A Carter Dome Wild River Loop Trip Plan

Backpacking a Carter Dome Wild River Loop

Carter Dome is the ninth tallest White Mountain 4000 footer with an elevation of 4832 feet. It’s located almost due east of Mount Washington and has the distinction of being the highest mountain in the Carter Moriah Range. Most of the peakbaggers who climb Carter Dome approach it from the west and climb to the summit via Zeta Pass.

This 2 day, 21-mile loop takes a less-traveled approach and climbs Carter Dome from the east, before descending to the Wild River Wilderness and returning through Perkins Notch. One of the highlights of this route is the open summit of the South Knob of Carter Dome, which at 4274 ft, is a 4000 footer in its own right, even though it’s not listed on the official AMC 4000 footer list. It has an excellent view of Mt Washington, which makes up for the viewless Carter Dome summit. From Carter Dome, the route drops back into the Wild River Wilderness down the Black Angel Trail, one of the prettiest and most remote trails in the Whites. This loop is especially beautiful to hike in early October when the leaves begin to change color.

Carter Dome Wild River Loop Backpacking Trip Plan

Rating

C3 - Toggle Open for Key

Distance

A: Less than 15 miles in distance

B: 15-20 miles

C: 20-25 miles

D: 25-30 miles or less

E: more than 30 miles

Elevation Gain

1: 3000 ft or less

2: 4000 ft or less

3: 5000 ft or less

4: 6000 ft or less

5: over 6000 ft

Distance/Elevation Gain

21 miles with 4400′ of elevation gain

White Mountain 4000 Footers

  • Carter Dome

Recommended Duration

2-3 days

Season

June thru October

Permits Required

None.

Regulations

Backcountry Camping Regulations for the White Mountain National Forest.

New to the White Mountains? Read this Quick and Dirty Guide to Backpacking in the White Mountains for information about camping regulations, road access, trail shuttles, lodging, dangerous wildlife, weather, etc.

Trailhead Directions

  • Bog Brook Trailhead – Follow Carter Notch Road 5.4 miles from the junction of NH16B and NH16A in Jackson, NH. This turns into a gravel road at it approaches the end of the road. Pass by a large parking lot on your left at the top end of Carter Notch Rd, and continue down a short hill onto FR 233 for about half a mile, passing a back woods shack (we call them camps) labelled “Camp Gout.” The Bog Brook Trailhead parking area will be on your right shortly.

Map

The Appalachian Mountain Club publishes the best maps for the White Mountains and I’d recommend buying the complete AMC White Mountain Waterproof Map Set. It contains three waterproof maps (2 regions per map) although you only need carry one or two on any trip. I also use GPS apps for navigating, but these maps contain relevant trail, shelter and topographic information that is often not included in electronic maps. More detailed trail descriptions can also be found in the AMC White Mountain Guide, which is considered the hiking bible for the region. It includes detailed driving directions to remote trailheads and is indipensible for navigating to them, especially when you're out of cell tower range. Take photos of the pages you need using your phone for easy reference, instead of carrying the entire book with you on hikes.

Navigation Apps

I also recommend purchasing a GPS Phone App such as Far Out's White Mountain National Forest Guide, which lists most of the trails, trailheads, shelters, campsites, views, and water sources in the White Mountains National Forest. GaiaGPS is another GPS Phone App, which is stronger in terms of topographic map coverage for the White Mountains but does not have as much information about trailheads, shelters, campsites, views, and water sources. I use both frequently.

Trail Sequence

The route follows the following trails in sequence.

  • Bog Brook Trail – 2.8 miles
  • Wild River Trail – 0.7 miles
  • Rainbow Trail – 3.5 miles
  • Carter Moriah Trail – 0.4 miles
  • Black Angel Trail – 4.9 miles
  • Wild River Trail – 5.8 miles
  • Bog Brook Trail 2.8 miles

Scenic Highlights

The following list provides cumulative distances on the route to each view or landmark.

  • Rainbow Trail Birch Tree Grove – 3.5 miles
  • South Knob of Carter Dome Summit and Viewpoint – 6.0 miles
  • Carter Dome Summit – 7.0 miles
  • Wild River Trail Junction – 12.3 miles
  • Spruce Brook Tentsite – 13.1 miles
  • No Ketchum Pond – 16.5 miles
  • Perkins Notch Tentsite – 17 miles

Camping and Shelter Options

  • USFS Spruce Brook Campsite (Free) – pressed earth tent pads, water
  • USFS Perkins Notch Campsite (Free) – pressed earth tent pads, water

Water

Natural water sources are plentiful in the White Mountains although you may need to descend to them from ridgelines along side trails if you run short. In any case, carry a detailed topographic map with you and don’t rely on the overview map provided with this trip description to find water sources.

The Appalachian Mountain Clubs Huts are taking reservation in 2022. Contact the AMC for reservations and information at outdoors.org. (Note: You don't have to stay in their facilities when hiking in the White Mountains.) All Randolph Mountain Club Cabins have reopened for 2022 on a first-come-first-serve basis.

Note: There is no water from the north end of the Bog Brook Trail until about half way down the Black Angel Trail along this route and you may want to carry a bit extra.

On the Trail

Begin at the Bog Brook Trail trailhead. There are three water crossing in the first two miles that are usually rock hopable, but may be difficult to cross in high water. You can also bypass them by following the gated FR 233 road to the intersection of the Bog Brook trail with the road. While slightly longer, your feet will stay dry. I’d recommend staying on the trail though, since it is quite pretty and the road walk is boring.

All of the brook crossings are rock hoppable although they may be challenging in high
All of the brook crossings are rock hopable although they may be challenging in high water.

