The Wildcat Mountains are located at the southern end of the Carter Range. They are most notably home to the Wildcat Mountain Ski Area, one of the best known ski areas in New England. The Appalachian Trail is the preferred way up these five humps and peaks.
The five Wildcat Mountains are identified by letters; Wildcat A is the northernmost and highest at 4,422 feet. Wildcat D (4,062 feet) is the other mountain that counts toward the peakbagging lists. It marks the highest point of the ski area.
This hike starts at Pinkham Notch Visitor Center. The trailhead is across NH-16 from the parking area. The trail is initially flat as it follows NH-16 to Lost Pond. After about 1 mile, the steep ascent begins. The cliffs below Wildcat E are punishing and get very icy in the winter. Proper traction devices such as snowshoes are not optional here, and the pace is likely to be slower than usual. Hiking poles are also very useful. On the bright side, the views to the Presidential Range from the cliffs are simply fantastic; they are the best of this hike.
Wildcat E and D mark the top of the ski area, and the trail actually crosses a slope. Be mindful of skiers coming off the ski lift and starting their descent. At that point, most of the ascent is completed and Wildcat C and B offer little resistance. Wildcat A is the last point of this out-and-back hike.
From the summit of Wildcat A, look northwest. Carter Notch stands a mere 0.7 miles away but over 1,000 feet below. Carter Dome towers a staggering 1,500 feet above the notch and only 1.2 miles west. This section is not to be taken lightly in winter.
Retrace your steps to the trailhead and be careful on the cliffs below Wildcat E. Two more peaks crossed of the New Hampshire 4,000 footer list!
Want to make this hike longer? Combine it with the Carters. 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, continue north for 0.6 miles and take the North Carter and Imp Trail down to the Nineteen Mile Brook trail.
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.