Thursday, August 27, 2015

Pisgah State Park: Kilburn Loop (Blog Hike #540)

Trail: Kilburn Loop
Hike Location: Pisgah State Park
Geographic Location: southwest of Keene, NH
Length: 6.2 miles
Difficulty: 4/10 (Moderate)
Last Hiked: August 2015
Overview: A rolling lollipop loop around scenic Kilburn Pond.

Directions to the trailhead: From Keene, take SR 9 west 8.9 miles to SR 63 and turn left on SR 63.  Pisgah State Park’s Kilburn Road trailhead is located on the left (east) side of SR 63 4.4 miles south of SR 9 (or, equivalently, 3.9 miles north of SR 119).  There is a brown road sign marking the trailhead.  Park in the gravel parking lot at the Kilburn Road trailhead.

The hike: Weighing in at over 13,300 acres, Pisgah State Park is the largest state park in New Hampshire.  The park features very little development, so its many miles of trails are a paradise for hikers, mountain bikers, and (on some trails) ATV and snowmobile riders.  The park’s seven ponds are also a major attraction for anglers.
            Pisgah State Park has 6 different trailheads, each of which provides access to the park’s vast trail system and the central natural area from a different angle.  Thus, many different hiking routes are possible.  This hike starts at the Kilburn Road trailhead, the park’s western-most trailhead, and forms a very loose loop around Kilburn Pond.  Thus, the route described here is widely known as the Kilburn Loop.
The Kilburn Loop is one of the few extended loops at Pisgah State Park to enjoy hiker-only status.  The loop does not pass any magnificent waterfalls or vistas, so its main appeal is just quiet woods and quiet ponds.  However, other trails branching off of the loop allow you to extend your hike and visit other parts of the park if you wish.
Kilburn Road trailhead
            From an information kiosk at the rear of the parking area, the Kilburn Loop starts by heading around an orange vehicle gate and undulating slightly on a general eastward course.  The “stick” of this lollipop loop uses the old Kilburn Road as a treadway, so you find yourself walking on wide two-track dirt trail through cool, dark hemlock forest.  After topping a small rise, the trail curves right and begins a moderate descent toward Kilburn Pond.
            At 0.6 miles, the old road ends, and the trail splits to form its loop.  To hike the more undulating east arm of the loop first, I chose to continue straight here and use the trail going right as my return route, thus hiking the loop clockwise.  The hike crosses from Hinsdale County into Winchester County in this area.  Continuing an eastward track, an unmarked side trail soon exits right to provide your first clear view of Kilburn Pond.  On the morning I came here, I detected little activity around the pond’s calm, tranquil waters.
North end of Kilburn Pond
            Back on the main trail, 0.8 miles into the hike another trail exits left at a soft angle.  The trail map calls this trail the Town Forest Trail, but a sign nailed to a tree states that this trail is not maintained.  In either case, you should angle right to cross the main water source for Kilburn Pond on a wooden bridge.  This bridge was so new when I crossed it that I could smell the resin from the lumber.
            The trail becomes rootier as it climbs gradually away from Kilburn Pond.  The Kilburn Loop is marked with blue wooden diamonds nailed to trees, and the blazes come in handy when the treadway on the ground is not obvious.  At 1.2 miles, you reach another intersection where the yellow-blazed Pisgah Ridge Trail exits left.  If you wanted to extend your hike, turning left on the Pisgah Ridge Trail would lead to some nice vistas from atop Mount Pisgah, the park’s main summit.  This hike will continue straight to remain on the Kilburn Loop.
Climbing on rooty trail
            Now heading southbound, the trail embarks on a ridgetop course as some rock outcrops appear on either side of the trail.  A large number of roots in the trail impede your progress, but the grade remains gradual to moderate.  Therefore, the overall going is quite easy.  Kilburn Pond lies downhill to your right, but it is sufficiently far away to be out of sight.
            Just past 2 miles into the hike, the trail descends more moderately for a brief time to enter the watershed of a second smaller pond that lies below Kilburn Pond.  This second smaller pond soon comes into view on the right.  At 3.2 miles, you begin a more aggressive descent toward Kilburn Brook, the outlet of both ponds encircled by this hike.
Crossing Kilburn Brook
            At 3.5 miles, you reach the hike’s lowest elevation as the trail curves sharply right to cross Kilburn Brook on a wooden footbridge.  Now heading northbound, a brief moderate climb brings you to the bank of the lower pond.  My approach to this area sent a family of deer scampering into the woods.
            The western return arm of the loop is straighter and therefore shorter than the eastern outbound arm.  After passing the lower pond, a brief climb brings you to the southern end of Kilburn Pond.  An unmarked spur trail exits right and heads for the dam that forms Kilburn Pond, perhaps your first indication that the pond is man-made.  The pine trees and rocks around Kilburn Pond make for a scenic setting.
Kilburn Pond near dam
            The trail continues north along the west shore of Kilburn Pond.  Some planks placed on logs carry you over some wet areas, and some side trails exiting right lead to more nice pond views.  At 5.6 miles, you close the loop.  Angle left and hike Kilburn Road 0.6 miles back to the parking lot to complete the hike.

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