Merge onto the Wild River Trail for a short distance until you come to the Rainbow Trail Junction.

Merge onto the Wild River Trail and hike through open forest
Merge onto the Wild River Trail and hike through open forest

Turn left onto the Rainbow Trail and follow it through a grove of birch trees and berry bushes (in the summer months) which are popular with moose and bear. Most of the birch trees are dead due to climate change and disease, but are quite a sight nonetheless. If you’re concerned about a large animal encounter, make a lot of noise and hike with a partner or small group. The animals are afraid of you and will leave the area if you alert them to your presence.

Hike through a large birch tree grove
Hike through a large birch tree grove

Continue ascending through scrappy woods until you reach the open summit of the South Knob of Carter Dome, also referred to as South Carter Dome. On a sunny day, you can clearly see Mt Washington and its glacial cirques, Tuckerman Ravine and Huntington Ravine ,to the west.

Great View of Mt Washington from the Rainbow Trail
Great View of Mt Washington from the Rainbow Trail and the Summit of South Carter Dome

Proceed through the summit krummholz (dwarf trees) for an additional mile to the open summit of Carter Dome. The site of an old fire tower, you can still see the tower foundations and find assorted historical debris from when it was taken down, in the nearby woods. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure: these items are considered archeological artifacts and it is against the law to disturb or remove them.

The old fire tower foundations are still visible on the Carter Dome summit
The old fire tower foundations are still visible on the Carter Dome summit

From the summit trail junction, hike north along the Carter Moriah Trail towards Mt Hight. Turn right onto the Black Angel Trail after 0.4 miles before you reach Hight and descend for 4.9 miles down to the Wild River Trail.

The Black Angel Trail enters the Wild River Wilderness
The Black Angel Trail enters the Wild River Wilderness

The Black Angel Trail is considered to be one of the most beautiful trails in a region full of beautiful trails. Most of it is easy hiking, but there are a few rock scrambles along the top of the trail which can sketchy if the rocks are wet or covered with ice. The trail crosses into the Wild River Wilderness shortly after leaving the Carter Moriah Trail and while it is lightly blazed, the trail can be more difficult to follow in autumn when leaves cover the obvious trail tread.

The Wild River Trail runs next to the river.
The Wild River Trail runs next to the river.

When you reach the Wild River Trail, the path follows closely beside the upper reaches of the river to its source in No Ketchum Pond. They say that the wild trout fishing along this section of river is out of this world. It’s also takes a heck of a walk to get to, which probably keeps the fishery so vibrant and wild.

The Spruce Brook Tentsite has pressed earth tent pads
The Spruce Brook Tentsite has pressed earth tent pads

In 0.8 miles, you’ll reach the Spruce Brook Tentsite spur trail which climbs steeply uphill to several packed earth tent pads. The fire ring is located near the entrance sign along the Wild River Trail, down where the old lean-to used to be before it was removed. The pads are spaced widely apart and there’s plenty of privacy. If you plan to hike the route in two days, this is an excellent place to stop for the night.

Recent trail maintenance has great improved the western end of the Wild River Trail
Recent trail maintenance has greatly improved the western end of the Wild River Trail

Continue south along the Wild River Trail, crossing a stream just beyond the Spruce Brook Tentsite. It is rock hopable, although you may want to hike upstream a bit to find an easier crossing point. Continue past the Eagle Link Trail Junction, following old logging skid roads and over newly constructed bog bridges. Passing the East Branch Trail Junction, just before another stream crossing. No Ketchum Pond will soon come into view on your right, followed by the Perkins Notch Tentsite on your left.

Perkins Notch Tentsite
Perkins Notch Tentsite

Continuing east along the Wild River trail, you’ll soon arrive at the Rainbow Trail junction you passed previously before climbing up to Carter Dome. Retrace your steps from the previous day along the Wild River and Bog Brook Trails back to the trailhead parking lot.

About the author

Philip Werner has hiked and backpacked over 8500 miles in the United States and the UK and written over 3000 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 has hiked all 650+ trails in the White Mountains twice and has completed 8 rounds of the 48 peaks on the White Mountains 4000 footer list with over 490 summits in all four seasons. He is also 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. Click here to subscribe to the SectionHiker newsletter.

Safety Disclaimer

This trip plan can not alert you to every hazard, anticipate your experience, or limitations. Therefore, the descriptions of roads, trails, routes, shelters, tent sites, and natural features in this trip plan are not representations that a particular place or excursion will be safe for you or members of your party. When you follow any of the routes described on SectionHiker.com, you assume responsibility for your own safety. Under normal conditions, such excursions require the usual attention to traffic, road and trail conditions, weather, terrain, the capabilities of your party, and other factors. Always check for current conditions, obey posted signs, and Backcountry Camping and Wilderness Area Regulations. Hike Safe and follow the Hiker responsibility code. 

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9 comments

  1. I need to take some time and go back and hike in the Wild River Wilderness again. Such a beautiful area. The only place I’ve ever seen people was at Perkins Notch and and near Wild River Campground. The rest of the time we are the only people in the woods.

  2. Is Carter Dome the same thing as Carter Mountain?

  3. Hi Philip,
    Thanks for putting this together! I’m new to the Whites, much more familiar with the ADKs, and looking for a 3 day, 2 night loop, wondering if you have any recommendations. 8-12 miles per day, ideally little/less foot traffic, decent water availability in mid-August. This trip looks like a nice option, but wondering if there are any other loops you might also recommend I check out?
    -Ezra

  4. Are there bear boxes at these tent sites?

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