The Carter Ledge Trail is considered one of the scariest trails in the White Mountains because it requires scrambling across an open ledge above a cliff. Carter Ledge is also on the Terrifying 25 List, which is a popular list of sketchy and yes, terrifying hiking trails in the White Mountains compiled by two sisters, Alex and Sage Herr, and their mother Trish Herr, author of Up! A Mother and Daughter’s Peakbagging Adventure.
The Carter Ledge Trail climbs to a mountain called Middle Sister, which is a short stroll to the summit of Mt Chocorua. Both of these peaks have fantastic 360-degree views of the White Mountains and Southern Maine. They’re also a great way to experience alpine, above treeline conditions, without having the climb to the top of one of the higher more strenuous White Mountain peaks, like Mt Washington. This makes it much more manageable for families to hike since the trails are shorter, less strenuous, and require less elevation gain.Carter Ledge Trail Loop
The best route to hike the Carter Ledge Trail is to start at Carter Ledge trailhead which starts inside the USFS White Ledge Campground on Rt 16 and then loop back on the Middle Sister Trail. The campground road is closed from Columbus Day to Memorial Day, but you can park outside the front gate (just don’t block it) and walk to the trailhead, which is just inside the gate, on your left, next to campsite #20.
- Trailhead: USFS White Ledge Campground, Rt 16 (Directions)
- Trail Sequence: 7.6 miles w/2500’of elevation gain(total)
- Carter Ledge Trail – 2.8 miles
- Middle Sister Trail – 3.7 miles
- Carter Ledge Trail – 1.1 miles
- Difficulty: Moderately Strenuous
- Permits: None
- Dogs: Yes, but bring a leash for your dog’s safety.
- Cautions: Avoid hiking when the open ledges are wet or icy.
On the Trail
Carter Ledge Trail
The Carter Ledge Trail begins next to campsite #20 inside the USFS White Ledge Campground and climbs gradually through the forest passing the Middle Sister Trail on the right at mile 1.1 and the Nickerson Ledge Trail on the left at mile 2.0.
Neighboring Mt Chocorua comes into view at mile 2.4 as the trail weaves in and out of vegetation and across open expanses of rock with excellent views to the east.
The trail is lightly blazed with yellow paint and small rock cairns as it weaves across open ledges. These ledges are a good place to stop and gape at the valley and lakes far below. They can be slippery however and caution should be exercised if they are wet or ice-covered.
Continue climbing until you see the yellow blaze above, which occurs just before the crux move across Carter Ledge. This is a very short scramble across a downward sloping cliff face. It’s really not that difficult in dry conditions. Just stay low and close to the rock (crawling is acceptable) using the handholds available. I would recommend NOT going down this route however because a fall would be high-consequence. This is one of those White Mountain Trails that should only be climbed up and never down.
Once past the ledge, you exit into the trees behind it. Follow the trail a short distance as it weaves around more rock outcroppings and dwarf trees, passing the Middle Sister trail junction before reaching the fire tower foundation and Middle Sister summit.
From the fire tower foundations, you can see most of the major peaks in the Sandwich, Pemigewasset, Franconia Ranges, including Mt Washington to the north, and the lakes of southern Maine to the east. The views are quite spectacular, particularly in autumn, during peak foliage.
To reach Mt Chocorua, continue south along the Middle Sister Trail for 0.5 miles, heading toward the Champney Falls Trail Junction. To descend via the Middle Sister Trail, continue north following the rock cairns to the Carter Ledge/Middle Sister Trail junction you passed on the ascent. The Middle Sister Trail is far more moderate as it loses elevation and is mostly forested.
The trail is blazed in yellow. Continue until you reach the Carter Ledge Trail junction that you passed on the ascent. Turn left at the sign and retrace your steps the White Ledge Campground.
Recommended Guidebooks and Maps:
- Appalachian Mountain Club White Mountain Guide, 30th ed.
- AMC White Mountain National Forest Map Set
- White Mountains Map: New Hampshire and Maine