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Backpacking A Carter Moriah (Long Way) Loop

This 3-4 day, 41 mile scenic loop climbs the Baldfaces, Carter Dome, South Carter, Middle Carter, and Mount Moriah, before looping back to Evans Notch through the Wild River Wilderness. It begins in Evans Notch and passes through the Wild River Wilderness, climbing Carter Dome at the southern end of the Carter Moriah Trail. From there, it runs along the top of the Carter Moriah ridgeline, passing over South Carter, Middle Carter and Mount Moriah, before looping back down the Moriah Brook Trail and the Black Angel Trail to Evans Notch from the north. The route includes approximately 6 miles of above-treeline travel across open terrain and is best hiked in dry and clear weather. It features several best-in-class views and swimming holes in a wilder, less-travelled portion of the White Mountains National Forest.

Carter Moriah (The Long Way) Loop

Rating/Difficulty

*****/4 out of 5

Distance/Elevation Gain

41.4 miles w/10,500′ of cumulative elevation gain

White Mountain 4000 Footers

  • Moriah
  • Middle Carter
  • South Carter
  • Carter Dome

Recommended Duration

3-4 days

Season

June thru October

Permits Required

None.

Regulations

Backcountry Camping Regulations for the White Mountain National Forest, specifically no camping above treeline where trees are less than 8′ in height (except on two feet of snow.)

A substantial portion this route passes through the Wild River Wilderness Area. Please observe all wilderness area restrictions. 

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

The Baldface Trailhead Parking Lot is located on NH 113 in Chatham, NH at Lat/Lon (44.238373, -71.016777). 

Trail Sequence

The route follows the following trails in sequence. Refer to AMC White Mountain Trail Map 5, which is the best waterproof map available for this region, although I’d recommend buying the complete AMC White Mountain Waterproof Map Set (2017 ed) rather than one map at a time. More detailed trail descriptions can be found in the AMC White Mountain Guide (2017 ed), which is considered the hiking bible for the region. Take photos of the pages using your phone for easy reference, instead of carrying the entire book with you on hikes.

  1. Baldface Circle Trail – 6.1 miles
  2. Eagle Link – 2.7 miles
  3. Wild River Trail – 3.0 miles
  4. Rainbow Tr – 2.5 miles
  5. Carter Moriah Trail – 7.9 miles (northeast to Mount Moriah)
  6. Carter Moriah Trail – 1.4 miles (back to Moriah Brook Trail Junction)
  7. Moriah Brook Trail – 5.2 miles
  8. Highwater Trail – 2.6 miles
  9. Black Angel Trail – 2.3 miles
  10. Basin Rim Trail – 1.4 miles
  11. Meader Ridge Trail – 2.0 miles
  12. Baldface Circle Trail – 3.1 miles

Scenic Highlights

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

  • 0.7 miles – Emerald Pool (short .1 mile spur trail)
  • 2.5 miles – Baldface Shelter
  • 3.7 miles – South Baldface Summit (3570′)
  • 4.9 miles – North Baldface Summit (3610′)
  • 11.0 miles – Perkins Notch Campsite
  • 13.3 miles – South Carter Dome Knob (4274′)
  • 14.3 miles Carter Dome Summit (4832′)
  • 15.1 miles – Mt Hight (4675′)
  • 15.7 miles – Zeta Pass
  • 16.5 miles – South Carter Summit (4430′)
  • 17.8 miles – Middle Carter Summit (4610′)
  • 20.3 miles – Imp Shelter and Tent Platforms (3350″)
  • 21.0 miles – Moriah Brook Trail Junction
  • 22.4 miles – Mount Moriah Summit (4049′)
  • 23.8 miles – Moriah Brook Trail Junction
  • 31.6 miles Black Angel River Crossing
  • 33.9 miles Blue Brook Campsite
  • 34.4 miles Rim Junction
  • 37.9 miles Eagle Crag
  • 40.7 miles Emerald Pool
  • 41.4 miles Baldface Trailhead Parking

