Carter Dome and Carter Lakes

Destinations:  Carter Dome (4832'), Carter Lakes (3288')
Trails:  Bog Brook Trail, Wildcat River Trail, Carter-Moriah Trail, Rainbow Trail, Wild River Trail
Region:  NH - Central East  
White Mountain National Forest, Carter-Baldface Region
Location:  Jackson, NH
Rating:  Moderate/Difficult  
Features:  Summit, views, hut, lakes, 4000-footer, loop hike
Distance:  12.0 miles  
Elevation Gain:  3165 feet (cumulative)  
Hiking Time:  Actual: 6:43   Typical: 7:50  
Outing Duration:  Typical: 10:30  
Season:  Summer
Hike Date:  09/19/1999 (Sunday)  
Last Updated:  01/20/2008  
Weather:  Sunny, clear, 60 degrees
Author:  Webmaster

Route Summary   

  • From the parking area, continue farther down Carter Notch Road for about 0.2 mile.
  • Bear right off the road and into the woods (marked here by blue diamonds) at a turnaround at the WMNF boundary.
  • Follow Bog Brook Trail for 0.7 where it meets Wildcat River Trail.
  • Bear left to follow Wildcat River Trail.
  • After 1.9 miles on Wildcat River Trail you will pass the junction with Wild River Trail on the right (keep going straight).
  • Continue another 1.7 miles and you will come upon Carter Notch Hut and then the junction with Wildcat Ridge, Nineteen Mile Brook, and Carter-Moriah Trails.
  • Turn right onto Carter-Moriah Trail and follow that for 1.2 miles up to Carter Dome.
  • From Carter Dome descend on Rainbow Trail (not either branch of the Carter-Moriah Trail).
  • After 2.5 miles on Rainbow Trail, it will end at the junction with Wild River Trail.
  • Turn right onto Wild River Trail and follow it for 0.7 mile where it meets with Bog Brook Trail.
  • Veer left to follow Bog Brook Trail.
  • Stay on Bog Brook Trail for 1.8 miles until it crosses a gravel road which is FR 233.
  • Turn right onto the gravel road.
  • After about 0.3 mile, FR 233 will cross Wildcat River Trail.
  • Keep following FR 233 and then Carter Notch Road, for about 1.2 miles, all the way back to the parking area.

Place         Split
Bog Brook Trail parking area (1810') 0.0 0.0 0:00 0:00
Jct. Bog Brook Trail/Wildcat River Trail (1790') 0.7 0.7 0:35 0:35
Carter Notch Hut (3288') 3.6 4.3 2:00 2:35
Carter Dome summit (4832') 1.2 5.5 1:02 3:37
Jct. Rainbow Trail/Wild River Trail (2590') 2.5 8.0 1:36 5:13
Jct. Wild River Trail/Bog Brook Trail (2417') 0.7 8.7 0:16 5:29
Jct. Bog Brook Trail/FR 233 1.8 10.5 0:45 6:14
Jct. FR 233/Wildcat River Trail 0.3 10.8 0:05 6:19
Bog Brook Trail parking area (1810') 1.2 12.0 0:24 6:43



Map of hike route to Carter Dome (map by Webmaster)

Trail Guide   

Although this was a long route, it was mostly easy and sparsely populated. The only places I saw people were at the Carter Notch Hut and Carter Lakes, and on the 1.2 mile section of the Carter-Moriah Trail that led from the hut to Carter Dome. This section of the hike was very steep while the rest of the trails were easy or moderate grades. Stream and river crossings made the lower part of Bog Brook Trail a challenge.

Since this is a long trip report, I've divided it into two sections:

Ascent of Carter Dome    |    Descent of Carter Dome

Ascent of Carter Dome   

I started up Bog Brook Trail from the parking area and fairly quickly had two challenging brook crossings and one tough river crossing. Wildcat Brook was the first waterway, then another stream, and then Wildcat River. At one crossing, I wasted ten minutes scouting up and downstream looking for a better spot, but didn't find one. Half-way across one spot, I needed to take a big jump up onto a large boulder and felt like I couldn't do it with my pack on. So I took off my pack, intending to heave it to the far side of the rock. I overestimated my ability to throw 25-30 pounds of dead weight and mid-throw realized that I might be fishing my pack out of the water. Luckily it made it to the rock - just not as far out of the way as I had intended. Free from that load, I felt much more confident and easily made the jump myself onto the boulder. In fact it felt so easy, that I immediately wondered how I could have thought that I couldn't do it with the pack on. How quickly perspective changes!

Very shortly after crossing Wildcat River, I veered left to follow the Wildcat River Trail (I covered the rest of Bog Brook Trail on the way down). After about 0.3 mile, the path crosses a gravel road (FR 233) which leads back to the parking area (going left). True to its name, this trail had Wildcat River running along its side for much of the way. There was one challenging crossing. This time my scouting paid off and I found an easy crossing a short ways downstream from the official trail crossing.

There were many downed trees blocking the path on Bog Brook, Wildcat River, and Rainbow Trails. Also in the lower elevations, the ground was almost completely covered with fresh green leaves. Perhaps this area got hit hard as hurricane Floyd passed nearby over the ocean at the end of the week (we had heavy rains on Thursday and Friday).

Reaching the higher elevations on Wildcat River Trail provided some glimpses into Carter Notch to the right. And on the left were thick-trunked, tall, birch trees. Shortly before reaching the Carter Notch, there was a neat, narrow cave right next to the trail, on the right side. One would have to climb down to enter it. A big boulder at ground level forms its roof. And there was cool air flowing out of the cave. It looked like it could hold two people, squatting down, and wouldn't be very comfortable.

