8 Classic Fall Hikes and Rambles with Kids in the White Mountains

The weather in the White Mountains over Labor Day weekend was just about perfect, with cool temperatures and fair weather clouds during the day and a brilliant full moon at night. So far, that’s the same forecast looking forward: perfect hiking weather.

As I mentioned in my previous post, over the next two weeks I’ll be putting together lists of great hikes with children around the Northeast. I’m starting in the north country, because this is where fall flames first, and will follow the color and the warmth south through New England and New York.

I’ll describe accessible summits, classic fall hikes, and rambles to remember. I hope you’ll add your own thoughts to mine as we go along.

We start with the White Mountains, where the leaves are already changing color up high and in bogs down low.

Shorter and easier
Old Bridle Path to West Rattlesnake. This hike to a low-but-spectacular summit at the southern edge of the White Mountains is a classic first hike for children. At just under 2 miles round-trip and only 1,200 feet at the summit, it’s also a good hike for busy days or uncertain forecasts. On a bright fall day, you’ll likely share the trail, which is well-marked but eroded in places, but even on a crowded summit, you’ll still get a 360-degree view of New Hampshire’s lakes region, with the deep blue of Squam Lake below you and the fall colors of the Squam Range behind you.

Glen Ellis Falls. The roundtrip hike to this 64-foot waterfall near Pinkham Notch is under a mile — 0.6 mile, to be precise. But, as Robert Buchsman writes in AMC’s Best Day Hikes in the White Mountains, “Glen Ellis Falls is one of the most impressive falls in the White Mountains. It’s worth a visit even if you have an aversion to ‘tourist’ spots.” This hike is a good choice for toddlers and first-time hikers, and the pay-off extends beyond the falls themselves to exploring possibilities among the rocks and — if you’re lucky enough to catch Indian summer here — the pools below the falls. Jim remembers cooling off here during his days on the AMC trail crew, and says it’s “nirvana.”

Steeper but not too long
Arethusa Falls Trail and Bemis Brook Trail. The Arethusa Falls Trail in Crawford Notch rises steeply but quickly to the tallest waterfall in New Hampshire: Hikers gain 750 feet in elevation over 1.3 miles. Sugar maple and yellow birch line the trail at the start, giving way to balsam and spruce at the falls. The 200-foot waterfall at the end of the trail is named for one of the Nereids, the sea nymphs of Greek mythology. An option for very young hikers is the Bemis Brook Trail, which departs from the Arethusa Falls trail at 0.1 mile and passes by two smaller waterfalls over the next 0.4 mile.

The Roost. Evans Notch is the northern- and easternmost of the four notches in the White Mountains and the only notch that’s not in New Hampshire. (It’s in Maine.) The Roost is farther north still, a small peak (1,374 feet) that sits above the confluence of the Wild River and Evans Brook and the abandoned logging town of Hastings. Two trailheads offer similar, relatively little traveled, paths to the top. (The trail from the north is 0.7 mile, from the south 0.5 mile.) The effort offers sparkling water along the way, rewarding views, and a real feel of the north — lots of dark green mixed with the reds and yellows.

High reward to effort
Welch-Dickey. It’s easy to see why this is one of the most popular trails in the White Mountains. It’s close to the highway (less than 5 miles off I-93 near Waterville Valley) in central New Hampshire, and it rewards effort with the gnarled trees and ledges typically found on much higher summits to the north and, of course, sweeping views. Families with younger hikers may want to make a destination of the first overlook on Welch, several hundred feet below the 2,605-foot summit, for a roundtrip of about 2 miles. The full loop is 4.4 miles and 1,600 feet elevation gain.

Lonesome Lake. Seeing — or even swimming in — a tarn (a pond created by glacial scouring) is a fair reward for 2.5 miles and 950 feet in elevation gain, but the bigger reward for this hike is staying at an AMC hut. From hut or lake, the views of Mt. Lafayette are breathtaking — especially if you get to see a frosting of early-season snow on the Franconia Ridge amidst the fire-colors of autumn. (Full-service season for the Lonesome Lake hut ends on October 17, and the hut often fills completely on Saturday nights, but family rooms are often available on other nights.)

Family-friendly longer hikes
Lincoln Woods to Franconia Falls. If you want a walk in the woods without a lot of uphill or rocks, this is the hike for you. The trail follows an old railroad grade (used by logging companies from the late 1880s until 1946) along the west bank of the East Branch of the Pemigewasset River for 2.9 miles. A short (0.4 mile) spur trail and a level walk takes you to flat rocks at the base of Franconia Falls. Total roundtrip is 6.6 miles and 500 feet elevation gain — with plenty of cold water to soothe tired feet.

Pine Mountain. Pine Mountain is the northernmost peak of the Presidential Range. At 2,405 feet, it is quite a bit lower than its better known neighbors, but it provides excellent views for only moderate effort. This is also a good hike for inviting along another family or children's friends, because much of the trail is a wide unpaved road. If you’re looking for a ledge-y scramble, turn onto the Ledge Trail after 1 mile. Roundtrip is 3.5 miles and 750 feet elevation gain.

The Lonesome Lake hike, by the way, isn’t the only one that can be turned into an overnight: AMC’s Highland Lodge is a short distance from Arethusa Falls; and the Joe Dodge Lodge at Pinkham Notch Visitor Center is near Glen Ellis Falls and Pine Mountain. Several hikes are also near campgrounds.

Up next: Hikes in the Berkshires.

Learn more
You can find detailed descriptions of these hikes in AMC’s Best Day Hikes in the White Mountains by Robert N. Buchsbaum.

Arethusa Falls photo credit: Robert N. Buchsbaum

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

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