Kilkenny Ridge Traverse

Date of Hike: 9/28/15

Starr King Trail: 3.6 miles  /  Kilkenny Ridge Trail: 20.6 miles  /  South Pond Road: 1.1 miles
Total Miles: 25.2 miles (8,058 feet elevation gained) 

Trip Report:
-  For the past few years both Whitney and I have had the Kilkenny Ridge Traverse on our to-do list for hikes.  Since the hike is in the woods the whole way we waited until fall to come around to avoid the summer heat, humidity, and bugs.
- The forecast for Monday called for partly sunny skies and pleasant temperatures, perfect weather for a long hike!  On Sunday we spotted my Jeep at the closed gate on South Pond Road a mile outside of the Recreation area.  The northern terminus of the Kilkenny Ridge Trail starts in the recreation area at South Pond Beach, however the area is closed for the season so this would add an easy 1.1 miles walk at the end of our hike.
- On Monday morning we woke up early and drove over to the Starr King trailhead in Jefferson and made the routine ascent up Starr King and Waumbek to the start of the Kilkenny Ridge Trail. From the summit of Waumbek we hiked over the very lightly used but easy to follow trail over South, Middle, and North Weeks.  The woods are wide open along most of this section of the ridge, with old pine trees rising up from the ground which is covered in dwarf ferns.  The footing for the most part is incredibly soft along the narrow path that meanders through the woods, it reminded me of the Sleepers between the Tripyramids and Whiteface, same type of forest, same type of footing, and same type of remoteness feeling to it.
- From North Weeks we dropped steeply down to Willard Notch where the York Pond Trail came in from the northeast to coincided with the Kilkenny Ridge Trail for a few hundred feet.  The York Pond Trail then heads southwest over an unmaintained portion of the trail, however there was a note scribbled onto a plastic sign saying it has recently been flagged to Heat's Gate.
- Next we made the climb up to Terrace Range (South, Middle, North Terrace) through a beautiful Birch glade forest.  Once gaining the ridge, we took the short tenth of a mile path to the summit where there was a nice view of the Weeks.  We took a break here before making our way easily over the small bump that is Middle Terrace and a bigger bump that is North Terrace, where there was a summit sign off the the side of the trail.
- From North Terrace we dropped down to Bunnell Notch and were back on a familiar section of the Kilkenny Ridge Trail where the Bunnell Notch Trail comes in from the east.  The Kilkenny Ridge Trail soon passes by the unmaintained Mount Cabot Trail as it circumvents the lower southern shoulder of Mount Cabot before heading northerly up to the Cabot Cabin and to the summit.  Just before reaching the cabin we ran into Hiker Ed and chatted with him for a few minutes before taking a break on the cabin steps.  Always nice to run into Ed out there on the trails.
- We made it to the summit of Cabot around 2pm.  From here we still had about eleven miles to go with our side trip to The Horn and the road walk at the end, but almost all the climbing was already finished on the day so we had plenty of time to finish before sunset.  It had been almost five years since I had been to the Horn so I was happy to make the short steep side trip up to the summit to catch the views.  As we stood on the summit boulder we noticed the clouds coming in fast from the west, rain wasn't in the forecast until the night but it looked like it might arrive early.
- From the Horn we dropped down to Unknown Pond which had a great view back up to The Horn.  It was the first time I had been to Unknown Pond and it looks like a great spot to hike into and camp for the night.
- After leaving Unknown Pond we headed a few miles north towards Rogers Ledge through more Birch glades which were starting to change colors.  It was interesting to see the foliage more present in the northern end of the Kilkenny Ridge Trail compared to the lack thereof on the southern end.
-  As we started up our last ascent of the day to Rogers Ledge it started to rain on us, luckily it didn't pour and it stopped just as we reached the ledge.  Rogers Ledge was the unexpected highlight of the day with it's big views and huge drop off hundreds of feet below from the edge of the ledge.  It has a great view of the Pilot Range and the Mill Brook Valley.
- From Rogers Ledge we had an easy four mile hike down to South Pond.  It started to rain again but the descent went by fairly quickly and we reached the recreation area in under ninety minutes.  Both of us had never been to South Pond so we were taken back by how big it was along with the nice facilities (beach, picnic area) that made up the recreation area.  We walked along the sandy beach and took pictures before making the short road walk back to the closed gate.
-  The Kilkenny Ridge Traverse was well worth the wait to hike.  It's over twenty miles long with several up and downs, and although it's not too steep at any point the elevation adds up over the day and packs quite a punch.  It's definitely worth hiking in early fall if you don't mind the road walk at the end of the hike and is a great backpack route for multi-day hikers!

