Via the Unknown Pond Trail and Kilkenny Ridge Trail: Approximately 10.4 miles round trip
Mt.Cabot is the northern most mountain of the New Hampshire 4,000 footers. It is located in the Pilot-Pliny Range, which includes Mt. Waumbek, Starr King, The Bulge and The Horn (these latter two are part of the New England hundred highest list). This region is similar to the woodlands of Northern Maine where there is sparse human population and much of the land is owned by large corporations and used for paper products and managed by logging. Forestry practices are more noticeable here than in the Southern mountains of New Hampshire and much of the road network is comprised of active logging roads. It is known more for hunting, fishing and snowmobiling rather than for hiking, but there are some spectacular trails and vistas.
There are several different ways to hike Mt. Cabot, but be aware that the Cabot Trail’s lower section has been closed and unmaintained because of landowner disputes, so please do not trespass. Hiker access on private land continues to be an on going issue so do your part to be contentious of these sensitive topics.
We chose to hike from the north and camp at the Unknown Pond, where there is an established tent site, bathroom and gorgeous views of the Horn over the lily covered pond. The Unknown Pond Trail connects two logging roads, York Pond Road and Mill Brook Road in Stark, New Hampshire. We approached from Mill Brook Pond Road (FR11), located off NH 110 just outside of the village. The trailhead is 4.3 miles down the road, just across a bridge, there is a small sign with a hiker on it and parking is available to the right side of the road. This is a fairly well maintained logging road, but I would advise caution once past the houses as the road roughs up a bit.
The Unknown Pond trail is located just beyond the bridge and is signed. The footing is quite good and the grade from Mill Brook Pond Road all the way to Unknown Pond is steady but never overly challenging. It climbs gradually through changing forests, comprised mostly of older White Birch and Pine. At mile 2.2 the pond becomes visible and the trail continues around the pond. Here the Kilkenny Ridge Trail joins the Unknown Pond trail for about 100 yards before taking a sharp right around the pond and continuing to the edge of the ridge of the Horn and the Bulge. Follow the Kilkenny Ridge Trail as it splits and ascends gradually to the col between the peaks. This section of trail is moderate, but there is no water once you are past the pond, so prepare ahead of time. The Horn boasts magnificent views, so we chose to save this summit for last, it is located .3 miles and 250 feet up, on a signed side trail from the Kilkenny Ridge Trail. We continued up to the Bulge, again without footing issues and over to the treelined summit of Cabot. There is a small cairn marking the true summit of Cabot, this is where the Mt. Cabot trail meets the Kilkenny Ridge Trail. Sadly the summit views from Cabot leave much to be desired, as it is completely wooded. It has a few “teaser” spots where is would appear to open up but then does not. We rested briefly here before turning around and descending back the way we came. The footing on the way down is less reliable, but this is normal with the weight of your body and gravity, but again there were no spots of difficulty for the dogs or humans. Upon returning to the junction between the summit of the Horn and the Kilkenny Ridge Trail we climbed up to the open rocky summit. Here we encountered a few challenging spots as the trail climbs up several ledges before gaining the true summit. The views are most certainly worth the extra effort. With this northern perspective the magnificence of the King’s Ravine on Mt. Adams can be greatly appreciated. On a clear day, and we were blessed with one the true beauty of the region can be felt. To say the views are expansive is an understatement, they are humbling and inspiring.
After a rest, snack and some pictures we descended the Kilkenny Ridge Trail back to its junction with the Unknown Pond Trail. The footing was easy once again and after we made it down the ledges of the Horn it was pretty mellow. We chose to continue our journey around the pond to the tent sites, located on the south east side. Due to the remoteness of this hike we turned it into a two day venture, breaking up the long stretches is the car. There are many other gorgeous and less frequented peaks in the region that we were planning to explore in the next few days.
Aside from the long car day, Mt. Cabot, the Horn and the Bulge are fairly easy mountains to climb. The only major note I would stress is that there is no reliable water after Unknown Pond. That being said, the hike of the peaks from that point is short and fairly easy. The only part of the hike that the dogs needed assistance on were the ledges leading to the summit of the Horn, but it was minimal. This area is less frequently by tourists and day hikers, so if you are looking for seclusion and beauty I highly recommend hiking this mountain from the north. We chose to do it in late June on a weekend and ran into only two other groups of people. So, if you are sick of crowed summer summits head north and explore.