New England's Top 10 Family Hikes
With its pine forests, miles-long beaches, woodland lakes, and craggy mountains, New England has long been a hiker’s paradise. The region is accessible to a wide range of skill levels as well. There are plenty of trails that parents and kids alike will enjoy—without any crying or strained calf muscles. Here are our picks for New England's top tyke-tolerable outdoor adventures.
- Length: 3.5 miles one way
- Estimated hiking time: 2.5–3 hours for the entire stretch, though many just do a segment
- Cliff Walk information
Newport’s Cliff Walk was severely damaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. But an investment of $5.2 million restored the path to its former glory. The route runs down the Newport coast, providing a view of Easton Bay, which connects to the Atlantic Ocean. On the other side of the trail sit Newport’s grandiose historic mansions dating back to the 1880s. The homes offer guided tours as well as indoor respite for families on hot days. The Cliff Walk is generally spacious and flat, though it gets a little rocky about two-thirds of the way in. To reward your crew for making it to the end, take a quick swim at Reject’s Beach—so named because it's the counterpart to the elite, privately owned Bailey’s Beach. When you're finished, you can take a trolley back to where you started the walk.
Purgatory Chasm sounds ominous, doesn’t it? According to legend, the stony spot was created by Native American god Hobomoko with violent tomahawk blows. And that's not the only unique name here—hikers sidle through narrow passageways such as “Devil’s Corn Crib” and “Fat Man’s Misery" and gape at towering rock formations named “Lover’s Leap” and “The Devil’s Pulpit.” At the end is a playground where kids can blow off steam while the grownups take a well-deserved rest at the picnic area.
The “Crown Jewel of the North Atlantic Coast," Acadia National Park features a sprawling network of hiking trails totaling 158 miles. Bubble Rock sits at the top of a short uphill trek from the parking lot. Ancient glaciers deposited this gigantic boulder at its precarious perch on South Bubble Mountain. For more outdoor adventures, the popular Ocean Path is also tops for families. It runs along the water from Sand Beach to Otter Point. Alternatively, the Cadillac Mountain Summit Loop offers a steep but short hike to the highest peak on Mount Desert Island.
The Stepstone Falls are located in Rhode Island’s lakefront Arcadia Management Area, not to be confused with Maine's vast and mountainous Acadia (no "r"). The sometimes ambiguous markers on the flat Ben Utter Trail lead across wooden bridges and stone steps, all under a canopy of leaves. Though squat, the falls present a pleasing sight as the water cascades down the staircase-like rocks. The river is full of fish and frogs, and is perfect for splashing around in. Some things to keep in mind: Walking surfaces can get muddy and slippery depending on recent rainfall, so wear appropriate shoes. Bug spray is recommended as well.
With 22 mountains and 125 miles of trails, the 7,000-acre Blue Hills Reservation abounds with adventure. But the Skyline Loop is particularly well-suited to kids. The trail leads to the top of Great Blue Hill, the tallest mountain in the area and a skiing destination in the winter. At the base of the mountain, families can walk around the outdoor section of the Trailside Museum to snap photos of otters and bald eagles. At the summit stands the Eliot Tower, from which you can see the Boston skyline, about 11 miles away. Also on Great Blue Hill: the historic Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory,which houses a small weather museum and gift shop. The hike up the mountain has steep portions and uneven stone steps, so make sure you have the right footwear—and that everyone in your party can make the climb.
The Moss Glen Falls Trail winds through the C.C. Putnam State Forest, passing the namesake waterfall almost immediately. If the weather isn't too cold, wading in the water provides the best look at the falls; pack bathing suits if it’s hot and you’d like to swim. From here, it’s just a short circular loop back to the car—though we wouldn't blame you for cutting the hike short by doubling back for another dip in the water. Take note: The identically named Moss Glen Falls in Granville, Vermont, is all waterfall and no hike, and the two are easily mixed up.
Located just south of the Canadian border, Jay Peak is a year-round destination, with skiing in the winter and hiking in the summer. Trails are narrow and rocky as they pass through Jay State Forest, eventually reaching the top of the mountain. Once you've caught a glimpse of Canada, you can scarf down a hot dog at the Sky Haus Deli. If anybody in your group is tuckered out from the hike, take an aerial tram down the mountain and back to the parking lot.
This hike boasts wide, easy-to-walk pathways and numerous photo opportunities. The best of the latter is at the top: The Heublein Tower, a historical home and museum on the National Register of Historic Places, offers a spectacular 360-degree view from the 165-foot-tall tower. Built by A.1 Steak Sauce magnate Gilbert Heublein, the building displays an armchair where Dwight D. Eisenhower was reportedly sitting in 1950 when Republican Party muckety-mucks asked him to run for president. Path markings leading to the tower are confusing at times, so it's wise to take along a trail map.