13 Best Hikes In New England For Families

by | Mar 15, 2022 | Destinations, Family Adventures, North East, Traveling with Teens, USA, Weekend Trips

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Who doesn’t love posting photos of their recent family hike on social media? For many of us, hiking starts and ends in the states where we live, and it can be difficult to look farther afield for fresh pastures. Well, I’m here to recommend a region you may not have considered as a hiking destination, but if you happen to be going, or you’re already there, family hikes in New England are hard to beat.

Yes,  it’s cold, but in addition to the stunning natural beauty, New England benefits from being more compact than the West Coast; in other words, unlike in California, where we may have to spread our hiking adventures over several weeks, in New England, we can hit all the spots we want in a long weekend. Heck, we could do two hikes a day if we wanted. 

Regardless of skill or age, there’s bound to be a hike in this guide your kids will love, and who knows, maybe you’ll all discover a love for pine needles, gorgeous views, brisk air, and granite rock just like we have. 

Here are the 13 best family-friend hikes in New England. We hope you enjoy them as much as we have! 

 

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Lonesome Lake Trail at Franconia Notch State Park, New Hampshire

Difficulty: Moderate Hike

Length: 3.1 miles

Best For: School-aged kids (6-13) 

 

For those looking for a moderate hike, Lonesome Lake Trail is an excellent option. Most of the hike is a steady incline, with spectacular views of Franconia Ridge along the way. Once you reach the summit, you’ll be greeted by the beautiful Lonesome Lake, a welcome respite after a weary journey. 

 

It took us (with relatively young kids) about two hours to reach the lake, but that includes every time our daughters stopped to pick flowers. Depending on how interested in natural history your kids are, it’ll take between an hour and a half to three to reach the lake. 

 

 

Lonesome Lake in Winter - 13 Best Hikes In New England For Families

People even hike to the Lonesome Lake in winter! Photo by Aakash Patel on Unsplash.

 

After a long day of hiking, dip your aching feet into the lake’s cool waters for relief. Then, swing by the Lonesome Lake Hut for a snack and a rest before starting the descent. If you’d like a sneak-peak at this trail, the Appalachian Mountain Club created an excellent video to show off the highlights.

 

 

Mount Kearsarge via Rollins and Lincoln Trail, New Hampshire

Difficulty: Easy to Moderate Hike

Length: 1 mile

Best For: Preschoolers (3-5)

 

Short and sweet, the Mount Kearsarge via Rollins and Lincoln Trail is a perfect hike for slightly more experienced ramblers. Starting at the parking lot on Rollins State Park Rd, you’ll take a gravel path by the picnic area. Once that’s been cleared, it’s on to the serious hiking, which gradually inclines towards the summit. 

While a short hike, there is a bit of a rock scramble, which may require a little parental assistance. Our eldest girl handled it all right, but the younger had to be carried a bit of the way for her own safety. After an hour and a half of tough going, we were rewarded with incredible views at the top of the surrounding area.

 

Frankenstein Trestle in Crawford Notch - 13 Best Hikes In New England For Families

A peek at the Frankenstein Cliffs. Photo by Evan Leith on Unsplash.

 

Arethusa Falls Via Bemis Brook and Arethusa Falls Trails, Crawford Notch State Park, New Hampshire 

Difficulty: Moderate Hike

Length: 2.8 miles

Best For: School-aged kids (6-13)

 

What guide to New England hikes would be complete without at least one waterfall in it? And while some hikes treat waterfalls as a sideshow, on this hike it’s the main attraction. Just so you’re aware, we recommend saving this lovely trail for when your little hikers are more experienced. Our youngest was five when we first took her and she struggled on the steepness in certain parts. 

No gorgeous summit views — unless you take the more difficult Frankenstein Cliffs Loop — but you’ll hardly miss them once you get a look at this 160ft deluge.

 

Our family did this hike in winter one year (yes, it is possible!) and were rewarded with beautiful ice caves and a frozen cascade.

 

 

Frozen cascade at Arethusa Falls - 13 Best Hikes In New England For Families

My brother Daniel standing on the frozen waterfall. Photo by Matthew LaMourie.