Soon after that, the first cabin of the Carter Notch Hut complex comes into sight. Also at this point, there's a short spur path to the right that leads to the Ramparts which is a jumble of boulders in the notch. Getting to the boulders provides you with a good view of the notch; to actually see the valley below, you have to do quite a bit of rock hopping to find a pleasant perspective.

I continued on past the cabins and checked out the bathroom hut. It was very clean and odor free with sinks with running (cold) water. The toilets are the composting toilets that have recently gained popularity at highway rest areas. I continued along past the actual Carter Notch Hut which has a kitchen area for bunking hikers.

Just below Carter Notch Hut are two beautiful lakes (aptly named Carter Lakes). First the trail followed the shore of a smaller lake, then led to a larger lake. Forming an impressive backdrop for the larger lake was Wildcat Mountain. I found a special spot by the smaller lake to eat my lunch and just stare in awe at that beauty.

Eventually I had to move on... I still had many more miles to cover and preferred to get back to the car before dark. So I headed up the Carter-Moriah Trail - by far the most challenging segment of my route, gaining almost 1,300 vertical feet per mile. It spite of its steepness, the footing is pretty good on this trail.

At times the trail doubles as a shallow stream - complete with mini (5 inch) cascades. I saw some fuzzy yellow and black caterpillars and some pretty orange butterflies in this section. There were some great outlooks from this trail. You should enjoy all the outlooks that you can catch along the trails because the vistas from the summit aren't that great (relatively speaking). I moved very slowly, but continually, and managed to cover the 1.2 miles to the summit in just over an hour.

The summit is a large, flat clearing, with trees growing on most of the edges, thereby hampering the views. There's a small clearing shortly before the summit that contains a pile of boulders - climbing on these boulders affords a good view of the Presidentials. On the totally opposite side of the summit is another open area with a good outlook.

Descent of Carter Dome   

I headed down Rainbow Trail. This is a narrow trail and at the higher elevations the evergreen trees stretch their branches across the trail to make the passageway even more confining. This trail, like the Carter-Moriah, also had sections that doubled as a shallow stream and had a couple mini cascades. It descended from Carter Dome at a moderate grade with pretty good footing and then ascended up a ridge to an open area with great views. It seemed like a summit in itself but I didn't find any name for it on the map; it seems to be just an unnamed knob on Carter's southerly side.

After the open area, Rainbow Trail re-enters the woods and eventually came upon a seemingly endless grove of birches. There were just tons and tons of very tall, straight birch trees, spaced about 10 feet apart, with lots of ferns and other plants covering the ground between them. It seemed like I walked miles through these impressive birch woods. There was one 15 minute section on this trail where I was attacked by black flies; but other than that one segment, I encountered no bugs on the entire route.

Eventually (after what seemed longer than the signed 2.5 miles), I reached the junction with Wild River Trail. It looked like I was behind schedule for clearing the woods before dark, so I jogged this mostly flat 0.7-mile section of the Wild River Trail until I reached the junction with Bog Brook Trail.

Bog Brook Trail was quite wet and muddy but the trail was well constructed so I managed to stay dry. There were many stepping stones through the mud, as well as flat-topped log walkways, and trails to skirt around the messier areas. Bog Brook runs along this trail and is very different in character from the Wildcat River that accompanied me on my ascent. Wildcat River is clear and bright, filled with mostly bare boulders; while Bog Brook seems to be deep in the shade with all the rocks thickly covered by moss, giving the water a dark, blackish appearance (even though the water is actually clear).

For a stretch, the trail was wide, flat, and covered with pine needles. Coupled with the brook running next to it, this was a very enjoyable, scenic part of the route. Much of Bog Brook Trail had easy grades so I jogged sections to make up for all the time I spent at the Carter Lakes. There were lots of easy stream crossings in this section.

I eventually met up with the same gravel road (FR 233) that intersected with the Wildcat River Trail. I had decided to take this route back to avoid the woods and difficult river and brook crossings in the dark. When I exited the woods, it was still light; but darkness fell quickly. The gravel road was easy to follow and I jogged much of it and made it back to the car without having to use a flashlight.


NH - Central East

  Driving Directions   

  • Heading North on Rt. 16, go through Glen, then look for the sign "To 16B".
  • Turn right here, this will immediately take you over a covered bridge.
  • Follow the signs for 16B (one will direct you to take a sharp left turn).
  • When you reach a T-stop (16B goes left, Carter Notch Road goes right), turn right onto Carter Notch Road.
  • The trailhead is 3 miles from this point, on the right.
  • There is a small parking area where protruding boulders will make it difficult for a low-clearance vehicle to park. There is a trailhead sign here.
  • Another 0.2 mile down the road is an open area. Some vehicles were parked here but there's the possibility of getting towed from this spot because it's a turnaround spot and has access to a couple gated roads.


Bathrooms at Carter Notch Hut.

Other Notes   

WMNF Recreational Pass

A parking permit is required to park at White Mountain National Forest trailheads and parking areas. You can purchase a WMNF permit from the forest service and other vendors and can also pay-by-the-day using self-service kiosks located in many parking areas.

For more information on parking passes please refer to the White Mountain National Forest website.

  • $5 per day
  • $30 for a year-long pass
  • $40 for a year for a household


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