Easy Hikes in New Hampshire
The Appalachian Mountain Club publishes a list of the 48 mountains in New Hampshire that rise over 4,000 feet above sea level. At their annual meeting in Boston, they recognize those that have hiked all 48 with a certificate, patch, and handshake. Growing up in northern Vermont, in the shadow of these White Mountains, my brother and I hiked our first 4,000 footer when I was 6 and he 4. Over the next four summers, family hiking objectives became driven by The List. We summited our 48th the fall after we turned 9 and 7.
Since, I’ve moved west to Wyoming where I brag about the adventure and epicness of much higher peaks. A month-long trip back to New England this summer, though, re-inspired me. The White Mountains offer slabby granite mountain tops, miles of exposed ridge line, and lakes and swimming holes to cool down after a long day.
Sure, some trailheads are busy but there are still options for solitude. There’s plenty to fuel those seeking hardcore adventure; there’s also so much adventure to be found hiking these mountains as a family again, this time with my son.
Great New Hampshire 4,000 Footers With Kids
I grew up in a goal-oriented family. We were very drawn to the AMC’s list of 4,000 Footers. I believe that if I too can teach my son to love the outdoors, be satisfied by the accomplishment of a tough summit, and value a good checklist, I’ll consider my parenting pretty well done. If that’s you – or you’re just looking at New Hampshire’s highest peaks, consider starting with these.
For what it’s worth, I’m categorizing these as “easy-ish” – or some of the easiest 4,000 footers to hike. But – as with many New England hikes – there’s certainly challenge and rugged trail associated with reaching high peaks.
- Eisenhower (4760’)
- Trailhead: Mt Clinton Road in Jefferson, NH, off Route 302
- Mileage: 6.6 miles out and back
- Description: The Edmands Path begins on Mt. Clinton Road. After running level for a while, the trail begins its ascent, gradually becoming steeper as it goes. Grades are moderate, but constant. After a two-mile climb, the trail becomes rockier and more open as it angles across the mountainside. It crosses several ledges with runoff or small brooks, then becomes flat, leading around to the north side of the summit dome.
- Cool features: Eisenhower’s dome is one of the most distinctive profiles in the Presidential ridge line with spectacular views in all directions.
- Osceola (4340’)
- Trailhead: on the Tripoli Road in Livermore, NH, best accessed from Waterville Valley
- Mileage: 6.4 miles out and back
- Description: Head to the far end of the parking area and begin hiking on the Mt. Osceola Trail. The rocky trail climbs slowly upward across the slope, crossing several small streams before switchbacking up the ridge. In some sections, there are angled rock slabs on the trail which can be very slippery. Near the top, the trail heads straight uphill at a more gradual grade. From the summit, take a side path to Osceola’s viewpoint ledge and the site of its most recent fire tower.
- Cool features: Rocky slabs, moderate grade, and good views!
- Tecumseh (4003’)
- Trailhead: Waterville Valley Ski Area in Waterville Valley, NH
- Mileage: 6.0 miles out and back
- Description: The Mt. Tecumseh Trail starts at the parking lot for the ski area. The trail climbs at an easy grade, becomes relatively flat, then descends all in the first mile before beginning to climb steeply. Enjoy switchbacks before the trail angles uphill over a rocky surface. After a long stretch of constant climbing, the trail levels out and joins the Sosman Trail; bear right. The pointed summit is visible ahead. The two trails soon split at the base of the summit cone. Bear left onto Sosman Trail, a slightly easier route to the top.
- Cool features: From the summit, it’s a fairly flat and easy .5 mile hike to the top of White Peak and the Waterville Valley Ski Area.
- Pierce (4312’)
- Trailhead: Mt Clinton Road in Bretton Woods, just off Route 302
- Mileage: 6.4 miles out and back
- Description: Follow the Crawford Connecter into the woods and cross Mt. Clinton Road. The trail begins to ascend on the other side, climbing to a wooden bridge, passing Crawford Cliff Spur, then turning left on Crawford Path, the oldest maintained hiking trail in the country. The Crawford Path climbs steeply along a brook then moderates – but continues climbing steadily – to the alpine zone. Trailside views begin to appear, and the trail then reaches the junction with Webster Cliff Trail. The true summit, marked by a cairn, is a short distance further on the trail.
- Cool features: Tag the summit but be sure to appreciate the small alpine area just below with a magnificent view looking up the ridge of the Southern Presidentials to Mt. Washington. Make it a lollipop loop by swinging down to Mizpah Hut for lemonade and a snack then connect back to the Crawford Path via the Mizpah Cutoff.
- Willey (4297’), Tom (4051’) and Field (4340’)
- Trailhead: AMC Highland Center on Route 302 in Carroll, NH
- Mileage: 9.8 miles
- Description: This quasi-loop trail (a lollipop with sticks on both ends?) starts at the AMC Highland Center and heads west on the A-Z Trail to the Mt Tom summit, then southwest on Willey Range Trail to Mts. Field and Willey summits. Return north to Mt. Field, then northeast on Avalon Trail to Mt. Avalon and returning to Highland Center.
- Cool features: Bag three 4,000 footer peaks in one trip! If this seems like too much, it’s possible to hike Tom and Field and save Willey for another day.
If You’re Not Driven By the 4,000 Footer List
You don’t have to hike above 4,000 feet to find a great mountain. And – with my mind off the 4,000 list – this offers a better range of easy hikes (consider Willard and Welch & Dickey for younger kids, especially!)
- Kearsarge (3268’)
- Trailhead: Hurricane Mountain Road, off art 302 and just outside North Conway
- Mileage: 6.2 miles, out and back.
