Distance: 10 miles (total, out and back)
Season: Spring, Summer, Fall (potentially Winter)
Water: the only water source is a spring located just beyond the peak
Trail Condition: Good
Miscellaneous: Kingston is a funky little half-ghost town on the east side of the Black Range that makes a good jumping off point for the hike. There’s a Forest Service campground on the east side of town, or check out the Black Range Lodge.
Upon reaching the trailhead at the top of Emory Pass, the wind was whipping and clouds were racing over the ridge line, west to east. It could hardly be considered good conditions for a hike, but I was committed at that point.
Almost the entire trail from Emory Pass to Hillsboro Peak was burned in the 2013 Silver Fire, but because of it’s popularity, the trail has remained well cleared to the peak.
After less than 1/4 mile of hiking, the trail dumps out onto a service road that leads to a helicopter pad. Just past a small building, it takes a hard right turn and veers back into the woods.
Although much of the area was burned, this trail was in remarkably good condition with just a few downed trees that were easy to navigate around. Even with the strong winds, the ridge line protected me for much of the way and the wind did not prove to be a major factor.
Because of the thick clouds, I did not have much in the way of views, but even the local terrain provided decent scenery. After less than two miles, the trail turns a corner and confronts a stand of burned oak trees that are all stretched out and uniformly pointing in the same direction, perhaps indicating the direction that the fire burned. It was an eerie sight, especially given the overcast, gloomy weather.
Most of the trail climbs slowly at an easy grade – most likely because the trail was designed so that pack animals could get supplies to the fire tower and cabin at the peak. This made it easy to cruise along, which was appreciated given the weather.
In the last mile before the peak, the trail reentered unburned, old-growth forest. This section of trail was especially enjoyable since the tall Douglas fir’s stood in such stark contrast to the rest of the trail.
Just before reaching the summit, there’s a sign pointing to a spring that lies just a 1/4 mile past the peak.
Over the couple hours, I had grown accustomed to consistent sprinkles and moderate wind, but as I reached the summit, the elements peaked. I wasn’t planning to spend much time on the peak without any views, but the wind threatening to blow me off the mountain, I was even more eager to start moving again.
There are two cabins on top of the peak. The newer looking of the two was locked and I could see new backpacking hanging on a peg inside. Luckily, the older, red log cabin was open, and I was able to get a few moments away from the elements to have a snack, drink some water, and add a layer.
The hike back was largely uneventful other than some views that opened up to the West. Roughly a mile away from the summit, there’s a junction for Trail #412, which bypasses the summit of Hillsboro Peak. Although the sign was intact, I could not see any signs of the trail.
From this same point, I could also spot a small pond down off the ridge to the east. Through the trees, I could not determine its size, but am curious to return with a fly-rod to see if there might be any fish.
For nearby hikes, check out Railroad Canyon.