Every year since my children were infants, we’ve made the annual trek from Colorado to New Hampshire to visit East Coast family and high school and college friends. It’s important to me that my children get to know my childhood state; after all, as much as I love Colorado, I have great memories of growing up in New England.
I developed a love of hiking when I moved out West in my 20’s, and my kids have accompanied me on mountain trails in Baby Bjorn frontpacks, Kelty backpacks and now on their own two feet. It’s been fun exploring trails in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire, where we vacation every year. Since I never hiked with my parents as a kid, I’m getting to know the pine-needle-covered, granite-studded trails alongside my kids.
Here are a few of our favorite short hiking trails for families in the Lakes Region (all of which we’ve made with kids 10 and under, plus 60-something Grammie):
Belknap Mountain: This is a moderate trail, one my kids (now ages 8 and 10) scampered up this year with me and their Grammie. The trailhead is about 1.5 miles up a steep dirt road, not far from Gilford Village in the Lake Winnepesaukee area. What’s fun here, is that you can choose a variety of trails up or down — each marked with different swatches of color on trees and rocks as you go. We picked the .8-mile “Green” trail up (45 minutes) and the .9-mile “Red” trail down (40 minutes).
The “treasure” at the top of the mountain (about a 700-foot elevation gain) is a fire lookout tower, which you can climb for 360-degree views of the lake, Gunstock Mountain and surrounding hills.Yes, there are a lot of communication antennas, power lines and satellite dishes in the way, but it’s still pretty cool.
We got lucky when we hiked to Belknap Mountain this summer: a fire warden was on duty, since it was a “Class 3” (dry) day. He was stationed there to keep an eye out for for forest fires, using his binoculars and fire-spotting scope in a small, covered room on top of the tower (if climbing rickety stairs is not your thing, you may not want to ascend to the top!). He said there had already been nine fires in the area as of July 1 — usually caused by illegal burning or campfires that weren’t thoroughly extinguished overnight. The kind fire warden let us peek through his binoculars; I think I saw the John Hancock building in Boston he pointed out on the horizon!
Mount Major: This is a very popular trail, whose head is 4.2 miles from Alton Bay, also not too far from the Gilford area of Lake Winnipesaukee. When we hiked it with the kids last summer, in the middle of July, we passed many families (I think one had a child as young as 3 walking independently) ascending and descending. For my kids, hiking in extreme humidity, it was a bit of a challenge. The first part of the trail through pine trees and alongside leafy ferns is moderate, but toward the end, we were scrambling up steep rock faces and using all fours to maneuver — resting a lot. It definitely got a bit technical toward the end, and with a 1,180-foot elevation gain in total, we were a bit beat.
But the wide-open summit was well worth the trek. With plenty of space to move around, even with a lot of people at the top, there’s no jockeying for the best views — they’re all over the place, of Lake Winnipesaukee, and all of its little inlets and islands. I wish I could remember how long the total out-and-back trail took us; my mom’s handy hiking guide estimates about 2.5 hours for the 3-mile round-trip hike, which sounds about right, to my recollection of last year’s trek (we might have taken 3 hours total, taking it slow on the descent at the top to avoid slipping, because it was so steep). Conquering this trail was definitely a highlight of our summer vacation!
West Rattlesnake: This trailhead is about a half hour from our vacation house, but we like the drive through the cute town center of Holderness, NH (the general store is worth a stop.) The start of the trail is across from the Mt. Morgan trailhead on Hwy 113. This easy trail took us only 35 minutes to reach the top, over a moderate grade of about .8 miles miles. We just went to the ultra-gorgeous, amazing views of Squam Lake (see below!), but you can continue across a ridge dubbed East Rattlesnake for more views and a little more of a workout.
We had my brother’s dog with us — black pug Oscar — so the short hike was just perfect for the diminutive dog and my kids. I highly, highly recommend this trail for the phenomenal scenery at the top. It is a popular one, so prepare to see many other families (and dogs) on the trail.
We use the pocket-size Hiker’s Guide to New Hampshire (Huntington Graphics) to help us find trailheads (good driving directions). Happy Trails!