad
Compass, map, GPS unit
Gas stove and fuel bottles
Lighter and matches
Cookset, bowl, insulated
mug, eating utensils
32 oz. water bottle (2)
Water treatment
Multitool/knife
Headlamp, batteries
Fleece and down jackets
Waterproof/breathable
jacket and pants
Synthetic pants
Midweight baselayers
Synthetic T-shirt (2)
Hat and gloves
Hiking boots
Camp footwear
Wool/synthetic socks (3)
Crampons and ice axe
Sunscreen (SPF 15+)
First-aid kit
Stuffsacks/zip-top bags

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 24.8

Waypoints

CRW001

Location: 44.303397, -71.220846

Nineteen Mile Brook Trailhead: Park here and walk north a short distance to Camp Dodge to take a shortcut to the Imp Trail South.

CRW002

Location: 44.308179, -71.220267

The road to Camp Dodge leaves the east side of NH 16 so you never have to cross the highway. The road is not signed.

CRW003

Location: 44.308851, -71.217308

Camp Dodge: Stay to the left of the final building and continue east, following the old logging road.

CRW004

Location: 44.309355, -71.214151

The old logging road intersects with Imp Trail South; go right on Imp Trail South. Shortly ahead, the trail crosses a stream and begins a steeper climb up the western slopes of North Carter.

CRW005

Location: 44.311175, -71.193831

About midway up the climb, the trail meets another relatively easy stream crossing. The trail remains poorly marked but easy to follow.

CRW006

Location: 44.313318, -71.185884

Go right on the North Carter Trail at a junction with Imp Trail North. Another 1,100 feet of climbing remain to the top of the Carter Ridge.

CRW007

Location: 44.310113, -71.167787

Go right on Carter Moriah Trail (also the Appalachian Trail, blazed white) heading toward Middle Carter. To the left, a short detour leads to the North Carter summit. On the hike south toward Middle Carter, you'll pass over the wooded summit of Mount Lethe.

CRW008

Location: 44.303059, -71.167975

Middle Carter Mountain (4,610 ft.): Pass through the wooded summit, continuing south on the AT/Carter Moriah Trail.

CRW009

Location: 44.289929, -71.176171

South Carter Mountain (4,430 ft.): After bagging the second 4,000-foot peak of the day, continue south on the Carter Moriah Trail/AT. Most of the summits along the Carter Range are wooded, though there are intermittent views along the ridgeline hike.

CRW010

Location: 44.280933, -71.173498

Zeta Pass: Continue straight, heading south on the Carter Moriah Trail. To the right the Carter Dome Trail offers a safe bail-out back down to the trailhead if you're running late or the weather is bad.

CRW011

Location: 44.280835, -71.173017

Continue straight on the Carter Dome Trail (blue blazed) as the Carter Moriah Trail turns left up toward Mount Hight.

CRW012

Location: 44.271727, -71.175715

Continue on the Carter Moriah Trail as the Carter Dome Trail ends. Here, the Black Angel Trail enters from the left. Just ahead, the trail affords the first view of Carter Dome.

CRW013

Location: 44.267441, -71.179318

Carter Dome (4,832 ft.): At the top of this 4,000-foot peak (the ninth highest in New Hampshire), the Rainbow Trail enters from the left. Continue straight as the trail begins a steep 1,000-foot descent to Carter Notch.

CRW014

Location: 44.261661, -71.190855

Just before the steepest stretch of the descent, a break in the trees affords high-up views of the main hut and two bunkhouses of the Carter Notch Hut. Because of the steep terrain, it is unsafe to attempt this stretch in the dark or in bad weather. Crampons are necessary here in the winter.

CRW015

Location: 44.260208, -71.194664

As the Nineteen Mile Brook Trail enters from the right, continue straight past the ponds to approach the Carter Notch Hut. On Day 2, return to this junction and go left along Nineteen Mile Brook Trail around the northern pond to get to the next junction. During the winter, there is a hole cut through the pond's ice; backpackers must collect water in 5-gallon containers and bring it back into the hut to boil for drinking water, cooking, and cleaning.

CRW016

Location: 44.258386, -71.195912

Built in 1914, The Carter Notch Hut is open year-round; full kitchen facilities are available along with pit toilets and two unheated bunkhouses. Reservations are required.

CRW017

Location: 44.261724, -71.195468

At the last official trail junction, turn left up the Wildcat Ridge Trail as the Nineteen Mile Brook Trail continues straight.

CRW018

Location: 44.261967, -71.199025

Tricky stretch: This steep and exposed section of trail can get especially icy in the winter. Those with full crampons can make quick work of this crossing; those with more simple traction devices may have to take their time.

