Learn where to find the best New England hikes for kids by age level, from babies in strollers to older adventurers ready for their first big climb.
By Jim Salge
Oct 03 2022
The boardwalk at the Great Bay NWR is stroller friendly!
There’s no better time to be outside in New England than autumn. The days are warm and bright, the mornings crisp, and the evenings cool and perfect for campfires. And with less humidity and fewer biting bugs, it’s also a great time for a family hike.
As the father of two young girls who are as comfortable being in the woods as they are navigating Netflix, I’m often asked for recommendations on kids’ hikes. This inevitably leads to conversations about safety and ability, distance and time, and where to go. Planning is key, because picking the right trail — and knowing what to expect — makes for a much more enjoyable experience for everyone.
My general advice for hiking with kids is to start small, pack more than you think you’ll need, leave plenty of time for stopping and exploring, and have a point of interest or goal to keep kids motivated. (My real secret: enticing them onward with M&Ms.)
Below, I’ve listed some favorite family hikes around New England, divided into four groups: stroller-friendly trails for babies, storybook trails for toddlers, woodland adventures for small children, and finally, challenging first climbs for older kids.
Ideal for strollers due to their ease and accessibility, these trails are also great for exploring unique environments at any age. All have boardwalks that my children love to balance on; plus, they feature diverse habitats and a variety of plants, which means there’s much to see and learn.
At this 1,100-acre wildlife refuge on the Great Bay Estuary, taking the Ferry Way Trail to the water itself (two miles round trip) is a fun option for older kids. But for wee ones, opt for the 100 percent stroller-accessible Peverly Pond Trail: a half-mile-long raised boardwalk leading to a wildlife viewing platform by a pond that’s especially nice to visit during foliage season.
With their carnivorous plants, orchids, and cranberries, bogs are rich environments for exploring. The half-mile-plus Moose Bog boardwalk is an out-and-back hike, which makes the whole trip just shy of a mile and a half. As a bonus, Moose Bog is a birding hot spot for uncommon boreal species such as spruce grouse, gray jays, and black-backed woodpeckers, and the landscape turns bold orange and red in the fall.
Just over a mile in length, this loop trail has a little bit of everything for young explorers: boardwalks; graded gravel paths; lovely views of streams, forests, and fields; and benches for resting at the best vantage points. Early in autumn, you may see the hunting kestrels who have nest boxes on the refuge, but these birds do migrate south before peak color arrives.
Though I was skeptical about how well a storybook trail would hold a child’s attention, the first time I took my young girls to one, they were hooked. The idea is simple: Displays along the trail invite hikers to stop and read part of a story aloud before continuing on. While they’re not long, these hikes are usually best for kids who can walk by themselves for at least part of the way, meaning toddlers or a little older.
This woodsy walk is especially appealing to small children, but it’s also a delightful trip for kids of all ages. There are snippets from A.A. Milne’s classic Winnie-the-Pooh books along the way, as well as renditions of the characters’ homes. For example, Pooh’s house, at the end of the trail, is complete with honey pots tucked under an impressive rock outcropping.
Featuring regularly rotating story selections, this quiet walk through the woods at Wolbach Farm rewards you with many storyboards in less than a mile. The entire property is 54 acres with a welcome center and a picnic area, all managed by Sudbury Valley Trustees.
Peretz Park is a typical suburban park in coastal Connecticut, with ballfields and bustling activity, but surrounding it is a three-quarter-mile walking trail with storyboards every 300 feet or so (the featured tales change from season to season). The back part of the trail follows the edge of a woodlot, where a late-October visit will provide peak foliage views.
As kids get a little older and can walk trails entirely on their own, they’ll be eager to explore more independently. At this stage, short but interesting trails are still better than longer, more adventurous ones: With every rock needing to be climbed, every log needing to be traversed, and every stream splashed in, a mile with small kids can take an hour or more. (Extra clothes, especially socks, are a really good idea!)
Measuring a bit more than a mile round trip, the trail to Diana’s Baths is wide, with benches and boulders along the way, and very little elevation gain until the end. You’ll cross a fun bridge before you arrive at the main attraction: a series of long, ledgy rapids and waterfalls that offer lots of opportunities to explore. Plan to arrive early, though, as parking fills up quickly, especially on weekends.
Henry David Thoreau’s beloved woods are a great place for young kids to appreciate the outdoors — and they’ll probably think it’s cool that some guy lived in a tiny cabin here with no electricity or running water (or Disney+). The hike around the beautiful kettle hole pond is just under two miles long, and if you come in the fall, the view is spectacular.
Lincoln Woods State Park has many terrific hikes, but the Lincoln Woods Trail traverses all the varied landscapes that the park offers in an easy, rolling three-mile loop. There are tons of boulders for climbing, ledges overlooking the pond, and pristine forest to explore. This park is also one of Rhode Island’s top places to see foliage.
Let’s face it: Sometimes a child’s first tough hike can lead to a bit of stress and whining. But in the end — and even because of that struggle — you both have a real accomplishment to celebrate together. These three great New England hikes for older kids are best tackled after they have gotten comfortable being in the woods. Think of them as the last first step to a lifelong love of the outdoors.
While there are many stunning views from high ledges overlooking the Lakes Region, East and West Rattlesnake mountains might just have the most bang for the buck. With less than 1,000 vertical feet of climbing and about three miles of hiking (round trip), you get two peaks and near-endless views over iconic Squam Lake. As your kids get older, you can set off from the same parking lot and tackle Mount Morgan and Mount Percival, which have caves, ladders, and plenty of adventure.
Although the Bubble Mountains are an impressive sight when viewed from Jordan Pond along the Park Loop Road, they’re actually well under 1,000 feet above sea level. The hike to South Bubble is less than a mile, which does make the trail quite steep in parts — but the view from the top back to the Atlantic Ocean is exceptional, especially when you add in autumn color.
Typically reserved for certain mountains in southern New Hampshire, the term “monadnock” broadly refers to a mountain that stands alone. Mount Watatic certainly fits the bill, as it towers over the surrounding landscape in northern Massachusetts. Its bald summit offers a 360-degree view that includes the better-known monadnocks to the north. All this for a hike of just over a mile each way, and about 1,000 vertical feet of climbing.
Which New England hikes for kids are your family’s favorites? Let us know in the comments below!