Early-season family hikes in the White Mountains

The snow around our house has almost disappeared. Crocuses and daffodils are emerging. We’ve packed away snow pants and winter boots; the kids wear their puddle-stompers to school. Spring hiking is surely just around the next muddy bend.

But where to go when there’s still plenty of snow up high and trails down low are waterlogged? I asked the authors of several recently updated AMC guidebooks for their favorite early-season family hikes.

Robert Buchsbaum, who wrote AMC’s Best Day Hikes in the White Mountains, starts us off. Appropriately so, since Buchsbaum’s White Mountain guidebooks have truly been a family affair: daughter Alison learned to walk and hike while her father and mother, Nancy Schalch, did the research for an early version of the guidebook; son Gabriel was already scrambling up mountains by the time the first edition of the Best Day Hikes guide was published in 2006. As Buchsbaum notes in the newest edition of that book, “It has been great to see the pendulum swing over the years, from Nancy and I cheerfully encouraging the kids to keep up on the trails, to them now wondering what could possibly be taking their parents so long to get up the mountain.”

Buchsbaum tends to look toward Waterville Valley and the southern White Mountains for early-season hikes, since they thaw out a little earlier than more northern areas and higher elevations. He offers three recommendations:

Smarts Brook Loop, Waterville Valley. Several lowland trails on basically level ground offer wonderful kid-friendly adventures — a granite gorge with 30-foot walls, beaver dams (including some you can walk on) and lodges, and small cascades and pools perfect for wading. The hike to the gorge is less than 0.5 miles roundtrip; the full loop, plus a side trip to the beaver meadow, is 3.6 miles.

Stinson Mountain Trail, Rumney. One of 10 additions to the new Best Day Hikes in the White Mountains, this moderate 3.6-mile trail near the popular sport-climbing area leads to fine views. From Stinson’s summit on a clear day, you can be rewarded with sweeping views of Mt. Cardigan and New Hampshire’s Lakes Region, including Lake Winnepesaukee. Follow a short spur trail to the north for views of Stinson Lake and Mount Moosilauke.

Welch-Dickey Loop, Thornton. A perennial family-hike favorite, offering fantastic views for moderate effort, and a great early-season choice. These two mountains both top out at less than 3,000 feet; plus, Welch’s south-facing ledges quickly lose their snow cover. The full loop over both peaks is 4.4 miles, but shorter hikes also reward young hikers. The trail up Welch Mountain follows a stream for the first half-mile; with very young children this may be as far as you get. The first ledges appear at about 1 mile and offer another fine destination. Look carefully on these ledges for two alpine flowers, mountain sandwort and mountain cranberry, normally found at higher elevations.

All of these trails are within the White Mountain National Forest. Day-use fees of $3 are required at the parking areas for the Smarts Brook and Welch-Dickey hikes.

Learn more
- Purchase the updated Best Day Hikes in the White Mountains by Robert Buchsbaum through the AMC store.

Photos: Red trillium and granite walls along the Smarts Brook trail. Copyright Robert Buchsbaum.

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

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