12 Mile Loop Via: The Imp Trail, North Carter Trail, Carter-Moriah Trail (A.T.), Carter Dome Trail, 19 Mile Brook Trail, and NH 16 road walk.
A long 12-mile day hike with views from the Imp Face profile of Mt Washington and the Presidential Range can be constructed via the Imp Trail Loop, North Carter Trail, Carter-Moriah Trail (A.T), Carter Dome Trail, 19 Mile Brook Trail and a short 1.2 mile road walk on NH 16. This route will gain the summits of both Middle Carter 4,610 feet and South Carter 4,430 feet. Middle Carter is ranked 15th of the New Hampshire 4,000 footers and South Carter is 19th. This hike has fine views from both the ridge and various viewpoints along the trail. It is a longer hike and strenuous but a good challenge for any one and their dog. This is another of the ways to breakup the Carter-Moriah Mountain Range into smaller more manageable day hikes.
There are two branches of the Imp Trail, both are located on NH 16 and are about .3 miles from one another. The northern branch is about 2.6 miles from the Washington Auto Road if traveling north and about 5.5 miles south of Gorham, NH. There are small turnouts on NH 16 that will accommodate a few cars at each location so park curiously and keep your dog leashed, as NH 16 is a fast paced and well traveled highway. The north branch of the Imp Trail begins as a gradual incline and heads east up the side of the Imp Brook Valley. Water is plentiful here at most times of year thanks to the Imp Brook, which has to be crossed at .8 miles. The trail levels off as it follows a ridge, but soon becomes quite steep as it goes up the north side of the ridge, and continues up to 2.2 miles where the viewpoint of the Imp is located. This rocky outcropping on North Carter was named for its perceived resemblance to the half human, half wood elf creature. From here the trail descends, a bit difficultly to the junction with North Carter Trail at 3.1 miles.
North Carter trail follows old logging roads steeply up to the junction with the Carter-Moriah (A.T.) trail at 1.2 miles. From the junction it is .6 miles south or right on the trail of Middle Carter 4,610. Although this summit is higher and recognized as one of the 4,000 footers it is wooded and offers no summit views. The true summit is marked by a small rock cairn on the side of the trail, but is not signed. Continuing south along the ridge you will come out to a treeless section of trail that offers stunning views across Crawford Notch to the entire Presidential Range, and east into the mountains of Western Maine and Evan’s Notch.
From the summit of Middle Carter, it is a relatively easy ridge walk of 1.3 miles to the summit of South Carter. Descending a few hundred feet over the course of the mileage and then gaining a bit as the approach to the South Carter summit is reached. This is part of the Appalachian Trail and sees heavy use both from day hikers and long distance hikers as well. Be mindful as you enjoy your time here that there are likely other people around as well as other dogs.
South Carter has a wooded summit as well, there are some obscured views through the scrub pines (north to the Presidential Range) and a small cliff (down a side path) offers views into Maine, and of Carter Dome and Wildcat Mountain. A rock cairn marks the summit.
Continuing south on the Carter-Moriah Trail (A.T.) for another .8 miles to the junction with the Carter Dome Trail. This section quickly descends but offers solid footing and is not too steep. At the junction you can head south and hike to Carter Dome and Mt. Hight as well. We were on our way out so we went west, toward NH 16 and the 19 Mile Brook Trail.
The Carter Dome trail follows another old service route to the former fire tower on the summit of Carter Dome. It is a steady and moderate grade the entire way either up or down. Watch your footing upon descent, this trail is less exposed than the Carter-Moriah trail but can also stay wetter for longer periods of time, thus making for a slippery descent at certain times of year. At mile .08 (from Careter-Moriah) there is a spring with a readily available source of water. Then you descend seven switchbacks and at the bottom there is a small waterfall that offers both water and some scenery. At mile 1.4 (from Carter-Moriah) the trail crosses a tributary of the 19 Mile Brook and at 1.9 mi it rejoins the Nineteen Mile Brook Trail.
From the junction it is an easy descent back to NH 16 in another 1.9 miles. The 19 Mile Brook trail follows the brook that shares the same name all the way down from the height of land to a small parking area on NH 16. It is relatively flat but has a few water crossings that in times of high water may be more challenging. It is a scenic section of trail with various pools and small cascades.
Emerging from the trail into the parking area we walked along the shoulder of the highway back to the car, approximately 1.3 miles north where it was parked at the northern Imp pullout. This was the most dangerous part of the journey because of the speed limit on the road and the fact that it is a major thoroughfare. Often people driving in this area are aware that there may be hikers and recreation along the road at any point but use caution and stay as far out of the road as possible.
This hike is a longer loop but it offers another way to day hike several 4,000 footers and offers views. It would be best accomplished by a seasoned hiker but if taken slowly, would be enjoyed by most anyone. There is ample water along the trail going up and down, that should be treated before consumed, but none on the ridge itself. Although the distance makes this hike more strenuous, there are no sections or obstacles that should deter you from enjoying this hike.
Distances from North Imp parking area:
Imp Face Viewpoint: 2.1 miles
North Carter Trail Junction: 3.1 miles
Carter-Moriah Trail Junction: 4.3 miles
Middle Carter Summit (4,610 feet): 4.9 miles
South Carter Summit (4,430 feet): 6.2 miles
Carter Dome Trail Junction: 7 miles
19 Mile Brook Trail Junction: 8.9 miles
Parking Area on NH 16: 10.8 miles
NH 16 Road walk back to car: 12 miles