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Hiking a Carter Ledge/Middle Sister Loop

View from Middle Sister Mountain

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

Trip Plan:

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 Trailhead

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.

Mt Chocorua
Mt Chocorua overlooks the Carter Ledge Trail

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.

Carter ledge Trail
The trail follows yellow blazes and small rock cairns across open ledge

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.

Trail blaze right before the crux move

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.

Carter Ledge
Carter Ledge: Stay low and crawl across the ledge.

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.

Middle Sister Trail Junction
Middle Sister Trail Junction

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.

Middle Sister Firetower
From the fire tower foundations, you can see Crawford Notch and Mt Washington

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.

Middle Sister Trail
The Middle Sister Trail is much easier to descend

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:

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About the author

Philip Werner is the 36th person to finish hiking all of 630 trails in the White Mountain Guide, a distance of over 1440 miles. He is also the author of Backpacking the White Mountain 4000 Footers, a free online guidebook that anyone can access. Philip has 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 (but still needs 24 hours of trail work for the patch). 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.

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4 comments

  1. Wonderful. 6 years until I retire and come visit your beautiful Whites. Thank you for sharing

  2. Always enjoy reading your posts, Phil.

    Thanks.

  3. Thanks for enlightening us on some of the special hiking opportunities beyond the 4000 footers.

  4. I did this same loop in late March a few years back, and would have much rather have done it in the opposite direction. While the scrambles on Carter Ledge trail were mostly melted out and presented no issue, there were huge ice bulges on Middle Sister trail just north of the Carter Ledge junction. Totally unexpected and inadequate with microspikes.

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