As hotter days descend upon the Northeast, many begin to seek refuge in more desirable conditions. For some, this may mean packing up the kids and heading to an air-conditioned movie theater or to your favorite swimming hole — six-pack in hand. But for a majority of die-hard New Englanders, this means heading for the hills.
During the summer, the higher summits of Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine provide an escape from the heat and dreaded black flies. In New Hampshire alone, there are 48 peaks at or above 4,000 feet — all of which will prove to be more comfortable than the valleys on the hottest days (not to mention the rewarding views). In fact, it isn’t uncommon to see white stuff on the ground into June or even July on the highest peaks.
Of course, you don’t have to trek to the top of the world to have an enjoyable afternoon. The Stowe Pinnacle Trail, just outside of Stowe, Vt., reaches a high point of just 2,616 feet above sea level but still rewards hikers with panoramic views of the surrounding area from its rocky summit.
Regardless of whether you’re hoping to get the kids out for their first hike or looking for a full-day expedition, there are more hikes in the New England region than can be done in a lifetime.
Mount Tremont, New Hampshire
Located just south of the often-overcrowded Crawford Notch on Route 302, Mount Tremont is a 3,371-foot peak with a straightforward 5.6-mile out-and-back approach. Due partially to its inconspicuous trailhead, which can be found just south of Sawyer River Road, Mount Tremont is often much less crowded than its neighbors just to the north. From the summit, hikers are rewarded with views of the Sandwich Range, Greens Cliff, Sawyer Pond and the area around Mount Carrigain. While the hike isn’t the most strenuous in the White Mountains, younger children and those who might not be comfortable with hiking may need some extra encouragement.
Blueberry Mountain, Maine
Blueberry Mountain is a moderate 6.6-mile loop trail off of Route 113 in the Evans Notch area. And as the name suggests, there is no shortage of blueberries to snack on during mid-summer.
There are numerous granite slabs that provide viewpoints around the summit, perfect for setting up to have lunch or a quick snack. Descending via the Stone House Trail will take you past Rattlesnake Pool, which is a crystal clear (and cold) cascade and pool, perfect for taking a dip.
Insider tip: Ascend via the White Cairn Trail and descend on the Stone House Trail to avoid going down the steeper sections of trail. Rattlesnake Pool also serves as a great reward and place to cool off after the hike. However, it can get crowded during summer weekends, so pick an overcast or midweek day.
Stowe Pinnacle, Vermont
The Stowe Pinnacle, located in the Putnam State Forest, affords hikers great views of the town of Stowe and its surrounding mountains, with minimal effort. The 3.3-mile out-and-back trail can get steep in spots, but the summit is well worth it. And due to its shorter distance, it can easily be done in a half-day.
The lower Stowe Pinnacle Parking Lot can be found on Upper Hollow Road, just southeast of the village of Stowe.
Province Pond, New Hampshire
Located in Chatham, N.H., about 40 minutes from North Conway, Province Pond has a backcountry, secluded feel without requiring a strenuous, all-day hike into the wilderness. The pond can be reached via the Province Brook Trail, which is a 2.9-mile out-and-back trail. There is a lean-to on the pond’s shore, which can be used to spend the night, or simply relax and take in the views. For those who might want to try their hand at fishing, Province Pond is a designated trout pond.
Insider tip: This flat, low-elevation hike isn’t the best for escaping the summer heat or bugs. Pick a cooler day later in the summer after the black flies have diminished to truly enjoy this hike.
Harraseeket Trail, Maine
Freeport might be best known for its outlet shopping and original L.L. Bean store, but there is plenty of foot-powered exploration to be done just outside of town. Just 10 minutes from the town’s bustling shopping district lies Wolfe’s Neck State Park, which has a number of short coastal hiking trails. At 1.8 miles, the Harraseeket Trail is the park’s longest and meanders past views of Casco Bay and the Harraseeket River. The trail is very well-marked, making it easy to follow, even for the inexperienced hiker. And due to its proximity to Freeport, there will still be plenty of time to stroll the town’s historic streets.
Mount Philo, Vermont
Mount Philo, which is the namesake of Vermont’s oldest state park, may not exceed 1,000 feet above sea level but still towers above the surrounding valley, offering views of Lake Champlain and the Adirondack Mountains. Its location just south of Burlington also makes it an accessible half- or quarter-day escape. The hike itself gains just 650 vertical feet during its one-mile climb to the summit, so it isn’t particularly challenging. But the summit makes for a great picnic spot.
The trailhead can be found at the park’s entrance, three miles south of Charlotte.
Champney Falls, New Hampshire
This 70-foot waterfall is located at the base of Mount Chocorua and can be accessed via the Champney Brook Trail on the Kancamagus Highway. The moderate trail leads hikers to the falls, which during the winter, freezes into a spectacular vertical formation and sometimes serves as a playground for ice climbers. But in the summer, these same falls are the perfect place to cool off during a hot afternoon. While the trail isn’t overly strenuous, it is well-traveled and can sometimes prove to be slippery around the falls.
Insider tip: For a longer hike, continue to the summit of Mount Chocorua, which offers panoramic views of the Mount Washington Valley from its granite ledges. Note that this hike is almost 8 miles round-trip with significant elevation gain — it’s not easy. If you’re hoping to spend the night under the stars, the Jim Liberty Cabin, located just beneath the summit, is the perfect place to do so.
Peaked Mountain, New Hampshire
Peaked Mountain, which has a 1,739-foot summit overlooking North Conway, is the perfect half-day hike to enjoy a summer day in the Mount Washington Valley. The heavily trafficked 3.5-mile loop trail gains just under 1,200 feet, meandering through a boreal forest before passing exposed granite slabs and stands of pitch and red pine trees. From the summit, hikers can take in views of Chocorua, the Moat Mountain ridge, Middle and Black Cap.
Insider tip: For a bit of a longer day, Middle Mountain lies just south of Peaked on the same ridgeline and can be bagged with just an additional two miles round trip.
Sages Ravine, Massachusetts
Located on the west side of the Connecticut/Massachusetts border, Sages Ravine is a great half-day excursion for southern New Englanders who might not be looking to venture up to the higher peaks. Although the waterfall and cascades can be reduced to a trickle during drier summer months, the Ravine is still a nice escape from the bustle of daily life. Hiking the ravine via the Appalachian Loop Trail, which can be accessed from Mount Washington Road about 12 miles south of South Egremont, makes for a moderate 3.8-mile loop.
Mount Cabot, New Hampshire
Mount Cabot, which is New Hampshire’s northernmost 4,000-footer, is by far the most challenging on this list. But if a full-day hike devoid of crowds is on the agenda, Mount Cabot is worth the effort.
With more than 2,600 feet of prominence, Cabot is an impressive peak, though it is by no means one of the highest summits in the White Mountains. Hikers of Mount Cabot will be rewarded with views, nature and more solitude than the more popular hikes of its southern counterparts.
Insider tip: Creating a 10.6-mile loop by ascending via the Bunnel Notch Trail and descending via the Unknown Pond Trail is one of the best ways to complete a hike to the summit of Mount Cabot. Prior to the junction with Unknown Pond Trail, a small spur trail will take you to the summit of the Horn, which is an impressive feature with spectacular views of the surrounding pilot range. There also is a self-serve cabin just south of Mount Cabot, which is a great place to spend the night if an overnight trip is in the cards.