Family Hiking 101: Pisgah’s Kilburn Trail

Trailhead, Kilburn Trail

I learned many important lessons on my recent visit to Pisgah State Park. Allow me to share with you a diary of our expedition one November afternoon….

I have been hungry to get back to the NH’s largest State Park, Pisgah, on the southwest border. I also wanted to have an adventure as a family, even though all of them were looking forward to a Saturday curled up with our warm bassett and a computer game.


Lesson #1: Give Fair Warning.

I began talking about the trip with my husband about a week before, then a few days later brought in one of my daughter’s, who I knew would be excited to go…then, with these reinforcements, I subtly let slip within earshot of the other children my plans…


Lesson #2: Get Organized.

I scoured maps and websites for the best route to the summit of Mt. Pisgah, my goal for the day. There is a range which, according to one site, offers a ‘stunning vista’, exactly what I was hoping for! I decided on the Kilburn Trailhead and saw lots of trails that would take us to the top of this 1300’+ summit, very manageable for our clan.


Lesson #3: Motivation.

Our favorite family motivator is food. I hate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, so when I pack for a hike I choose the best sliced meat (smoked turkey on this trip, since it’s November of course), gourmet honey mustard, multigrain bread, etc. Then stopped by a store that had chocolate on sale- lots of it. I am of the school of thought that if you can afford trail mix, then you can afford a snickers bar. Which would you rather eat? Especially since everybody spits out the raisins anyway?


Lesson #4: Have a Time Frame.

After looking at the map and knowing how early the sun sets in November, we set a time frame of 3 hours. This helped the kids visualize exactly when they could return to their friends playing online. I will also add to this lesson that if you are an Impulsive Hiker, as I am, place someone else in charge of the watch. My husband took on the role of time keeper, because left up to me, I will always want to see what’s just beyond the next curve in the trail.


Lesson #5: Don’t Stress About The Time Frame.

cloudskilburn by Lisa Wiley 2013
I really wanted to leave the house early, by 9am at the latest. At 11:51 am all six of us piled into the minivan and we pulled out of the driveway. Because I calmly followed rule #5, this was done without yelling or tears. I am a model mother. Actually, I knew from vast experience that if we started on the road to frustration, we would not have salvaged the trip easily. And we still had loads of daylight left for adventure….right?


Lesson #6: Dress for Success.

Most of the reason we started so much later was that, even though I had told my family for days that we’d be hiking in the woods, and even though they ooohhhed and aaahhhhed over my recent blog talking about “Sharing the Forest” with hunters, no one had thought to organize appropriate gear. It took some time to find enough bright orange to feel safe, then we added some more colors just in case.


Lesson #7: The Distractions are the Point.

I really wanted to summit Mount Pisgah. I had been planning it all week.  I had multiple maps in hand, flashlights for darker woods, enough food to feast on for days, two water bottles each, warm layers and sturdy shoes….Then we started the trail. Do you know that many people like to hike with their dogs? When walking with kids you stop for every dog, which sometimes takes a while- especially if they are the Labrador or retriever variety- extremely friendly animals. We do not bring our bassett on long hikes- we were warned that the breed can go for long distances, but when they want to stop they just lay down and don’t move. None of us relish the thought of trying to carry an 80lb bassett down a mountain….

And if you think dogs aren’t enough of a distraction, try passing by various interesting ponds and inlets and bridges, not to mention large cement military structures used during World War II and left to explore generation later!


Lesson #8:  If A Trail On The Map Doesn’t Have A Name, There Might Be A Reason.

Here is where having a time-keeper is really important. Once we passed those dangerously interesting bits, we pushed on toward the summit. My husband clocked us and we decided to see how far we’d get in 20 minute increments.  At the first stop, we noticed a change in the trail, a little  ways beyond the above sign…Hmmmm. We walked for another five or ten minutes, then the combination of leaf litter and deadfall made it clear that the trail simply stopped. We wandered nearby in search of some markers, but found nothing. This is the part of a hike where my adventurous nature really kicks in and I want to bushwack my way to the top! But my teenage daughter checks the sun against her hand, discerning that the sun will begin setting within the hour. And my husband takes out his watch and let’s me know it’s time to turn around.


Lesson #9: Changes In Plans Aren’t the Exception…They’re The Norm.

Yes, I wanted to summit the range, and no, of course that didn’t happen…this time. But, by graciously letting go of the summit, I was able to embrace the hike back to Kilburn Pond, which we glimpsed briefly as we passed by. The next hour was worth every second of planning, cajoling, dressing, shopping, driving, and dog-petting. It solidified Pisgah as one of my favorite forests ever.


Lesson #10: Know When To Say, “That was lovely, now let’s go home”, and Know When Not To Listen.


We left the park at the start of sunset, having actually hiked and played the full three hours allotted. We were all tired and ready to head home. Except….have you ever been to Hinsdale, NH?  Part of this small town was built around the Ashuelot River, basis for another blog I did on the Ashuelot Rail Trail. This section of the river meets the Connecticut River, and if Pisgah is a favorite wilderness, the Connecticut is my favorite River!  How could we not watch the sunset over the river since it was only a mile from the Kilburn Trailhead?!


I set out with goals and plans and maps. I ended with extraordinary memories and the conviction that, as usual, my kids and husband are a lot of fun to hang around with!

I hope you’ll explore this corner of NH soon, I know I will be exploring more of Pisgah, including the summit, in the near future. You can read more about changes happening in the Park under the guidance of its new Park Manager, Ralph (Whip) Newell, in the Keene Sentinel article written this week.







Lisa Wiley

My name is Lisa Wiley and I am native to mid-New England, but a NH transplant once my husband and I started a family. We have five children and multiple pets, including a bassett named Rue who will be featured in many of my posts! I work in two academic libraries and recently completed a Bachelors in Education and Training through Granite State College. My husband and I are both educators and love outdoor adventures on a shoestring budget! On the side, we garden and raise chickens and angora rabbits. I enjoy spinning the angora fiber from these gentle animals into beautiful yarns. I can't wait to share the adventures of the 'Wiley Rangers' as we explore NH!

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