Family-friendly hiking spots in NH
11 great places for families to go hiking in New Hampshire
(Updated: June 1, 2020)
As the ultimate antidote to screen time and stress-filled schedules, there is something about trekking into the pine-scented woods that prompts even the busiest of families to relax and reconnect.
From state parks, town forests, and nature preserves to the high peaks of the White Mountain National Forest, trails in the Granite State range from easy walks in the woods to some of the most challenging climbs east of the Rocky Mountains.
How to find the hike that’s right for your family? Ask knowledgeable staff at outdoor gear stores, hit the library for hiking guide books, contact the New Hampshire chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club, or browse the NH Bureau of Trails website for maps, tips and other hiking resources. (Note: In summer 2020, because of COVID-19, it’s best to check with each location on restrictions and/or changes, but most trails are open)
You will want to carefully consider your kids’ experience and physical stamina (and your own!). If you have a very young child who is content to ride in a backpack carrier for the entire trip, your choice of terrain to cover is usually wide open as long as the trail offers solid footing. For older toddlers and preschoolers, find treks over terrain that is relatively easy for little legs to negotiate; flat paths that wind through a nature preserve or park are most suited for this age group. Elementary school-age children are usually able to handle small to moderate hills and winding forest rambles with ease. If you have an active tween or teen with energy to spare, even a first-time hiker may be able to handle a two- or three-hour hike.
To keep kids motivated on the hike, find trails that offer interesting features. Hikes to waterfalls, fire towers, unusual rock formations, and shallow brooks that require stepping on a few rocks to cross are always a hit. And as always, safety first! Wear sturdy hiking shoes; bring along a first aid kit, bug spray and sunscreen; dress in layers; expect sudden changes in weather and pack snacks and plenty of water.
11 trails for “peak experiences” when hiking with kids
As one of only a few isolated peaks in the region between Keene and Nashua, and the tallest, its name in the Abenaki language translates loosely to mean “mountain that stands alone.” But you won’t be alone when heading up the mountain: approximately 125,000 people hike Monadnock every year, drawn to the summit’s eye-popping views that reach all the way to Boston on a clear day. Multiple trails leaving from Monadnock State Park at the mountain’s base will bring you to the summit. Best for ages 8 and older, and kids who already like to hike.
Beaver Brook Association in Hollis
Frequent nature programs for kids and lots of well-marked, easy-to-follow trails make this place perfect for the youngest of hikers. One trail even leads to a Native American wigwam kids can explore.
Pawtuckaway State Park in Nottingham
In the lush, deep forest of this Seacoast region state park gem, trails lead to marshes, up and down hills, and past super-sized glacial erratics. Check out the state park trail map (pick one up at the entrance gate) and plan your hike to end at Pawtuckaway’s popular swimming beach. Campground also available.
Odiorne State Park in Rye
Wander along the rocky shore, stop for a picnic, then turn inward to walk trails that take you through a peaceful forest and to old World War II bunkers (the land was used as a lookout point during the war). After your hike, pay a visit to the Seacoast Science Center, located within the state park. Suitable for all ages.
This moderate 3.8-mile round trip climb takes you to breathtaking panoramic views of Lake Winnipesaukee. For little hikers, the trail offers scenic views of the lake from various stopping points along the way. Make your hike as short or long as you like – and can handle.
Lonesome Lake in Franconia Notch
On your visit to Franconia Notch State Park, take the Lonesome Lake Trail for an easy, deep-woods hike that leads you around the lake to a beach and picnic spot. Camping is available at the state park campground. A five-minute drive away is the spectacular Flume Gorge.
Sabbaday Falls, Kancamagus Highway between Lincoln and Conway
A short trek takes you within view of the crashing waters of Sabbaday Falls, located at a rest stop off the Kancamagus. A bridge with railing crosses over the falls, or you can take a detour path.
Just off Route 302 in Crawford Notch, see a nearly 200-foot drop of crashing water on this hike to the tallest waterfall in the Granite State. In summer, the falls are at their mightiest after a recent rainstorm. The hiking terrain is suitable for ages 7 and older.
Mount Willard in Carroll
Not far from the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Highland Center in Crawford Notch State Park is the trailhead for a favorite White Mountains hike for families, the trip up 2,840-foot Mount Willard. The trail offers sure footing and rewarding views of the Presidential Range and back down into Crawford Notch. Best for elementary age kids and older.
Smarts Mountain in Lyme
The Appalachian Trail stretches for over 2,000 miles from Georgia to Maine, and approximately 190 miles of the famous footpath can be found in New Hampshire. Want to explore the trail with your family? Accessing the “AT” in Lyme and following it for 3.5 miles over moderately rugged terrain will bring you to the summit of Smarts Mountain where you will find a fire tower with panoramic views and a camping shelter if you decide to spend the night.