Route for the day, click here for details

Elevation Profile throughout the day

We started our hike up the Starr King Trail, it has easy to moderate grades up to Starr King

Whitney enjoys the views from Mount Starr King

The Presidential Range can be seen off in the distance from the Starr King clearing

From Starr King we make the easy hike through the woods to the pile of rocks that marks the summit of Mount Waumbek.  Just past the summit is a downlook with a fine view

The whole Presidential Range as seen from Mount Waumbek's downlook

The southern terminus of the Kilkenny Ridge Trail starts at the summit of Mount Waumbek

The Kilkenny Ridge Trail travels through an open pine groves with dwarf spruce blanketing the floor of the forest  

Whitney heads through a dwarf spruce meadow to the summit of one of the Weeks.  So exciting!

From the summit of north weeks the trail drops down to Willard Notch, Mount Cabot can be seen off in the distance

The Kilkenny Ridge and York Pond Trail coincide for a few hundred feet in Willard Notch.  The York Pond Trail then branches off to the southwest where it is no longer officially maintained

Heading up to Terrace Mountain the trail travels through a beautiful Birch glade

Along the Kilkenny Ridge Trail between the Terrace Range

After the Terraces the trail drops down to Bunnell Notch then heads up to Mount Cabot

The Cabot Cabin and the summit of Mount Cabot.  The official summit is about a hundred feet behind this sign

After Mount Cabot we head over to the Bulge, so exciting!

After the Bulge we take the short and steep side path to the Horn to take in the views of Mount Cabot and the Presidential Range

The Mahoosuc Range lines the horizon

With most of our climbing for the day out of the way we drop down in elevation

After a mile and a half we reach the Unknown Pond area

Unknown Pond, it's a really beautiful spot to visit!

The Horn as seen from Unknown Pond

After Unknown Pond we make our way toward Rogers Ledge

We passed more foliage through here than anywhere else during our hike

Making our way past Kilback Pond

 After passing Kilback Pond we make our way up to Rogers Ledge and enjoy the big view

The last four miles really wasn't to thrilling, just the usual walk in the woods

We did pass the town line for Stark and Kilkenny marked by an old carved post

Hiking the last  quarter of a mile out to South Pond

South Pond has a really nice beach and pretty sweet views!

Leaving the South Pond Recreation Area and back to the closed gate where we left my Jeep the day before

Signs spotted from Starr King to Willard Notch

Signs spotted from Terrace Mountain to the Horn

Signs spotted from Unknown Pond to South Pond


  1. Great report, Chris. This trail has such great woods plus some fine viewpoints and ponds. It's long been one of my favorites. (Several interesting bushwhacks off it, also). Glad you and Whitney enjoyed it. And thanks for the sign and benchmark photo set - those are always entertaining.


    1. Thanks, Steve. We both are looking forward to getting back soon as the colors keep changing, what a great area to hike!

  2. Looks like a great area to explore ! Thanks for your wonderful report as usual !

    1. It definitely was well worth the drive and long day hiking! Hope you get up to the Whites for some foliage hiking in the next month :)

  3. It does make a wonderful 2-night backpack. I did it over Columbus Day weekend a few years ago; there were many moose in the woods beside the trail, an interesting bit of sucking mud, and, as you and Steve noted, ample side possibilities. I saw a tree that looked like a bear-scratching tree, and another downed tree that had been worked over by animals. --Small things to observe, as well as expansive views. Thanks for the pictures of this glorious place, and congratulations on a 25-mile hike!

    1. Thanks, Marjorie. We saw a lot of moose poop and some beer poop too but unfortunately no moose. We are really looking forward to getting back up there soon. We got very lucky and the trail was dry from the lack of rain, I have a few friends backpacking it soon and it'll probably be a bit muddy after all the rain over the next several days!!

  4. Chris, that traverse is on my list, although Kinsman Ridge is my current obsession the next time the weather breaks right and I can coordinate a car spot.

    Next time you make it up to South Pond end of the Kilkenny, check out the Devil's Hopyard. A short trail that is other-worldly. Water flowing underneath the stones. Steep cliff very near the trail. Dramatic and memorable!

    1. We had planned to go up to Devil's Hopyard but it started raining and getting late. We definitely will check it out soon as we were looking forward to it.

      Enjoy your Kinsman Ridge hike, that traverse has been on my list for quite awhile too.