Pinkham Notch (elevation 2032 ft. / 619 m) is a mountain pass in the White Mountains of north-central New Hampshire, United States. The notch is a result of extensive erosion by the Laurentide ice sheet during the Wisconsinian ice age. Pinkham Notch was eroded into a glacial U-shaped valley whose walls are formed by the Presidential, Wildcat, and Carter-Moriah ranges. Due to the volatility of the area's climate and rugged character of the terrain, a number of rare or endemic ecosystems have developed throughout the notch.
The notch was discovered in 1784 by Jeremy Belknap, but its isolation prevented further development for several years. The construction of New Hampshire Route 16 has led to increased accessibility and a rise in tourism. Its location makes it a hub for hiking and skiing. The locally famed "Dead man's curve" is located in Pinkham Notch. Some truckers have had trouble negotiating the curve in inclement weather. There is also a pull off area for beautiful views.
The notch separates the Presidential Range, which forms the western wall, from the Wildcat Range, which forms the eastern wall. Two rivers drain the notch; the Ellis River drains the south end and is a tributary of the Saco, and the Peabody River drains the north end and is a tributary of the Androscoggin. The bulk of the western slope of the notch is formed by Mount Washington, the highest peak in the northeast United States, reaching 6,288 feet (1,917 m) above sea level. Mount Washington rises more than 4,000 feet (1,200 m) above the floor of the notch. A number of glacial cirques are found on this side of the notch. The Great Gulf and its tributary cirques form the largest cirque in the White Mountains. South of the Great Gulf is Huntington Ravine, with a rocky, precipitous headwall renowned for its rock and ice climbing. The slope then dips into the Ravine of Raymond Cataract, a non-glacial "V-shaped" valley with a notable waterfall. After this comes Tuckerman Ravine, with a uniform, smoother headwall that is known for its high-quality skiing. After passing the Gulf of Slides, a smaller and lesser-known cirque, the notch opens up and continues until Jackson.
The climate, and as a result, the flora and fauna, of Pinkham Notch varies greatly with elevation. As elevations increase on the walls of the notch, climate and ecosystems change to those of increasingly northern occurrence. Biomes range from a low-elevation northern hardwood forest at the base of Mount Washington to alpine-Arctic vegetation near the summit comparable to vegetation found at the latitude of Labrador.
Pinkham Notch is easily accessible by New Hampshire Route 16. Numerous opportunities for recreation exist in the area.
Mount Washington is a common objective, and is often climbed from Pinkham Notch. There are numerous trail approaches from the Appalachian Mountain Club's visitor's center. Although trail distances seem short, the trip to the summit should not be underestimated; most trail approaches involve at least 4,000 vertical feet (1,200 m) of climbing, including an ascent of the rocky summit cone and the boulder-strewn upper slopes. Weather changes very quickly, and one must be prepared for extreme conditions. The Tuckerman Ravine Trail is the most popular trail in the notch, ascending to the summit via the headwall of Tuckerman Ravine. The Huntington Ravine Trail is widely considered the most difficult trail in New Hampshire, making its way up the precipitous headwall of neighboring Huntington Ravine, where there are several rock climbing opportunities
The area also has many opportunities for both alpine and Nordic skiing. The bowl of Tuckerman Ravine is famous for its extremely steep backcountry skiing. Long lines are common during the peak spring-skiing season of April and May. Wildcat Mountain offers groomed ski trails and lifts, and is a better choice for less-experienced skiers. The centerpiece of the ski-area is the gondola, which runs during the summer, and offers views of the Presidentials with no expended effort.