Camping/Shelter Options

  • USFS Baldface Shelter (Free) – Lean-to, heavily used
  • USFS Perkins Notch Campsite (Free) – Tentsites, water from nearby pond
  • AMC Carter Notch Hut ($$$) – Advance reservations recommended
  • AMC Imp Tentsite and Shelter ($) – Tent platforms and a primitive shelter, caretaker in summer, water from nearby stream, fills up fast on summer weekends, first come – first served
  • USFS Wild River Campground ($) – Advanced reservations recommended. Host on-site. Accessible by gravel road and a good place for car spot at adjacent trailhead parking lot, parking fee required.
  • USFS Spruce Brook Campsite (Free) – Tentsites, water from nearby river
  • USFS Blue Brook Campsite (Free) – Tentsites, water from nearby stream
  • USFS Basin Pond Campsite ($) – Advanced reservations recommended. Accessible by gravel road and a good place for car spot at adjacent trailhead parking lot. There is parking at Basin Pond. (I think).

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. The only sustained dry stretch on this route is between the Perkins Notch Campsite and the Imp Campsite, a distance of 9 miles. Carry a detailed topographic map with you and don’t rely on the overview map provided with this trip description to find water sources. I also recommend purchasing Wild River Region Map in Guthooks Guide’s White Mountains and New England Trails Smartphone App (IOS, Android) which is a GPS guide to all of the trails, trailhead, shelters, campsites, views, and water sources in the White Mountains National Forest. I use it all the time and it is much more complete and current than using the maps bundled with the Gaia Smartphone App.

On the Trail

This trip starts at the bottom of Baldface Circle Trail and climbs South and North Baldface, two bald summits at the south end of Evans Notch. The trail is marked with signs and stone cairns, which should be followed with care above treeline. It’s recommended that you postpone your hike if thunderstorms are forecast, as there is a very real danger of being struck by lightning on these peaks, which are devoid of vegetation.

Cairn at Bald Knob below South Baldface
Cairn at Bald Knob below South Baldface

The trail runs past the Baldface Shelter at 2.5 miles, ascending over a series of open ledges, which are slippery when wet or icy. You can bypass the ledges by taking the Slippery Brook Trail and the Baldface Knob Trail, which join the Baldface Circle Trail below the South Baldface summit.

The trail climbs across 3 miles of open ledge over South and North Baldface with incredible views of Evans Notch, before descending to the well-marked Eagle Link trail junction at 6.1 miles. Turn west (left) onto the Eagle Link Trail, passing the Wilderness Boundary. Please adhere to Wilderness Regulations. Portions of this trail can be quite wet and muddy. Continue for 2.7 miles through forest to the Wild River Trail. This area was once clear-cut by logging but has recovered fully, one of the miracles of the White Mountains.

Wild River Wilderness Sign
Wild River Wilderness Sign

Turn south (left) at the Wild River Trail, continuing past the East Branch Trail junction at 1.5 miles. Continue for an additional 0.7 miles until you come to the Perkins Notch Tentsite at No Ketchum Pond, the source of the Wild River. This is a good place to call it a day and relax for the evening.

Continue west on the Wild River Trail for 0.8 miles and turn onto the Rainbow Trail which climbs to Carter Dome. After 1.5 miles you’ll come to the open summit of a sub-peak that has a great view of Mt Washington. Continue on the Rainbow Trail to the summit of Carter Dome.

Great View of Mt Washington from the Rainbow Trail
Great View of Mt Washington from the Rainbow Trail

Turn north (right) on the Carter Moriah Trail and follow it to Mt Hight, which is one of the best viewpoints in the White Mountains. Mt Hight is a good place to stop for a snack and enjoy a rest break.

Northern Presidential Range and the Great Gulf from Mt Hight
Mt Washington, the Northern Presidential Range, and the Great Gulf from Mt Hight

Continue north on the Carter Moriah Trail which descends to Zeta Pass and reaches a trail junction with the Carter Dome Trail. Be sure to continue north on the Carter Moriah Trail headed toward South Carter Mountain, which is 0.8 miles away. After South Carter, continue north for another 1.3 miles to Middle Carter Mountain. Continue north for approximately 3 miles, passing the North Carter Trail on your left, until you reach the Imp Campsite Spur Trail, which has a good water source, tent platforms and a shelter. This is a good place stop and claim a tent platform for camping. Time permitting, you can drop most of your gear and go watch the sunset from Mount Moriah before returning to the campsite.

