Hiking a Wildcat Loop

Hiking a Wildcat Loop

Wildcat ‘A’ and ‘D’ are two 4000 footers on the other side of Rt 16 from Mt Washington and the Presidential Range. Hiking them usually requires an out and back hike, a road walk, or a shuttle. However, there is a way to hike them as a loop, one that is considerably less crowded, if you don’t mind hiking off the beaten track a little. The total distance of this loop is 11 miles with about 3500′ of elevation gain.

Rather than climbing the ridge from the West, you climb it from the East using the Wildcat Valley Trail which is maintained under the auspices of the Jackson Ski Touring Foundation. This is a very steep, narrow, and technical backcountry ski trail that I would avoid in winter since there will be skiers bombing down it who won’t be able to avoid you. But it’s little-used the rest of the year and it is a more gradual climb to the Wildcat Ridge than other routes. I’ve climbed the Wildcats twice on this trail, as recently as last weekend, and never seen anyone else on it.

Wildcat Loop

Caveats

While the Wildcat Valley Ski Trail is blazed with a blue diamond, it is not maintained to the standard of most White Mountain hiking trails because it’s intended to be used with 2-3 feet of snow covering it. You have to be a little careful when walking through waist-high ferns or grass because there may be hidden rocks, logs, running water, or mud below that you can’t see.

The ski trail disappears briefly when you reach this birch and fern glade.
The ski trail disappears briefly when you reach this birch and fern glade.

For example, there is a short segment at about 2800′ where the trail disappears in a birch glade amongst a sea of fern. Bear right and hike up along the edge of the glade until you can see a blue ski trail blaze on a tree near the upper middle section of the glade. Walk toward it and resume following the trail. You can also walk through the middle of the glade, but there’s a lot of wooden debris and high grass growing over a muddly base that I’d advise avoiding.

The upper reaches of the Wildcat Valley Trail are much easier to follow
The upper reaches of the Wildcat Valley Trail are much easier to follow.

The top 500′ of the trail is also very wet, muddy, and mossy. There’s little point in trying to keep your footwear dry here since the Wildcat Ridge Trail leading to Wildcat A, B, C, and D is a wet mud-fest too. But there are a few small streams that cross the ski trail on this segment where you can resupply water, which is handy because the Wildcat Ridge Trail is “dry” except for the giant mud puddles spanned by bog bridges.

Route Plan

Park at the Bog Brook Trailhead at the end of Carter Notch Road. The uppermost part of this road is unpaved, so watch out for potholes and high rocks. This trailhead is inaccessible in winter when the uppermost part of this road turns into an XC ski trail.

  • Jackson Ski Touring Foundation Trails (link to map)
    • Wildcat Valley Trail – 0.9 km
    • Hubs Loop Tr – 0.7 km
    • Beth Hendrick Trail – 0.5 km
    • Wildcat Valley Trail – 4.5 km
  • White Mountain National Forest Trails
    • Wildcat Ridge Trail – 2.7 miles
    • 19 Mile Brook – 0.2 miles (to Carter notch Hut)
    • Wildcat River Trail – 3.3 miles
    • Forest Rd #233 to Bog Brook Trailhead  – 1.3 miles

On the Trail

The beginning of the Wildcat Valley Trail (also called the Halls Ledge Trail)
The beginning of the Wildcat Valley Trail (also called the Halls Ledge Trail)

From the Bog Brook Trailhead, backtrack along the road about 100 yards to the start of the Bog Brook Trail. Look across the road to a trail kiosk and pass through the gate to the left of it onto the Wildcat Valley Trail, which coincides with the Halls Ledge Trail. (This is not the FR233 that you’ll walk back on later. )

Turn right onto the Wildcat Valley Trail.
Turn right onto the Wildcat Valley Trail.

Follow this dirt road, turning right onto Hubs Loop Trail and then right the Beth Hendrick Trail (both are well signed) turning right when you reach the Wildcat Valley Trail again.  Follow this trail which is blazed with a blue diamond 4.5 km to the Wildcat Ridge Trail. You’ll know you’re in the right spot when you see the Wildcat Ski Resort Gondola in front of you.

The Gondola Ski Lift at the top of the WildCat Ski Resort across from Mt Washington,
The Gondola Ski Lift at the top of the WildCat Ski Resort across from Mt Washington

Turn right onto the Wildcat Ridge Trail, clambering up the rocks to the left of this Ski Aid hut. Climb steeply for a short distance to a wooden viewing platform with views of Mt Washington and Huntington Ravine. The Wildcat Ridge Trail continues past this wooden viewing platform on the right, but it’s unsigned and it can be confusing to figure this out if you want to continue to Wildcat A over Wildcat C and B.

Summit of Wildcat D. Walk around this aid station to climb to the viewing platform.
Summit of Wildcat D. Walk around this aid station to climb to the viewing platform.

Continue on the Wildcat Ridge Trail for 2 miles until you reach the viewpoint overlooking Carter Notch. From here the trail descends very steeply on rock stairs (mostly) to the base of Carter Notch to a junction with the 19 mile Brook Trail.

Looking down into Carter Notch from the Wildcat A viewpoint
Looking down into Carter Notch from the Wildcat A viewpoint

Turn right at this junction and follow the 19 mile Brook Trail 0.2 miles to the Carter Notch Hut (where there’s a potable water faucet to the right of the front door if you don’t want to go inside.)

Looking back up Wildcat A from Carter Notch
Looking back up Wildcat A from Carter Notch

Follow the signs past the right side of the hut to the Wildcat River Trail. This is a gorgeous trail that runs alongside the Wildcat River…and it’s downhill all the way!

The Wildcat River is a small but beautiful stream.
The Wildcat River is a small but beautiful stream.

Continue down the trail for 3.3 miles until you come to a dirt road, with a bridge to your immediate right. This is FR #233. Turn right on to this road and continue for 1.3 miles back to the Bog Brook trailhead.

Recommended Guidebooks and Maps:

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About the author

Philip Werner has hiked and backpacked over 7500 miles in the United States and the UK and written over 2500 articles as the founder of SectionHiker.com, noted for its backpacking gear reviews and hiking FAQs. A devotee of New Hampshire and Maine hiking and backpacking, Philip is the 36th person to hike all 650 of the hiking trails in the White Mountain Guide, a distance of approximately 2500 miles, completing a second round in 2021. Philip is the author of Backpacking the White Mountain 4000 Footers, a free online guidebook of the best backpacking trips in the White Mountains in New Hampshire and Maine. He lives in New Hampshire.

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