I’ve always struggled with the term “weekend warrior” because I feel like it’s too often thrown at busy families with the implication that we are somehow less capable of appreciating the great outdoors than the “hardcore crowd” out there, geared up to the hilt and clearly prioritizing mastery of whatever activity is in question. Like hiking.
I’m learning to embrace the term more, however, largely as a result of embarking on numerous mountain adventures with my kids and, along the way, seeing all the other families out there who care a little bit less about equipment, technique and adding to their list of summits — and a little bit more about spending quality time together, away from the chains of handheld technology devices.
Let’s face it, juggling everyone’s unique summer schedules to be united at the same trailhead for a few hours of adventure qualifies us as warriors, so we should wear the term proudly, whether we’re lacing up the highest-rated hiking boots or skipping around in untied sneakers picking up every stick in sight.
New England mountain country, with its seemingly limitless network of legendary trails winding through awe-inspiring terrain, is a summer playground that challenges both elite outdoorspeople and weekend warriors alike. Following are 10 intermediate, can’t-miss, family-oriented hikes in the high country that do not require a ton of experience or gear. Before embarking on any hike, be sure to seek out more detailed information to ensure everyone is adequately prepared, including your canine friends.
Elmore Mountain, Elmore, Vt.
This clockwise ridge-top loop to Elmore Mountain stretches across 3.2 miles and along the way offers open ledge views, boulder caves, a balancing rock and a five-story fire tower that is open for climbing. The first half-mile from the parking area is a gentle ascent along a fire road before turning sharply right onto the Mount Elmore Trail. At 1 mile, you’ll see a lookout on your left, the site of the old fire watcher’s cabin, also offering views over Lake Elmore that stretch as far as Mount Washington. The trail becomes rougher and steeper until you reach a “T” where the fire tower will be off to the left, and Balanced Rock — a boulder about 20 feet long and 6 feet high — will be perched a half-mile to your right on a rock outcropping.
Tumbledown Mountain, Franklin County, Maine
In western Maine’s Weld Village, Tumbledown Mountain is a popular hike due to its unique geographic features. The mountain has three peaks, the highest rising to 3,068 feet, as well as the high-elevation Tumbledown Pond on its eastern slope and 700-foot cliffs along the northern side of Byron Notch. From the Brook Trailhead, the pond is 1.8 miles of fairly easy hiking, crossing streams and brooks several times along the way. The Loop Trail is shorter, at 1.5 miles, but the increased difficulty rewards with features such as Tumbledown Boulder and other rock features like “Fat Man’s Misery” and “Lemon Squeezer.”
Lonesome Lake, Lincoln, N.H.
From the south parking lot of Lafayette Place Campground in Franconia Notch State Park, the well-marked Lonesome Lake Trail ascends 1.6 miles — including parts of Cannon Mountain — before reaching the glacial lake, where superb views open up to the Franconia Ridge.
To extend the outing, continue up the trail from Lonesome Lake Hut until you reach Kinsman Ridge Trail, which eventually will fork right toward Cannon Mountain or left toward the Kinsman Pond Shelter.
Pack Monadnock, Peterborough, N.H.
This immensely popular and rewarding ascent to the 2,290-foot summit of Pack Monadnock is accessible from Miller State Park, New Hampshire’s oldest state park. The steep and winding 1.3- mile paved road leads to the scenic flank and is open daily for visitors to drive in the summer. Three main hiking trails also ascend Pack Monadnock to the summit, the best known being the Wapack Trail (1.4 miles). When you reach the peak, you’ll be rewarded with views of Mount Monadnock, Mount Kearsarge, Mount Cardigan, Mount Watatic, Mount Wachusett and the Boston skyline, with Mount Washington coming into view on super clear days. At the peak you’ll also find running water, bathrooms, picnic tables and a fire tower.
Cadillac Mountain Summit Path, Acadia National Park, Maine
Cadillac Mountain, the tallest in Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island, also can be the easiest to summit. At just 1,530 feet above sea level and accessible by car, it is the highest point along the North Atlantic seaboard and as such offers spectacular panoramic views. Known as one of the first spots in the U.S. to get hit by sunrise, the top of Cadillac Mountain features a large parking lot, restrooms and gift shop. For those who prefer not to drive to the summit, there are four hiking trails of various difficulty to the top. Once there, the Summit Loop Trail offers views to the northwest of Eagle Lake and Western Bay, to the south of the Cranberry Islands, and to the northeast Bar Harbor, the Porcupine Islands and Bar Island. On exceptionally clear days, it is possible to see Mount Katahdin and the Canadian province of Nova Scotia.
Arethusa Falls, Crawford Notch, N.H.
This is a moderately difficult family hike that will reward your hard summer efforts with a breathtakingly cool blast courtesy of Arethusa Falls. Known widely as one of New Hampshire’s most scenic falls — and there are a lot of those — this, the state’s second tallest waterfall, originates from the headwaters of Bemis Brook that eventually tumble over a granite cliff on the western slope of Crawford Notch. The hike to the falls takes about an hour from the trailhead, climbing 900 feet on a well-marked trail with plenty of rocks and roots.
Mount Philo, Charlotte, Vt.
Accessible via a well-maintained, paved road or hiking trails less than a mile in length, the 968-foot summit atop Vermont’s first state park (Mount Philo State Park was established in 1924) provides sweeping views of the Green Mountains, Adirondack Mountains and Lake Champlain Valley. The area also is a migratory home to more than a hundred different species of birds. This 168-acre park contains a small campground as well as an enclosed picnic pavilion that can be rented for special events.
Mount Kearsarge, Wilmot, N.H.
A forest fire in the 1970s cleared the summit of Mount Kearsarge at 2,937 feet, so the climb to the top today presents spectacular views from the open, bare rock out to the White Mountains and Mount Cardigan in the north, the Green Mountains and Mount Sunapee in the west and the Monadnock Region and the Merrimack Valley in the south. In fact, on a clear day, you can see as far as Boston from the fire tower. The trailhead for the looped Winslow Trail and Barlow Trail begin at the same place and, generally speaking, the Winslow is the preferred route up with its steeper and rockier terrain, and the Barlow is the preferred route down since it is less steep. The loop ascends 1,100 feet over 2.6 miles.
Lye Brook Falls, Manchester, Vt.
The Lye Brook Falls Trail runs for two miles through the thick of the Lye Brook Wilderness of the Green Mountain National Forest. Hikers will find a challenging climb along the old logging railroad bed up a gradual slope that parallels Lye Brook. At the southern end of the trail, a spur trail turns off for 1.8 miles to the 125-foot falls, one of Vermont’s tallest.
Zealand Falls, Zealand Notch, N.H.
Ideal as a day hike for all ages and abilities, the Zealand Trail takes you on a relatively easy 2.8-mile trail through Zealand Notch to the Zealand Falls Hut, managed by the Appalachian Mountain Club, and onward if you choose to Zeacliff outlook. Following an old railroad grade, the Zealand Trail is flat and easy going most of the way with several water crossings. The falls are situated to the left of the hut, a perfect place to pause and enjoy. Pressing on for another 1.5 miles will take you to Zeacliff, which will reward you with amazing views of Zealand Notch and the eastern part of the Pemigewasset Wilderness.