 

A word of caution, Bemis Brook Trail is steep and can be slippery and muddy after rain, so be careful on the ascent. The White Mountain National Forest is breathtaking all year round, but personally, I think autumn is the best time for a visit. 

 

Flume Gorge in Winter - 13 Best Hikes In New England For Families

In winter, you’ll find beautiful ice caves in Flume Gorge. Photo by Balazs Busznyak on Unsplash.

 

Flume Gorge Trail, Lincoln, New Hampshire

Difficulty: Easy Hike

Length: 2.2 miles 

Best For: Toddlers (2-3) and grandmas

 

Allegedly discovered in 1808 by 93-year-old Aunt Jessy Guernsey while fishing, the Flume Gorge Trail takes its name from the (you guessed it) gorge that extends 800 feet from the base of Mount Liberty. Don’t let the word gorge scare you though, this is an excellent hike for beginners, with lots of stairs, covered bridges, and a boardwalk to help smooth out the trail. 

 

Wooden Bridge Flume Gorge - 13 Best Hikes In New England For Families

And in summer, the cliffs are simply magnificent. Photo by Kellyanne Latulippe on Unsplash.

 

What’s more, as you descend into the gorge, you’ll be treated to the stunning Conway granite walls that rise 70 to 90 feet above your heads! Along the way, your little ones will get the chance to see New Hampshire’s beautiful scenery — an abundance of flowers, moss, ferns, and more! 

It took us over three hours to complete this hike, but that’s simply because we kept stopping every five minutes to admire the etched granite walls. You could absolutely do it in under two if you hustled.

 

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White Mountain National Forest Valley - 13 Best Hikes In New England For Families

An autumn view of Pinkham Notch. Photo by Yefta Albert on Unsplash.

 

Square Ledge in Pinkham Notch, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Difficulty: Moderate Hike

Length: 1.1 miles

Best For: School-aged kids (6-13)

 

Short and sweet, Square Ledge in Pinkham Notch is ideal for families who are looking for family day hikes. From the eponymous ledge, you’ll find breathtaking views of Mount Washington, the highest peak in the Northeastern United States, as well as the rest of the Presidential Range. Our girls were absolutely blown away by the views from the top. 

 

Pinkham Notch - 13 Best Hikes In New England For Families

A view of Pinkham Notch in winter. Photo by Daniel LaMourie.

 

This trail starts off level and gradually ascends until you get near the top, where there’s a brief rock scramble. Due to its brevity, this hike is perfect for getting younger ramblers acquainted with more difficult terrain, without getting them too tired to enjoy the view at the summit. Make sure to take it easy on the way down; the descent from the ledge can be slippery after rainfall. 

 

 

Lye Brook Falls Trail, Green Mountain National Forest, Vermont

Difficulty: Moderate Hike

Length: 4.4 miles

Best For: School-aged kids (6-13)

 

Averaging about two and a half hours to complete, the Lye Brook Falls Trail is definitely one of the longer recommendations on our list; however, in our humble opinion, it’s worth every minute. 

One thing our girls particularly loved were the birch groves that crisscrossed the trail. The trees are so densely packed in places that you feel like you’ve entered another world…Our youngest swears that she saw Pooh Bear and Piglet, but we’re still skeptical. 

After a final rock scramble, you’ll come upon the Lye Brook Falls, a 125-foot waterfall that’ll be a sight for eyes that would be sore if everything wasn’t so darn pretty. The best time to visit is in autumn when the trees are blazing with color.

 

 

 

 

Great Blue Hill Via Skyline Trail, Blue Hills Reservation, Massachusetts

Difficulty: Moderate Hike

Length: 3 miles

Best For: School-aged kids (6-13)

 

Short and not too strenuous, the Great Blue Hill via Skyline Trail is popular for out-of-staters and locals alike for its picturesque views of the downtown Boston area and the surrounding Blue Hills. From atop Eliot Tower, you’ll be treated to a panorama of forest and hills marching into the horizon. 

After the hike, it’s easy to drive into Boston for a much-needed meal. We took our girls to Faneuil Hall Market, which serves all kinds of delicious lunches and snacks, freshly made that very day. 

