Hiking: Mill Brook Trail, Kilkenny Ridge Trail, Unknown Pond Trail Loop | White Mountains, NH | September 13, 2008

While it lacks any real mountaintop views, the loop up the Mill Brook Trail, across the Kilkenny Ridge and then down the Unknown Pond Trail back to the York Pond Road is a nice (long) walk through the northern forest with a few really nice views, especially along the beaver meadows on the Kilkenny Ridge and at Unknown Pond. Plus if you are feeling ambitious, you can take a side trip up Roger’s Ledge, a small mountain just to the east of the junction of the Mill Brook Trail and the Kilkenny Ridge Trail to get a really rewarding view of the region. On this trip we skipped the trip up to Roger’s Ledge because we had done it before and as we were counting up the miles, the extra mile or so to get there and back just didn’t seem worth it.

The Mill Brook Trail starts at the Berlin Fish Hatchery, probably a few tenths of a mile beyond the gate for the facility. We decided to park outside the gate in the parking lot because the signs said the gate was locked at 4pm and we didn’t want to be stuck inside the gate overnight.

The entire trail is fairly easy going except for about the last half a mile or so, which climbs up the crest of the Kilkenny Ridge. For the most part though, you are following an old roadway (which used to connect Stark to Berlin) through a mature forest.

Mill Brook/Kilkenny Ridge/Unknown Pond Trails Loop Trip - 9/13/08
Mill Brook/Kilkenny Ridge/Unknown Pond Trails Loop Trip - 9/13/08
Mill Brook/Kilkenny Ridge/Unknown Pond Trails Loop Trip - 9/13/08
The trail does get very muddy in places if it’s wet. We found ourselves hopping from rock to rock or trying to avoid really muddy holes. We hiked the trail after a day of fairly steady rain and a wet summer, so it was probably extra muddy for us.

You follow a stream up most of the way and overall the 3.6 or so miles goes by fairly quickly. The only real strenuous part of the trail is the last half mile or so which leaves the old roadway and climbs fairly directly up the ridge to meet up with the Kilkenny Ridge Trail.

Mill Brook/Kilkenny Ridge/Unknown Pond Trails Loop Trip - 9/13/08
Mill Brook/Kilkenny Ridge/Unknown Pond Trails Loop Trip - 9/13/08
Our original plan at this point had been to go up Roger’s Ledge and then return to the truck going back down the Mill Brook Trail. However considering how muddy it was and the fact that we realized we had already gone over Roger’s Ledge in the past, we decided we’d head the other direction towards Unknown Pond and then drop down the Unknown Pond Trail, which we hadn’t been on before to get back to York Pond Road. The only downside to the loop is that when you reach the trailhead on York Pond Road, the gate and the parking lot we parked at are about 2 miles out along the road, so you have quite a bit of road walking to contend with.

Mill Brook/Kilkenny Ridge/Unknown Pond Trails Loop Trip - 9/13/08
Mill Brook/Kilkenny Ridge/Unknown Pond Trails Loop Trip - 9/13/08
Mill Brook/Kilkenny Ridge/Unknown Pond Trails Loop Trip - 9/13/08
Having decided on the change of plans, we relaxed a bit at the trail junction and had our lunch before headed out along the Kilkenny Ridge Trail.

The interesting thing about the Ridge Trail is that it’s fairly easy going, even as it makes its way along the mountains. Obviously it follows the ridge crest (hence the name). However it also doesn’t necessarily hit the summit of each mountain it goes by. That’s the case with the mountain that holds Unknown Pond. You merely climb up and over a shoulder and then drop quickly back down to the Pond.

Mill Brook/Kilkenny Ridge/Unknown Pond Trails Loop Trip - 9/13/08
Mill Brook/Kilkenny Ridge/Unknown Pond Trails Loop Trip - 9/13/08
Along the way though, you get to go through an extensive bog and beaver meadow area. I find this area to be really amazing since you are at a pretty good altitude (2,000 feet roughly), along the crest of a ridge and you’ve got extensive bogs and a very large beaver pond.