Mount Moriah is approximately 2 miles north of the Imp Campsite Spur Trail. From the campsite, turn north (left) onto the the Carter Moriah Trail, passing the Moriah Brook Trail junction on your right, before continuing to the summit. After you’ve climbed Moriah, backtrack south to the Moriah Brook Junction, turning east (left) onto the Moriah Brook Trail.

Swimming in Moriah Brook
Swimming in Moriah Brook

Follow the Moriah Brook Trail 5.2 miles east to the Highwater Trail Junction. The top of this trail can be muddy and hard to follow in places, particularly in June before the trail crews can get to it and clear out any winter debris. The trail runs adjacent to the stream that runs down the middle of this narrow valley, past numerous pools and cascades. This is considered one of the prettiest trails in the Whites and is a fine place for a swim.

Crossing the Wild River at the Black Angel Trail crossing
Crossing the Wild River at the Black Angel Trail crossing

Turn south (right) when you reach the Highwater Trail. Follow it for 2.6 miles as it runs along the Wild River, until you reach the Black Angel Trail where you’ll ford the river. Your feet are probably going to get wet in the process. Once across, look for the Black Angel Trail which climbs uphill. The signage on the far side of this crossing can be confusing, so make sure that you’re headed east (toward Blue Brook) and climbing uphill.

Basin Pond from Rim Junction
Basin Pond from Rim Junction

Follow the Black Angel Trail for 2.3 miles, passing the Blue Brook campsite on your left, before reaching Rim Junction. Find the sign for the Basin Rim Trail and head south (right) for 1.4 miles passing the minor summit of Ragged Jacket. Continue south (bearing right) where the trail ends and the Meader Ridge Trail begins. Follow it for 2 miles passing Eagle Crag, just before reaching the Bicknell Trail junction. This is a gorgeous stretch of open ridgeline walking, the perfect coda to a wonderful walk.

Meader Ridge Trail
Hiking along the Meader Ridge Trail above Evans Notch towards Eagle Crag

Turn left and head down the Bicknell Ridge Trail which descents from the ridge back to the floor of Evans Notch. The top of the the trail has good views of South and North Baldface before dropping down below treeline. In 2.3 miles, you’ll come to a short 0.1 mile trail leading to Emerald Pool, a popular swimming hole. From here it’s just 0.7 miles back to the trailhead parking lot and the end of the route.

The Emerald Pool is a popular swimming hole in warmer weather
The Emerald Pool is a popular swimming hole in warmer weather.

Written 2018.

About Philip Werner: Philip is the 36th person to finish hiking and backpacking all of the trails in the White Mountain Guide. He's also finished hiking many of the region's peakbagging lists including the White Mountain 4000 footers, the 4000 footers in Winter, the Terrifying 25, the RMC 100, and the Trailwrights 72. Philip is a 4 season backpacking leader for the Appalachian Mountain Club, a member of the executive committee for the Random Hikers, a Long Trail Mentor for Vermont's Green Mountain Club, and a Leave No Trace Master Educator. He also teaches several compass, GPS, and off-trail navigation courses each year, listed on Outdoors.org.

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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2 comments

  1. This would be a spectacular trip. I did one a couple years ago similar to this, a three day trip, beginning and ending at the Wild River camp ground, over night at Imp Shelter and rough camping in the wilderness near Perkins Notch somewhere. This route would be a little more problematic now that the bridge near the camp ground over the river is closed. Fording the river can be an issue depending on the water level. I went the other way up Moriah Brook, across the ridge to Carter Notch, back through Perkins notch and the Wild River Wilderness. You will likely not see many other hikers on the wilderness trails, and some of the deep wilderness trails can be hard to follow. I’d do this route any time. Looks like great fun!

    • Everybody’s comfort level is different, but that ford really isn’t bad. I’ve done it at least a half dozen times and never had an issue. I put the crossing there because it’s a much easier ford than at the Shelburne crossing downriver. It’s high enough upriver that the flow is greatly decreased, but you have to use common sense in a heavy rain and wait a day for the water to drop or simply hike upstream to the Eagle Link Trail and complete the loop back to the Bicknell Ridge Trail there. But in summer, the Wild River flow rate drops way down.

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