Pets allowed
Allowed
Elevation Gain
5,794.00 ft (1,766.01 m)
Trail type
Loop
Distance
18.80 mi (30.26 km)
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

This 18.8 mile backpacking loop is a fantastic way to explore the 4,000-footer Mount Carrigain while avoiding some of the crowds. The loop starts at the parking area for the Signal Ridge Trail up to the summit of Carrigain. This parking area can fill up, but there are spots on the road for overflow parking and other parking lots nearby at the end of the Sawyer River Road. Hikers completing the entire loop can also park at the Nancy Pond Trailhead and walk about 3.3 miles along Rt. 302 and Sawyer River Road to the Signal Ridge Trailhead.

The first two miles of the hike are on flat, nontechnical forest trails. After the junction with the Carrigain Notch Trail, the terrain becomes much steeper for the 3.2 miles to the summit, and hikers must ascend a long rocky switchback. This long and somewhat monotonous climb is well worth it, as the trail finally opens up on Signal Ridge with breathtaking views of Vose Spur, Mount Lowell, and Mount Anderson. From the ridge there is a final rocky climb to the summit of Mount Carrigain at 4,666 feet, where there is a fire tower boasting views of many of the 4000-footers in New Hampshire. Near the summit there is also a legal tentsite, marked with a small wooden sign.

After the tower, there is a steep and rocky descent down the 1.9 mile Desolation Trail that may be challenging for inexperienced hikers or in wet weather. After the first mile of steep descent, the trail becomes a gradual downhill to the first of two Carrigain Notch Trail junctions, then traverses a flat woodland for 0.8 miles to the second junction. Hikers finally follow the Nancy Pond trail for 3.0 miles to reach Norcross Pond. This wooded area is home to many moose, so keep an eye out! At the very least, expect to see lots of moose scat along this section of trail.

The three miles of the Nancy Pond Trail leading to Norcross Pond climb a very gradual 1,000 feet in elevation. At Norcross Pond there are spectacular views of the Pemigewasset Wilderness, and of Mount Anderson across the pond. Hikers can also choose to follow a 0.6-mile out-and-back herd path to Mount Nancy. This 3,895 foot peak is part of the 100 Highest in New Hampshire, and offers views of Mount Washington that are partially obstructed by trees. The path, which is an unofficial and unmaintained trail, is used frequently enough that it is more of a clear path and less of a bushwhack, although the upper section is steep and somewhat overgrown with shrubs. The trail leaves from a group of tentsites on the northwest side of Norcross Pond. The tentsites are marked with an uprooted stump and some logs. Just beyond the tentsites, veer left, and the trail sidehills towards a small slide before turning right and up steeply towards the summit. Return to the pond via the same trail.

Along Norcross Pond and at adjacent Nancy Pond, the trail is very wet with many bog bridges. There are several campsites along the pond. Within the Pemigewasset Wilderness, camping is prohibited within 200 feet from the trail or the ponds, but the restriction does not apply within the Nancy Pond Research Area by Mount Nancy. No campfires are allowed in this either area, and be sure to practice Leave No Trace principles if you choose to camp.

The final four miles of the Nancy Pond trail back to Rt. 302 begins as a steep and rocky descent to the Nancy Cascades off of Nancy Brook. This waterfall is beautiful year round, but is especially spectacular in the spring with snow melt or after heavy rainfall. The rest of the trek back to the road is relatively gradual and wooded. To return to the Sawyer River Road car park from the small Nancy Pond lot hikers must walk 3.3 miles on the road, which is uphill along a gravel road. Note that the Sawyer River Road closes to vehicles in the winter.

This loop is perfect for a one night backpacking trip, and takes hikers off the beaten path to explore herd paths, waterfalls, and lakes in addition to the out-and-back trail most often taken up Mount Carrigain. Route options abound in this area. If looking for a shorter trip, hikers can also do an eight mile out-and-back to Norcross Pond, a 13.1 mile loop with the Desolation trail and Carrigain Notch trail since there are also campsites at this junction, or camp right at the summit of Mount Carrigain at the designated campsite. Whatever route you choose, this Pemigewasset wilderness area does not disappoint!

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Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Summer
Fall
Winter

Congestion

Moderate

Parking Pass

Day use parking fee

Open Year-round

Yes

Days

2

Pros

Beautiful views. Scenic ponds. Multiple loop options. Camping.

Cons

Loop requires road walking. Signal Ridge Trail can be crowded.

Trailhead Elevation

1,177.00 ft (358.75 m)

Highest point

4,666.00 ft (1,422.20 m)

Features

Near lake or river
Backcountry camping
Old-growth forest
Big vistas
Wildlife
Waterfalls

Typically multi-day

Yes

Permit required

No

Location

Nearby Lodging + Camping

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