CRW019

Location: 44.262682, -71.201341

At this tricky spot, look for a single white blaze (the Wildcat Ridge Trail also follows the AT) on a tree just before the "V" formed by these trees; make a 180-degree turn here to continue uphill. There is a double white blaze on the "V" but it is barely visible on the way up (which is easier to see on if you're hiking this shuttle south to north). In the summer, it's easy to see the trail.

CRW020

Location: 44.259016, -71.201568

Wildcat Mountain (4,422 ft.): Looking to the east you can look down to the hut and over to Carter Dome.

CRW021

Location: 44.254821, -71.202006

Continue hiking the Wildcat Ridge as you pass the wooded summit of the second peak in the Wildcat Range.

CRW022

Location: 44.250426, -71.208374

Continue past another wooded summit (the third peak of the Wildcat Range. Ahead, the trail descends west to a saddle before climbing up to the top of Wildcat Mountain Ski Resort.

CRW023

Location: 44.249431, -71.223673

At a fourth wooded summit of the Wildcat Range, continue west past the top of the ski resort towards the fifth Wildcat peak.

CRW024

Location: 44.248581, -71.226211

At the fifth summit of the Wildcat Range, the Wildcat Ridge Trail continues west back down to Route 16. Note: This route very steep and difficult to descend if it's icy or there's bad weather. Also, the Ellis River at the base of the trail is difficult to cross in spring because of the volume created by melting snow. Instead, many wintertime backpackers sled/hike down the ski trails (always stay to the right and follow the green circle and blue square trails Upper Polecat, Catnap, Middle Catnap, and Lower Polecat). This route follows the ski trails to Route 16 and then south to a shuttle car at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center. On the Web, check out the satellite view for more detail.

CRW025

Location: 44.257414, -71.252877

Pinkham Notch Visitor Center: Stash a shuttle car for the end of the trip before starting from the Ninteen Mile Brook Trailhead to the north.

Mount Washington and Tukermans Ravine

Location: 44.272707, -71.176043

A view to the west from Carter Ridge

Nineteen Mile Brook Trailhead

Location: 44.303351, -71.220481

Road to Camp Dodge

Location: 44.308188, -71.220074

Turning off NH-16 on the road up to Camp Dodge.

Camp Dodge

Location: 44.308864, -71.217027

Imp Trail South Junction

Location: 44.309386, -71.213808

Stream Crossing

Location: 44.308403, -71.212907

Stream Crossing

Location: 44.311182, -71.193616

Trail Junction #2

Location: 44.31347, -71.185741

AT Trail junction

Location: 44.310123, -71.16776

Mount Lethe Summit

Location: 44.30739, -71.166987

Frozen branches at the wooded summit of Mount Lethe

Winter Trails in the Northeast

Location: 44.299804, -71.172137

An example of how trails during the winter are difficult to navigate: you are often walking in the branches that are usually over your head and the snow forces smaller trees to bend over and block the trail.

Zeta Pass Junction

Location: 44.281034, -71.173382

Wooded Walkway

Location: 44.286319, -71.174626

Carter Ridge is not very exposed.

Trail Junction #6

Location: 44.271816, -71.175571

First Glimpse of Carter Dome

Location: 44.271355, -71.175399

Looking south to Carter Dome (right) and the Wildcats in the distance

Carter Range

Location: 44.268836, -71.176901

Looking back north at the peaks of the Carter Range

Carter Dome Summit

Location: 44.267606, -71.179175

Above the Carter Notch Hut

Location: 44.261736, -71.19072

Carter Notch Hut Junction

Location: 44.260253, -71.194636

Continue straight between the ponds towards the Hut.

Winter Water Source

Location: 44.260223, -71.194958

During the winter there is a hole cut through the pond ice and backpackers must collect water in five gallon containers and bring it back into the hut to boil for drinking water, cooking, and cleaning.

AMC's Carter Notch Hut

Location: 44.258448, -71.195869

Wildcat Ridge Trail Junction

Location: 44.26189, -71.195354

Turn left on the Wildcat Ridge Trail.

Steep Exposure

Location: 44.262074, -71.198959

This stretch of trail (cleared by a land slide) can very icy in winter.

Tricky Turn

Location: 44.262874, -71.201191

Look for a single white blaze and make a hairpin left turn to continue uphill.

Carter Dome

Location: 44.259093, -71.201534

Looking back east to Carter Dome from the Wildcat Mountain summit.

Wildcat Mountain Ski Resort

Location: 44.249318, -71.22458