Where to Explore Forts With Kids

July 14, 2016
Exploring Forts with Kids
Ethan HippleExploring forts with kids is a great way to spark their curiosity and imaginations.

Kids love forts. Something about the potential for exploration, the dark passageways, the great hiding spots, the element of surprise, the excitement of what might be around the next corner…it all adds up to a great experience. Most forts in New England are located on the coast or on islands, which makes for a great opportunity for a boat ride as well. And many are located near beautiful beaches, so you can combine trips to these historic forts with a fun filled beach day.

We have spent hours exploring these forts, and have returned to many of them over and over to continue our explorations. They are great places to play hide and seek, have a picnic, or set up a scavenger hunt. Whatever brings you there, you’ll find that kids are fascinated with forts. Here’s a few of our places to explore forts with kids:

Fort Warren, Georges Island, Boston, Mass.
A 45 minute ferry ride from Boston, Fort Warren is a popular day trip destination. Hop on the ferry at Long Wharf North and head out to the visitor center on Georges Island—the hub and jumping off point for the rest of the Harbor Islands. Fort Warren on Georges Island is complete with guided tours, an outdoor cafe, and even a fort-themed playground. The fort itself is massive, and has been lovingly preserved for all to enjoy. There are a host of interpretive programs here—even old-fashioned baseball reenactments!

Once you are settled in on the island, head out to the fort itself, which is largely left open for self-guided exploration. There are many picnic areas and grills on this island, and be sure to climb to the top of the viewing tower for great views of downtown Boston and the Harbor Islands.

Battery Steele, Portland, Maine
Located on Peaks Island in Portland, Maine, this place is a gem. Very undeveloped, it has an abandoned feel that makes it even more exciting to discover. The graffiti art here is amazing—the walls near the entrances are a constantly evolving array of colors and images. It’s a fine line between what some call art and others call vandalism, but regardless of your opinion, the artwork is unique and impressive. And the wide open tunnels and secret passages will excite everyone.

The ferry to Peaks Island leaves from downtown Portland. It is very expensive to bring a car on the ferry to Peaks Island, so we highly suggest either walking or biking aboard the ferry. If you choose to walk, you can walk the entire circumference of Peaks Island in a couple hours–about 3.5 miles. It’s all on roads, but there are very few cars here and pedestrians rule the roadway.

You can also bring your own bikes on the ferry (highly recommended), or rent bikes on the island. Most of the locals ride around the island on golf carts, and you can rent them as well!

Once you get to Peaks Island, just head to the right from the ferry terminal and follow the contour of the island counter-clockwise. Just keep the water to your right, and it’s basically impossible to get lost. About halfway around the loop of the island on Seashore Ave (1.4 miles from the ferry terminal), you’ll come to a large open space on the left, with ocean frontage on the right. Follow a very thin trail through a wetland to Battery Steele itself, which is deep in the brambles and trees. Explore the multiple tunnels and secret rooms, and climb up top for great views and picnic spots!

Odiorne Point, Rye, N.H.
Located on New Hampshire’s beautiful 18 mile coastline, Odiorne Point State Park in Rye has miles of walking trails, rocky coastline to explore, and bunkers and batteries to hide in.

But the bunkers and batteries are what get us excited about this spot. Take a walk through the woods and coastline and you’ll come to multiple entrances to the old fortifications along the coast. Most of the tunnels at Odiorne are closed off, but you can still have some great games of hide and seek around the entrances. The Park Staff do offer tours of the interior tunnels  occasionally, so call or check their website for updates.

Once you’ve done your outdoor explorations, head over to the small but delightful Seacoast Science Center. In addition to their regular self-guided exhibits, they offer multiple daily classes and workshops for kids, as well as guided tide pool trips.

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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.