The Carter Range lies in northeastern New Hampshire. It’s not as popular as nearby Mount Washington, but it does make for a challenging hike that offers a unique viewpoint of the Presidential Range. Peakbaggers will also be happy to know this hike will knock three 4,000 feet peaks off of the various New England and New Hampshire lists.
The hike starts on NH-16 at the Nineteen Mile Brook Trailhead. As the name suggests, the trail follows the brook for part of the ascent. Water crossings are straightforward, and there are plenty of opportunities to top off water bottles. The current is rather strong, and there are some rapids and small falls along the way. You'll want to wear or carry snowshoes for this hike; microspikes may suffice if there isn't much snow on the trail, but snow depths can vary greatly over this route, and snowshoes are much better suited to new or deep snow.
The first intersection is reached at 2,300 feet. The Nineteen Mile Brook Trail leads to the Carter Lakes and Carter Notch and its namesake hut, while the Carter Dome Trail leads straight to the Carter ridge. Both are good options. It should be noted that the ascent from the Carter Notch Hut to Carter Dome is much steeper and gets quite icy in the winter; 10-point crampons may be useful.
From the hut (beds available in winter and beds and board available the rest of the year), simply take the Appalachian Trail north over Carter Dome. If you head straight to the ridge you will reach an intersection at Zeta Pass. You will have to head south to Carter Dome, which implies another 900 feet of ascent, and then backtrack the same way or over Mount Hight to continue this hike.
At 4,832 feet, Carter Dome is the clear highpoint of the range and is the 10th highest peak in New England. There are few views from the actual summit, a large flat area surrounded by small conifers, but several short herdpaths lead to ledges or clearings that allow nice views, especially toward the Presidential Range to the west. There are also nice views to the south toward Carter Notch and the Wildcat mountains, the southern section of the Carter Range.
The other mountains of the Carter Range are north, so head to Zeta Pass. The Carter Dome trail goes straight down to the pass, while the Appalachian Trail tags Mount Hight (4,675 feet) on the way. This summit is one of the highest in New Hampshire, but it is too close to Carter Dome to qualify as an actual mountain. However, it does have the best view of the range, so it is recommended not to miss it. The detour is barely longer than the Carter Dome Trail, and the added elevation is negligible when compared to the total elevation gain of this hike.
From Zeta Pass, the Appalachian Trail (also named the Carter-Moriah Trail in this section) leads to South Carter Mountain (4,420 feet) and Middle Carter Mountain (4,600 feet). The ascent is gradual for both, and there are nice views toward the Presidential Range along the way, especially around Middle Carter, where the alpine vegetation is short. South Carter does not offer any views, but a short herdpath leads to a clearing where Hight and Carter Dome can be seen.
The return trip is via Zeta Pass, the Carter Dome Trail, and the Nineteen Mile Brook Trail.
Want to make this hike longer? Combine it with the Wildcats. This becomes a 15.6 miler with huge elevation gain. It’s also a traverse, so you will either need two cars or to hop on the shuttle that connects Pinkham Notch and the Nineteen Mile Brook Trailhead. After Middle Carter, head north for 0.6 miles and take the North Carter and Imp trails down to the Nineteen Mile Brook Trailhead.
Winter backcountry adventures can be dangerous outdoor activities that pose significant risks as conditions affecting safety (i.e. weather, snowpack stability, avalanche hazard) are constantly changing. Prior to engaging in these activities each individual should get the proper training to make safe decisions and be equipped to use avalanche safety resources and tools. Please visit our Backcountry Skiing and Avalanche Safety post to learn more.