While it's pleasant in any season, and the views surely won't disappoint, the Wildcat Ridge Trail's rock-slab tread is best traversed in the summer. For those looking for a wintertime adventure, be sure to bring some type of traction aid (like microspikes, yaktraks, crampons, etc.) and either trekking poles or an ice axe to navigate the steep, bare rock that exists in certain sections.
Starting from the trailhead off the side of Route 16, the trail leaves the road on a quick descent to cross the picturesque Ellis River and head up the trail to a junction with the Lost Pond Trail
. From the junction, continue straight as the trail begins to climb through pleasant mixed forests. Quickly, the climbing transitions from manageable, moderate grades to a rocky, cliff-side ascent up a series of rock steps cut into the hillside. Through this portion of the trail, be extremely careful (especially in the winter) as there's nothing to stop you tumbling off the cliff if you fall to your left.
After successfully completing the cliffside section, the trail assumes a less dangerous character as it continues climbing through thick trees with the occasional window-frame view of Pinkham Notch through dense evergreen undergrowth.
While the trail maintains this general character for the remaining duration, one obstacle in particular will give you pause. At one point in the climb, the trail leaves the woods to enter a completely exposed, bulging rock slab perched on the edge of the mountain. Hikers will need to safely climb up over this Class 4 obstacle to reach the continuation of the blazed trail at the top. While this doesn't pose as much of a problem in the summertime, a winter attempt of this trail is when this obstacle truly rears its head. In order to do it safely, be sure to employ your foot traction devices and, at the very least, the carbide tips of your trekking poles in your hands. It wouldn't be out of the question to bring a mountaineering axe just for this section.
After completing this daunting section of trail, you're more or less in the clear as you continue to climb through the forest to reach the ski patrol hut atop Wildcat Mountain Resort. From here, don't be fooled by the obvious route to the right that heads southeast off the notch in the mountain—this is a classic ski touring route that will send you back into town. Instead, head straight across the notch to regain the trail on the other side.
From this point, the trail has completed most of its elevation gain, save for a few punchy climbs peppered across the ridgeline, so take time to really enjoy yourself as you meander through another forested notch to gain Wildcat Ridge on your way to the summit of Wildcat Mountain.
From the summit, enjoy great views of the surrounding area before making your way down the short but fiercely steep descent to the junction with the Nineteen Mile Brook Trail
Visit this area in the autumn to see it erupt in fiery fall color.