 

 

Bash Bish Falls Trail, Bash Bish Falls State Park, Massachusetts

Difficulty: Moderate Hike

Length: 2.1 miles

Best For: School-aged kids (6-13)

 

Located in the iconic Taconic Mountains, the Bash Bish Falls Trail leads you over boulders, tree roots, natural stone steps, and, ultimately, to the foot of the largest waterfall in Massachusetts. Twin cascades shower a placid lagoon around which is a great place for a family photo and snack break. 

As a side note, swimming in the water is not currently permitted, so make sure to keep an eye on any little trouble makers who may want to go in for a plunge.

 

Mohegan Bluffs, Block Island, Clay Head Trail - 13 Best Hikes In New England For Families

The Clay Head Trail is lined with beaches just like this one! Photo by John Angel on Unsplash.

 

 

Clay Head Trail, Block Island, Rhode Island

Difficulty: Easy Hike

Length: 3.5

Best For: Toddlers (2-3)

 

Our only island hike, Clay Head Trail lies on Block Island off of Rhode Island. An excellent vacation spot in its own right, Block Island also happens to be home to a number of excellent hiking trails, offering astounding views of the shorefront and the Atlantic Ocean. Prized by bird watchers for its peace and tranquility, Clay Head Trail is the perfect hike for young nature-lovers. 

Our girls loved walking atop the bluffs and then descending to explore along the beaches. They found all kinds of interesting shells and sea glass on the shore. What they collected we took home and have memorialized in an empty glass bottle. I still look at it every once in a while, and when I do I’m transported back to that lovely day long ago that we spent together on Block Island, RI.  

Starting at Corn Neck Road at the northern tip of the island, the trail meanders through beach-side meadows. These gradually fall away, revealing the beautiful Roiles Harbor and Balls Cove.

 

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Fog on Tumbledown Mountain - 13 Best Hikes In New England For Families

A foggy morning on Tumbledown Mountain. Photo by Daniel LaMourie.

 

 

Tumbledown Brook Trail, Mount Blue State Park, Maine

Difficulty: Moderate Hike

Length: 4.7 miles

Best For: School-aged kids (6-13)

 

Slow and steady is the motto for those tackling Tumbledown Brook Trail. As one of the longer hikes on our list, it’s important to watch your pace and take regular water and snack breaks to help refuel. The first two-thirds or so are pretty gentle, but the last third is a bit steep; so take your time and enjoy the lovely natural beauty of Tumbledown Mountain. 

 

Trust us, once you crest that hill and look down on Crater Lake for the first time, you’ll know it was all worth it. This is definitely a “take a lunch with you” kind of hike, with ample opportunities for photos along the way. 

 

Camden Maine - 13 Best Hikes In New England For Families

Make sure to pop into Camden, ME when you visit Mt. Battie! Photo by Benjamin Rascoe on Unsplash.

 

 

Mount Battie Trail, Camden, Maine

Difficulty: Moderate Hike

Length: 1.1 miles

Best For: Preschoolers (3-5)

 

Of all the hikes in this guide, Mount Battie is undoubtedly my favorite. At the summit, you’ll find Mt. Battie Fort, which my youngest daughter calls, “The Big Castle,” and which is an excellent spot for a picnic and a photo session. We packed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and had a lovely time sitting on a ledge and overlooking the area. The view of Camden Harbor is unbeatable, and on especially clear days, you can see all the way to Acadia National Park (more on that prize later). 

Before the hike, we highly recommend stopping in nearby Camden for a little breakfast and shopping. The Camden Deli is an excellent spot to load up on coffee and pastries before a big hike. 

 

Acadia National Park Shoreline - 13 Best Hikes In New England For Families

The broken shoreline of Acadia National Park. Photo by Ryo Chiba on Unsplash.

 

 

Cadillac Summit Loop Trail, Acadia National Park, Maine

Difficulty: Easy Hike

Length: 0.5 mile

Best For: Preschoolers (3-5)

 

As far as family-friendly hikes go, it doesn’t get much better than the Cadillac Summit Loop Trail. Our girls were pretty young when we took them, but they were able to keep pace and probably got to the top less winded than we were. 

