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
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.
Ragged Mountain Equipment
279 NH 16/302
Lahout’s Country Clothing
127 Main St.
60 Main St.
173 Main St.
North Woodstock, NH
160 Main St.
Notchview Country Kitchen
437 US 3
MULTI-DAY GEAR LIST
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)
Fleece and down jackets
jacket and pants
Synthetic T-shirt (2)
Hat and gloves
Wool/synthetic socks (3)
Crampons and ice axe
Sunscreen (SPF 15+)
- Distance: 24.8
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.
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.
Location: 44.308851, -71.217308
Camp Dodge: Stay to the left of the final building and continue east, following the old logging road.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Location: 44.303059, -71.167975
Middle Carter Mountain (4,610 ft.): Pass through the wooded summit, continuing south on the AT/Carter Moriah Trail.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Location: 44.254821, -71.202006
Continue hiking the Wildcat Ridge as you pass the wooded summit of the second peak in the Wildcat Range.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Location: 44.308864, -71.217027
Imp Trail South Junction
Location: 44.309386, -71.213808
Location: 44.308403, -71.212907
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
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
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.
Location: 44.262074, -71.198959
This stretch of trail (cleared by a land slide) can very icy in winter.
Location: 44.262874, -71.201191
Look for a single white blaze and make a hairpin left turn to continue uphill.
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