AMC Outdoors, January/February 2002
With more than 13,500 acres of forest, the 21-square miles of Pisgah State Park make it the largest property in the New Hampshire State Park system. Pisgah is in Hinsdale in the southwestern corner of the state, not far from Brattleboro, Vt., and the Massachusetts border. Seven ponds, four highland ridges, and several wetlands are all protected here.
Miles of trails meander through the park — some are part of the state’s snowmobile corridor system, while others are open to multiple use, which includes snowmobiles. Many options are available from the six trailheads that lead into the park, but the Kilburn Loop is for human-powered vehicles only. The trail itself is a five-mile long loop through evergreens, beeches, hemlocks, and occasional maples. As you make your way, you’ll spot a trio of beaver ponds dotted through the woods and you’ll skirt the western shores of the quiet Kilburn Pond. You can travel the trail in either direction, but I prefer to save the level grades along the pond’s shores for the end of the tour. For snowshoers looking for a shorter outing, instead of taking the loop clockwise, as suggested here, just take it a mile or so counter-clockwise. Find a secluded spot along the rolling bank, have a refueling bite, and head back.
Begin by leaving the well-marked trailhead. The trail, called Kilburn Road, is wide at this point and will soon dip down to the pond. Try to look for the work of the pileated woodpecker among the trees. (It shouldn’t be hard to find.)
The road then heads down to a junction. Those seeking a pond-side picnic can turn right and scoot back after dessert. The rest of you should turn left at the sign that reads “Kilburn Loop” and remember that you’ll have the vistas of the pond later in the day. This sheltered romp through the forest is blazed with blue diamonds. About 0.1 mile from the junction, the trail turns right over a bridge with handrails. Notice the darkness through the evergreens. Even in winter, it’s warm and cozy in here. At this point, the trail begins to ascend, but it’s a good place to take a look around at the patterns of nature in the snow. Pine cones and needles make the trail a gallery of natural spin art.
From here, the trail rolls up and down, sometimes steeply. Up to the right, it climbs on a ridge from the forest floor. The Pisgah Mountain Trail enters from the left, but you should bear right and look for the sign that says “Pisgah Loop 4.3.” There are flat and narrow sections here too. A yellow caution sign is a welcome signal for a nice winding downhill.
The trail curves to the left and heads though a boulder field covered in snow with trees and roots wrapping around the rocks. If you head down and peer through the trees on the left, you’ll see a beaver pond. The trail heads up to the right again, sometimes steeply. Listen closely for the music of winter’s songbirds.
Darkness gives way to light as the beech and hemlock hold court. The noon sun leads the way. Keep heading down a gentle grade and snake around a ledge. Corn snow tops the crust as the sun beats down.
Up and down you go. Come to a footbridge and the trail turns to the right. At the left is a beaver pond. The trail widens and heads up. Down it goes, a pleasantly long downhill, after which it bears off to the right. Cross one bridge, and then your big ascent begins. You’ll cross one more bridge and continue on up. You’ll hear the rushing waters of Kilburn Brook. Slide down and come to the fourth bridge, a narrow span by yet a third beaver pond. The roller coaster continues. High up on a ridge, come on down, and you’ll soon gaze upon the shore of Kilburn Pond. The trail leads to the water’s edge. Sometimes it can be marshy in there, even in winter.
Stay with the trail and come to the sign that says “Kilburn Loop” again. Bear left and climb for the last time. See the trailhead. Rejoice!
How to get there: From Interstate 91 in Vermont, take Exit 3 to Route 9 east in New Hampshire for 6 miles. Make a right on Route 63 and travel about 4.5 miles south, through the village of Chesterfield. The Kilburn Road trailhead to Pisgah State Park is on the left. From Hinsdale, take 63 north about 4 miles and the trailhead is on the right.