Short enough for really young kids, but with incredible views of the surrounding coastline, it’s no wonder that Cadillac Mountain is one of the most popular destinations in Acadia. And while we’re on the subject, Acadia National Park is overflowing with natural beauty and splendor. 

 

Cadillac Mountain Summit - 13 Best Hikes In New England For Families

Maine’s beautiful coastline from the summit of Cadillac Mountain. Photo by A Goeller on Unsplash.

 

The trail itself is paved, so dogs, kids, heck even grandma can enjoy the stunning views at the top. For whatever reason, the sky just feels closer in Acadia, and on particularly cloudy days, it feels as if you could just reach out your hand touch the ceiling of the world. With miles of trails, Acadia is the kind of place you can visit over and over again and never feel like you’ve seen it all. 

 

Everyone should visit Acadia at least once in their lives; and if you want to impart a lifelong love of the outdoors in your kids, this is the place to do it. 

 

 

Sleeping Giant Tower - 13 Best Hikes In New England For Families

“Fee fi fo fum…” Photo by Daniel LaMourie.

 

 

Sleeping Giant Tower Trail, Sleeping Giant State Park, Connecticut 

Difficulty: Easy Hike

Length: 3.1 miles

Best For: Preschoolers (3-5)

 

Often considered less wild than its northern siblings, Connecticut still has a number of excellent hiking trails to offer, our favorite of which is the Sleeping Giant Tower Trail. The name alone is awesome, conjuring up half-forgotten memories of beanstalks and magic geese. And while you may not find any golden eggs at the top, you’ll certainly be rewarded with spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. 

 

View from the top of Sleeping Giant Tower - 13 Best Hikes In New England For Families

The view from the tower. Photo by Daniel LaMourie.

When You Go

 

 

New England is compact enough to allow easy access to any number of hiking trails. And while it would be impossible to recommend rental accommodations for each individual trail, the good news is most of these hikes are within a 1-2 hour drive of major cities, Boston, MA; Providence, RI; Hartford, CT; and Portland, ME being the most obvious. 

 

 

Tips Before You Go

 

  • Definitely check the weather ahead of time. New England weather is fickle and you never know when a storm might blow in and turn your trail into a muddy river
  • Bring lots of water for everyone, as well as snacks, a first-aid kit, sunscreen, etc.
  • Research the fees ahead of time; some State Parks charge per head, others per car. Also, make sure there’s adequate parking nearby
  • If bringing a dog, check into leash laws in the local area. Just because you’re in the woods doesn’t necessarily mean doggies get free reign

 

 

Final Thoughts

 

Growing up along the coast of Maine, it was taken for granted that I would spend most of my childhood tramping through the woods. Saturdays commenced before dawn with a brisk shake and a “Saddle up!” from my dad. Tumbling into the car bleary-eyed, the four of us (three boys and dad) would drive the two-or-so hours into the White Mountains in search of the fleeting thrill of standing atop a mountain or at the foot of a chuckling waterfall.

Now I’m grown and (darn it!) I’m still waking up at the crack of dawn and tramping through the woods on my weekends, albeit on the West instead of the East coast, and with my own little hikers in tow. Evidently, these little excursions into the woods left a deep impact on me, and whenever my friends ask for ideas to do with their kids, I also say the same thing: “Take ‘em hiking.” It’s the best advice I can give. 

Something my dad always evangelized, and something that I’m still biased towards, is a hike with a reward at the end, something that makes you feel as if the sweat and soreness were worth it. A palliative if you will. With varying degrees of success, I’ve endeavored to provide that for you here in this little guide of mine. I hope you’ve enjoyed it and are curious to try hiking in New England for yourself. Happy trails!

 

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Matthew LaMourie is a travel writer and photographer based in San Francisco, CA. A natural explorer, he specializes in finding out of the way places, even in the most well trodden of destinations. When not on the road, he devotes his time to his loving family, his water color painting, and just walking around his adoptive city, ever curious to see what’s round the next corner.

 

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