- Description: The Kearsarge North Trail enters the woods from Hurricane Mountain Road and starts climbing almost immediately. It’s a steady climb to the top with very few flat places to rest. Great views become clear about ⅔ of the way up.
- Cool features: 360 degree views from the summit and an inactive fire tower to check out!
- Morgan (2200’) and Percival (2212’)
- Trailhead: Route 113 in Holderness, NH
- Mileage: 5.5 mile loop
- Description: Most of the trail is easy to moderate, but just below both summits, you have the option of a more adventurous climb. The loop trail has ends at two parking areas, but there is a connecter between them, allowing you to complete the loop from either one. We recommend the hike starting at the Percival parking area (less crowds) and ascending Mt. Morgan first.
- Cool features: Rocky open summits offer great views of Squam Lake and New Hampshire’s Lakes Region. While there’s an easier option to the top of Mt Morgan, adventurous hikers might be psyched to check out the trail that scales the cliffs below the summit by ladders, cliffs, and rock scrambles.
- Welch (2605’) and Dickey (2734’)
- Trailhead: Orris Road in Thornton, NH
- Mileage: 4.4 mile loop
- Description: You’ll start at the Welsh-Dickey Trailhead off Orris Road. This route can be done in either direction, but counter-clockwise is most popular. The first section gradually climbs, with some short steep sections over slabs. You’ll reach the top of Welch first then Dickey. After taking in the views, the trail veers westward, and there is a gradual decline back down to the parking area.
- Cool features: The Welch-Dickey Loop is one of the most popular hiking trails in New Hampshire – over two miles of hiking over open ledges with spectacular views make it one of the most enjoyable hikes in the White Mountains.
- Willard (2685’)
- Trailhead: Crawford Depot in Carroll, NH off Route 302
- Mileage: 3.2 miles out and back
- Description: Starting with a meander through the woods before gradually climbing along a brook, you’ll pass a waterfall then make the final uphill push to a rocky ledges at the top.
- Cool features: Looking for an easy hike? This is it. Start at an old train depot (check out the inside!), enjoy the waterfall, and feel adventurous at the top!
Make It An Overnight Adventure!
For a relatively small geographic area, the White Mountain National Forest offers lots of options for overnights in the backcountry. Depending on your budget and appetite for adventure, plan a multi-day adventure by taking advantage of tent platforms, lean-tos, and cabins or full-service backcountry huts.
White Mountain National Forest Tent Platforms and Shelters
While tent camping is free and allowed throughout the White Mountain National Forest, established backcountry campsites in the most popular areas offer fire pits, platforms (or shelters), composting outhouse toilets, and sometimes bear boxes. Those managed by the Appalachian Mountain Club are listed here; all shelters and campsites in the Forest are on the Forest Service page. These are available on a first-come, first-served basis and cannot be reserved. Be sure to read and understand Leave No Trace Tips our team members share in this article!
Randolph Mountain Club Cabins
This article brings a lot of attention to the Appalachian Mountain Club but the Randolph Mountain Club deserves a lot of credit for maintaining trail systems on the northern end of New Hampshire’s Presidential Range. On the north side of Mount Madison, Adams, and Jefferson, three of New Hampshire’s highest 4000-footers, the RMC maintains two cabins and two shelters.
Gray Knob and Crag Camp, both fully-enclosed cabins, are open to the public and cost $20 to stay the night. Gray Knob sleeps up to 15 people and has a wood stove. It experiences moderate use year-round, sometimes filling up on summer weekends. Crag Camp sleeps up to 20. This cabin experiences heavy use in the summer, but not in the winter.
These shelters allow hikers to be self-sufficient while still sheltered from the weather. There is no food for sale and guests are encouraged to bring their own cooking stoves and utensils. The RMC shelters don’t take reservations and are first-come, first-serve, but the caretaker can help you find a spot in another shelter if the one you planned to stay in is full.
Appalachian Mountain Club Huts
The AMC Hut system is a network of 8 backcountry huts that sleep between 36 and 96 guests in bunkrooms, spread along the Appalachian Trail that runs across New Hampshire’s White Mountains. “Hut croos” live in these cabins and, during the summer and fall full-service season, provide hikers with homemade dinner and breakfast.
Each hut is unique in size and location but Lonesome Lake and Zealand Falls Huts are probably most accessible for families and provide an awesome introduction to backpacking (without carrying any of the weight). These are not inexpensive options: a night can be as much as $278 during the busy summer season.
Alternatives to full-service exist, though. If the idea of the hut system is an appealing option but the price tag seems spendy, look for off-season opportunities. Several huts (Lonesome Lake, Zealand Falls, and Carter Notch) are open in the winter for guests who want the benefits of a roof and wood stove but are willing to bring their own food and supplies.
General Tips for Hiking in New Hampshire
Sold on planning a New Hampshire hike? Great! We highly recommend the AMC’s White Mountain Guide which offers thorough descriptions of each trail and estimates hiking times (they’re trustworthy estimates!) Also, the TMM team is ready to get you on your way with these 9 Best Tips for Hiking With Kids and Best Kid-Friendly Snacks for Your Adventures.
Additionally, the TMM team has done a ton of research for you when it comes to gear. Be sure to take a look at our reviews of Best Hiking Shoes and Hiking Clothes and – if you’re bringing your littlest adventurer – How to Choose the Best Hiking Carrier.
Easy Hikes in NH for the Family
Admittedly, I started writing this article largely as a reminder to myself of the adventure awaiting us in future trips back home. But the love and connection I feel for New Hampshire’s White Mountains leaves me proud to recommend favorite summits to explore with kids. Whether you’re a mountain mama in New England or are planning a trip, there’s so much to be found in this small, beautiful corner of our country.
Easy Hikes in New Hampshire
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