Kilkenny Ridge Trail Beaver Pond Panorama
The beaver pond is a real treat because as you walk along the shoreline, you get an excellent view of the mountain beyond. Not only that, but this entire boggy area and beaver pond must be home to a ton of moose. I half expected to run into one on the trail considering the amount of tracks and scat we saw. Alas, no close-ups of moose, but I bet there is a pretty good chance you can run into one.

Mill Brook/Kilkenny Ridge/Unknown Pond Trails Loop Trip - 9/13/08
Mill Brook/Kilkenny Ridge/Unknown Pond Trails Loop Trip - 9/13/08
The beavers are still quite active and have been working on a trail reroute of their own. In one place, they have built up their dam and flooded the trail, where the bog bridging is now floating in the water. It is easy to get around though, since the beaver dam is so sturdy, you can just walk along that to get around the flooded section.

After about 2.1 miles from the Mill Brook Trail/Kilkenny Ridge Trail intersection, you come to the Kilkenny Ridge Trail’s intersection with the Unknown Pond Trail. This trail travels from Mill Brook Road in Stark to York Pond Road at the Berlin Fish Hatchery. It also travels along the shoreline of Unknown Pond and provides access to the official campsites on the pond.

Mill Brook/Kilkenny Ridge/Unknown Pond Trails Loop Trip - 9/13/08
Mill Brook/Kilkenny Ridge/Unknown Pond Trails Loop Trip - 9/13/08
Unknown Pond Panorama
As we started descending along the Unknown Pond Trail, I was a bit surprised at how rugged and how steep it was, considering how easy the Mill Brook Trail had been. It made me glad that we had done the loop in the direction we had, as I wouldn’t have really wanted to climb up the Unknown Pond Trail. It wasn’t as wet or as muddy as the other trail, but there were quite a few steep sections as you made your way down. Once you reach the old roadbed though about halfway down, the way becomes easier and then for the last half a mile or so, you are on an old railroad bed which is even easier walking.

Mill Brook/Kilkenny Ridge/Unknown Pond Trails Loop Trip - 9/13/08
Mill Brook/Kilkenny Ridge/Unknown Pond Trails Loop Trip - 9/13/08
If you’ve managed to reach the trailhead before 4pm and you’ve got a second car for the loop, you are in luck as all you’ve got to do is hop in and drive on out. For us though, we didn’t have a second car and anyway, with the length of the hike, we knew we’d never make it out before 4.

Mill Brook/Kilkenny Ridge/Unknown Pond Trails Loop Trip - 9/13/08
So we took a break for a while to rest up and then we headed out of the parking lot and onto York Pond Road where 2 miles of road walking awaited us.

Mill Brook/Kilkenny Ridge/Unknown Pond Trails Loop Trip - 9/13/08
The first mile wasn’t bad as it was a gravel road. The second mile however, was paved and if you have never hiked a long distance on a paved road with hiking boots, consider yourself lucky. Where there was an open shoulder we tried walking off the pavement, but most of the way we just had to suck it up and walk on the road.

The walk out went fairly fast, though I have to admit that when I came up to the gate at about 6pm and it was wide open, I sat there going “why didn’t we drive in a bit?” It really wouldn’t have mattered though, as we would have had to have two cars and left one at the gate and the other at the Unknown Pond Trailhead.

All told the trip was about 11 miles and that includes the 2 miles of road walking. It was a long day, but I thought it was one of my more enjoyable hikes lately. We didn’t have any tremendous views or spectacular summits to climb, but we did get to spend a day hiking through some of the wildest parts of the North Country and get some amazing views and experiences anyway.

The entire set of photos for the Mill Brook/Kilkenny Ridge/Unknown Pond trip can be seen on Flickr.


AMC White Mountain Guide, 28th: Hiking trails in the White Mountain National Forest (Appalachian Mountain Club White Mountain Guide)
For more information

The Appalachian Mountain Club publishes maps and trail information in the White Mountain Trail Guide.

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