Great Fall Hiking With Kids

September 28, 2016

Great Fall Hiking with Kids

As much as the sun worshipers hate to accept it, fall is here! But for those who love a crisp fall day, the best time of year has just arrived. Fall in New England is a special time, with colorful foliage displays, cider pressing, pumpkins galore, and the best hiking of the year. Families with young kids will fall in love with this season of open vistas, cool weather, and abundant sunshine.

Our family has always saved the majority of our hiking trips for the fall. For us, summer is a time for fishing by the lake, surfing at the beach, and hitting our favorite swimming holes. It’s rare to find us huffing up a mountain in the stifling summer humidity—why not wait until the crisp, cool days of fall? Cooler weather, fewer people, and open vistas—it’s time to hit the trail. Here are some tips for fall hiking with kids, along with suggestions of some great places to go, with our without leaves on the trees.

  • Everyone loves to time their hikes for peak foliage season (this differs by location, click here for a great forecasting tool). There are few things that beat a hike in woods full of crimson and pumpkin-orange leaves.

  • What’s even better than fall foliage? Hiking once the leaves have fallen in late October and through November! We love the feel of the woods on a bright sunny day once the leaves are down. What was once a slog through the woods with no views, becomes a hike with a sense of openness and expansive views. November is our favorite month to hike in new England—just make sure you pick a nice day.

  • Keep it short with kids. While we love the cooler weather, the consequences of getting stuck out in bad conditions increases once the weather cools down, so keep it short in case conditions change and you need to hightail it back to the car.

  • Lots of Layers. Nothing will ruin your trip more than not being prepared with lots of warm layers and a good waterproof shell. I always pack an extra layer or two in my pack for those who have a hard time staying warm.

  • Bring a stove! One of our favorite traditions while fall hiking is bringing along a small backpacking stove, and stopping along the trail to make a lunch of grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. Why eat pitas and peanut butter when you can feast on golden brown sourdough bread, filled with oozing sharp cheddar cheese, and maybe a slice of apple? Cooking up a hot lunch on the trail takes a little longer, but for little kids it can turn an ordinary trip into an adventure.

  • If you are passing an unoccupied campsite with an established fire ring, why not make a fire to keep you warm at lunch time? Something about a fire brings everyone together, and it will keep you warm while you eat lunch. Be sure to douse it thoroughly before you continue on your hike.

  • Leaves on the ground can be as slippery as ice—use caution when heading downhill through thick piles of slick leaves.

  • And lastly, fall is hunting season in New england, so be sure to have each person  wear at least one item of blaze-orange clothing.


Mount Welch and Mount Dickey, Ashland, N.H.
This quintessential hike at the mouth of New Hampshire’s Waterville Valley, known simply as “Welch-Dickey,” packs a punch. With stellar views for more than half the hike, granite slab scrambles, and an exposed ridge hike, this is a small mountain with a big-mountain feel. When the leaves are off the trees, even the forested sections of the hike are wide open and airy.

A word of caution: the short granite slab sections can be difficult and even dangerous for small kids. Keep a close eye (and a hand) on them at all times, and never attempt the trip in wet weather—the slabs can be very slippery.
Directions and more information here.

Elmore Mountain, Elmore, Vt.
This place is incredible. An easy 3.2-mile hike up the mountain, a five-story fire tower on the summit, an excellent campground at the trailhead, a lake for canoeing and kayaking, the nearby Cabot Creamery, and excellent swimming holes make this a great weekend destination.

In the fall, the hike up this small mountain offers amazing views from the side of the rocky ridge and the summit. To the south, you will see the Worcester Range stretching down towards Stowe, and to the north lies Mount Mansfield, the highest peak in Vermont.
Directions and more information here.

Bald Pate Mountain, Bridgton, Maine
This western Maine gem is within easy day-hike distance from Portland, Maine, and North Conway, N.H. The many views from ledges and open meadows make this place special year round, but especially in the fall. The excellent Five Fields farm nearby offers apple picking and cross country skiing. Directions and more information here.

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Ethan Hipple

Along with Kim Foley MacKinnon, Ethan Hipple writes AMC's Great Kids, Great Outdoors blog. He fell in love with the outdoors as a teenager, when he worked on a Student Conservation Association (SCA) trail crew. He has directed the New Hampshire Conservation Corps and is currently the Parks Director for Portland, Me., where he lives with his wife, Sarah, and their two kids. His latest book for AMC is Outdoors with Kids Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, cowritten with Yemaya St. Clair.