Soar To New Hampshire's Pilot Range

When the White Mountains' hot spots get too hot, there's always the Pilot Range.
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When the White Mountains' hot spots get too hot, there's always the Pilot Range.

Veteran White Mountains hikers know what to expect on their favorite trails in the marquee Presidential Range: steep, rocky terrain, and barren, wind-swept summits that offer some of the best panoramas in the East. And, of course, lots of fellow adventurers.

But the stereotypes don't hold when it comes to the Pilot Range. This northernmost corner of the Whites boasts no giant peaks, no cog railways, no record-setting wind. Instead, you'll find subtleties like sprawling birch forests, a secluded mountain pond, and the occasional ledge or summit offering long views of surrounding giants. The relatively easy trails are covered with mossy duff that's soft underfoot. On a weekend during the height of fall foliage I encountered just a few other people.

If you're looking for a fairly gentle 15-mile loop, head for the U.S. Fish Hatchery west of Berlin and hop on the Mill Brook Trail, which rises gently through forests of birch and follows Cold Brook. At the Kilkenny Ridge Trail drop your pack and turn right (north) for the side trip to Rogers Ledge, site of a 180-degree southerly view of the Mahoosucs, the Presidentials, and the Pilot Range. Double back on the Kilkenny, through an expansive forest of birch, and keep an eye open for spruce-ringed Unknown Pond, where you'll find tent sites and a pit toilet.

In the morning, strap on a fanny pack and climb The Horn, a 3,905-foot crag jutting above the trees that offers views of most of the Pilot and Presidential ranges. When you tire of the views (if that's possible), head back to camp and pick up the Unknown Pond Trail that takes you back to the fish hatchery.

The mostly wooded (read: protected) Pilot Range also offers a good introduction to winter hiking. One February day a friend and I abandoned plans to climb storm-lashed Mt. Adams in the Presidentials, and instead drove 20 minutes west and hiked Mts. Starr King and Waumbek in the Pilots. We had a great time, made even better by the meteorological fury we watched pound the Presidentials. Glad we weren't there.