6 Great Family Backpacking Trips in New England and the Mid-Atlantic

Combine the joy of day hiking with the adventure of a night in a tent and you’ll see why backpacking is a terrific family adventure. These six overnight outings in New England and the Mid-Atlantic are recommended for young hikers by AMC authors.

To learn more about these backpacking destinations, check out AMC's Best Backpacking in New England, 2nd edition, which describes 37 trips from Maine to Connecticut, and AMC's Best Backpacking in the Mid-Atlantic, which covers 30 trips from New York south to Virginia.

New England

Arcadia 
Exeter, Rhode Island
In the southwestern corner of Rhode Island, Arcadia Management Area offers the only backpacking option in the state, and more than 30 miles of hiking trails. The designated camping area is just a quarter mile from the trailhead, making it accessible to families with young hikers, but it “feels pretty remote,” says Matt Heid, author of AMC’s Best Backpacking in New England and the father of two preschoolers. The camping area has a “giant red barn-like backpacker shelter” that is open to the air, as well as space for tents. “It’s a nice introduction,” Heid says. “It’s not that far from the car, it’s got access to water [from the Falls River], and you’ve got the shelter if you need it because of weather.” Reservations are required and can be made by calling 401-539-2356; pick up your permit at the park office before heading out. The site is free and open year-round.
More information: The Division of Forest Environment, Arcadia Headquarters, 401-539-2356. AMC’s Best Backpacking in New England, 2nd ed. (AMC Books).

Pachaug State Forest
Voluntown, Connecticut
The hike to the Dry Reservoir Backpack Area in the Pachaug State Forest is less than half a mile but provides a glimpse of Connecticut’s great hiking and backpacking resources. Keep alert when you get close to your destination, Heid says, because the shelter is well hidden: “It’s not signed. You would never know it was there.” Besides the shelter, the site includes space for tents. Before heading to the campsite, you may want to do the short steep hike from the trailhead to the top of nearby Mount Misery. “For little kids, it’s enough to feel like they did something,” Heid says, and there’s a view of the region’s iconic forested landscape. Although camping is free, the process to reserve a space in advance is somewhat elaborate and requires at least two weeks’ notice; Heid explains it in his book.
More information: Pachaug State Forest, 860-376-4075. Reservations, 860-295-9523. AMC’s Best Backpacking in New England, 2nd ed. (AMC Books).

13 Falls, Pemigewasset Wilderness
White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire
For older kids, a trip from the Lincoln Woods trailhead described in AMC’s Best Backpacking in New England as a loop hike can be shortened to an out-and-back overnight journey to the attractive 13 Falls AMC backcountry tentsite, which is about 8 miles from the trailhead. The hike gives families a taste of the Pemigewasset Wilderness, which protects the watershed of the East Branch of the Pemigewasset River and is New England’s largest Wilderness Area. The trail largely follows an old railroad bed, so it is relatively wide and easy to hike. “It’s that rare trail in New England that’s flat and smooth rather than rock-strewn,” Heid says. Because the campsite is not directly on the nearby Appalachian Trail, it doesn’t get as much traffic as other sites in the region, although it still gets busy in July and August. “13 Falls is a great swimming hole,” Heid says. “The tent sites are like rocky nests built out of the hillside. It’s a neat place.”
More information: The Lincoln Woods Visitor Center, 603-630-5190. AMC’s Best Backpacking in New England, 2nd ed. (AMC Books).


Mid-Atlantic

Adirondacks
Keene Valley, New York
New York’s Adirondack Mountains are among the crown jewels of hiking and backpacking in AMC’s region, but they are also notoriously rugged and forbidding. “For a relaxing introduction to this beautiful place that is ideal for young backpackers, park at the Garden Trailhead, shoulder your pack, and enjoy the short and easy hike into the Johns Brook Lodge,” says Michael Martin, author of AMC’s Best Backpacking in the Mid-Atlantic. After the 3.5-mile hike, you have many options for staying overnight, ranging from the lodge itself, with its coed bunkrooms and prepared meals in July and August, to more backcountry choices including camps and lean-tos. Learn about fees and reservations through the Adirondack Mountain Club. As for the hiking, the Great Range with its 46ers beckons, but there are also many lovely hikes to enjoy in the valley. When you’ve had enough of the woods, nearby Lake Placid will have something to please everyone.
More information: Adirondack Mountain Club. AMC’s Best Backpacking in the Mid-Atlantic (AMC Books).

Assateague
Berlin, Maryland
“A backpacking trip on the beach is a rare treat, and few destinations could be more family-friendly than Assateague,” Martin says of this island and national seashore beside Maryland and Virginia. From the Barrier Island Visitor Center on the Maryland side, you’ll have easy access to car camping. Even better, the first two backcountry sites (Tingles and Little Levels) are 2.3 miles and 4 miles away. “Children will enjoy the wild ponies and bountiful beachcombing, and their parents will relish the solitude of these pristine beaches,” Martin says. Walking on the beach does present unique challenges, and you should definitely time your visit to avoid excessive heat and insects (early spring is a great time to go). For a different adventure, consider renting canoes and paddling to the bayside camping spots. Backcountry camping requires permits for campers and vehicles, which you can pick up for a modest fee on the day you plan to camp. Advance reservations are not accepted.
More information: Assateague Island National Seashore, 410-641-1441. AMC’s Best Backpacking in the Mid-Atlantic (AMC Books).

Wolf Gap Recreation Area 
Wardensville, West Virginia
“For a family looking to get out and enjoy nature, it’s tough to beat the Wolf Gap Recreation Area,” Martin says. “Not only is it conveniently located between two of the best vistas in the area (Tibbet Knob to the south, Big Schloss to the north), but Wolf Gap itself offers a developed camping ground for children (and parents) looking to ease into backpacking.” When you’re ready to load up and hit the trail, the hike to Tibbet Knob is only about 1.5 miles, and to Big Schloss, just 2 miles. Both feature primitive campsites with astounding views, but both are dry, so you’ll need to bring plenty of water. There is no fee.
More information: Wolf Gap Recreation Area. AMC’s Best Backpacking in the Mid-Atlantic (AMC Books).

LEARN MORE

Read about more advanced backpacking trips in the Mid-Atlantic in Michael Martin’s “Hills, Hollows, and Beyond."


For more family-oriented advice, try these other articles:

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Great Kids, Great Outdoors is an Appalachian Mountain Club blog, written by Heather Stephenson.

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