Each of the four New Hampshire seasons bring about unique considerations for outdoor recreation. During the fall, it’s all about where to go! If you’re aiming for a hike you need to consider your companions, their level of skill and ambition, and how to keep them safe.
Here are five hikes to consider if you’re taking along children (of walking age, or still in the baby-pack), or anyone who might be of less experience; these are my family-friendly recommendations for enjoyable fall hiking:
Located in the town of Orange, the West Ridge Trail offers relatively easy grades all the way up a gentle giant, known locally as just Cardigan. Standing at 3,155 ft, Cardigan’s open ledges provide the look and feel of a big mountain without the usual difficulty. Hikers will enjoy a gentle uphill climb for 1.3 miles to the summit where a treat of a view awaits. To find the trail head, take Fairgrounds Road in Canaan off of Route 118 (about a mile from the junction of 118 and Route 4). Follow the brown State Park signs along the road to its terminus and park in the upper-most lot. There is no parking fee, but arrive early to secure a “spot”.
Mount Willard is located at the tip of the scenic fall foliage destination known as Crawford Notch. The summit, which offers a balcony-seat view of the Notch, is located 2,865 feet above sea level and is easily accessible after 1.6 miles of scenic hiking. Grades are never difficult, and other points of interest such as Centennial Pool exist along the way. The Hitchcock Flume is also nearby to the summit down a rough spur trail, so as you can see, there is a little something for everyone on this hike! Park at the dirt lot just south of the AMC Highland Center on Route 302 (check 511NH.com for road conditions following Tropical Storm Irene). Walk along the road or next to the rails for about one-tenth of a mile and find the Avalon Trail just behind the Depot on the left. Hook left at the first junction to continue up to the Mount Willard Summit. Note: There is no parking fee at the dirt lot, and please do not park at the AMC Center, as their limited spaces are for paying guests only!
Crawford Notch from Willard...'Imagine' Autumn...
Located in the Lakes Region off Route 11 in Alton Bay, the Mount Major Trail offers moderate hiking to a barren summit. Views look to the east, mostly, allowing those on top to take in Lake Winnipesaukee in all its autumn glory. This hike should not be attempted with kids in tow during times of wet weather, as the area within the last three-tenths of a mile is known to be very slippery, and can be quite dangerous; enjoy this peak with the family on a pleasant and dry day. The total hike, if done up and down the same way, is 3.2 miles and there is no fee for parking. Arrive early; this one is quite popular!
Located mere miles from more popular peaks such as the Presidentials, Black Cap lies in the north-end of a line of mountains that begin in Redstone (a locality in Conway) and end at Kearsarge North (not to be confused with the next mountain in this list, Mount Kearsarge). From Rt. 16, take Hurricane Mountain Road in Intervale (a road that is not for the faint of heart behind the wheel) and follow to the height of the land. Park on the right hand side and take the Black Cap trail one mile or so to the summit. Enjoy views of Mount Chocorua and the Moat Range to the south, Cathedral and Whitehorse Ledges to the west, and catch a glimpse of Mount Washington to the north. Along the way, enjoy the sights, smells, and sounds of fall in a pleasant and well maintained forest. No fee to park.
Black Cap View...just 'imagine'!
With an elevation of only 2,937 feet Mount Kearsarge doesn’t garner the same attention as its White Mountain counterparts, which is to the advantage of the family-friendly hiker! Find the Winslow Trail, located in the town of Wilmot off of Route 11 about four miles past its split with Route 4 in Andover. Although this is an appropriate hike for many levels of skill, make no mistake about it; this trail is rocky, tangled-up in roots, and maintains a steady and moderate climb, covering about 1100 feet in skyward-gain over 2 miles. It’s one of the more difficult family-friendly hikes out there. The reward, however, is a grand 360 degree view from the summit that takes in Mount Cardigan, The Whites, and the Green Mountains among others; all terrific places to look upon during the foliage season. Plus, there is the optional climb up an exempt fire tower. Other easier trails exist that hikers can take to reach this peak, but the Winslow trail will offer a nice mix of challenge and autumn scenery. There is a minimal parking fee at this, the highest peak in the Merrimack Valley.
Hopefully you will find these recommendations well-suited for your family foliage hiking this year. It’s also a great idea to check with the nearby ranger stations to ask for more detailed trail descriptions, or to even do a bit of internet research yourself. As a final note, always remember that there is no shame in turning back from a hike that you’re no longer enjoying, feeling safe with, or able to physically complete.
More hiking recommendations can be obtained by emailing me or by replying to this blogpost; I’m always happy to help point your compass in the right direction!
Happy trails, and I hope to see you again real soon for a foliage update from the White Mountains, and more foliage, hiking, and photography related information! Be well!