Wildcat Mountain is a large mountain that is part of the Carter-Moriah Range in Coos County New Hampshire. It has five summits, Wildcat A, B, C, D, and E. Of these only two (Wildcat A 4422 and D 4030) are considered to be part of the 4000 footer list because of the 200-foot minimum topographic prominence. It is a difficult mountain to climb and the trails look deceptively short on the topographic map. The trail is very steep, ledgy, exposed and rocky in approaching and gaining the ridge. Give yourself lots of extra time on this approach and be prepared to deal with variable weather conditions. It can be dangerous if icy and wet. This hike is not recommended for most dogs due to the steepness and exposure. There are a few spots where it would be very difficult for larger dogs to safely continue. Be prepared to lift your dog up or down several ledges and keep a keen eye on how they are doing on the large granite slabs, even in four wheel dive they can be slick. Note: The Wildcat Ridge Trail is an easier trail to ascend than descend, especially with dogs in mind.
The Wildcat Ridge Trail section of the Appalachian Trail starts on the east side of NH 16 across the street from the Glen Ellis Falls parking area. This is a fee parking area ($3) for one day of use and without facilities. However, Pinkham Notch visitor’s center is a few hundred yards further north on 16 and has full amenities for hikers. At Glen Ellis Falls parking there is an underpass for pedestrians under the highway making crossing NH 16 much safer for humans and dogs. The Wildcat Ridge Trail is to the left where there is an immediate crossing of the Ellis River. This can be dangerous at times of high water or early spring. In fall it can be easy to hop from one boulder to another. The trail intersects with the Lost Pond Trail at .1 miles and then continues up the very steep hike to the ridge.
The trail crosses some exposed ledges that offer very beautiful views of Mt. Washington and on clear days Adams and Madison. This section of the hike is very difficult but you are rewarded with views early on .9 miles. There are a few spots where dog assistance was required to ascend. Some of the boulders and granite are a scramble for humans and using hands is required. A few of these proved to be a struggle for the dogs as well. Going down was even worse. Keep in mind the physical limitations of you and your dog, it is always better to turn around than risk injury.
There is a water source available at 1.2 miles. This is the only available reliable water source once you cross the Ellis River, so prepare and bring extra for yourself and your dogs. At 1.5 miles the trail arrives at a ledge with views of the ravines of Mt. Washington, this ledge is exposed so use caution. The trail continues to go up and down over several sections of Mt. Wildcat at an easier grade than the ascent to the ridge. This section of the hike is pleasant, an easy walk through pine forests and mossy granite. It leads to the ski area of Wildcat Mountain, which is first observable at 2.1 miles. If needed you can descend the ski trails to the base lodge of Mt. Wildcat 2.6 miles. Continuing on the ridge the trail climbs higher to the summit of D Peak, there is an old observation tower. The trail then descends in to Wildcat Col at 2.5 miles and continues its steep ascent to C Peak at 3.3. From here it descends significantly before ascending B Peak, a shallower decent leads to the final ascent of A Peak 4422 feet. There are views of Pinkham Notch and Carter Notch from the summit, which officially is a rock slightly off the path of the side trail.
There are two options for descent and neither of them is easy. You can continue to go south toward the Nineteen Mile Brook Trail or you can turn around and go back the way you came. The Nineteen Mile Brook Trail junction is in Carter Notch to reach it is very steep and challenging. There are many granite stairs to descent, and landslide activity has made sections of the trail particularly dangerous, especially if wet or icy. It does have spectacular views, and the lake in Carter Notch is a very pleasant place to relax after a hard hike. The alternative return of the Wildcat Ridge Trail is also very steep and you are backtracking everything you have previously done.
Distances from Glen Ellis Falls Parking:
E Peak Summit: 1.9 miles
C Peak Summit: 3.3 miles
A Peak Summit 4.2 Miles
Nineteen Mile Brook Trail: 4.9 miles
We chose to descend the way we came back down the Wildcat Ridge Trail because it was easier to get to the car at Glen Ellis Falls parking. It was a very rough descent especially for my larger dog. He had a difficult time navigating around the boulders and ledges descending the trail. There were a few times where I had to pick him up to get him off a particularly steep pitch. The trail has stairs carved of granite and wood, attached into steep ledges, these make going up easier but they also can make descending more difficult. Both of the dogs had a much easier time ascending this trail because they could jump from boulder to boulder up with more confidence than they could down. Again, this trail is very challenging. Hiking up took about 1 mile per hour so allow extra time. Pay attention to what obstacles you encounter on the way up and consider how they may be on the way down. Do not attempt, unless you are very confident in your ability and the ability of your dog. I do not recommend this trail for inexperienced hikers.