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Fall Hikes for Families in the White Mountains

by Barbara Rogers

Oct 7, 2019

Stillman Rogers


Bright colored leaves paint the mountainsides and the air is brisk and refreshing — what better time to take the family on some short hikes in New Hampshire’s White Mountains? These hikes are close to Interstate 93, which connects the White Mountains to Boston — in fact, the trailhead for one of them is at a highway exit.


The Basin-Cascades Trail is in Franconia Notch, where I-93 narrows to protect the natural environment of the mountain pass. The exit is marked for The Basin, a popular and kid-friendly attraction you’ll want to explore first.


The Basin is a giant pot-shaped hole in the granite ledge, carved and scoured by a glacial waterfall. Signboards explain how the pothole was formed and tell more about the glaciers that once covered these mountains in ice.


Follow a short trail to a second kid-friendly attraction (and you haven’t even begun the hike yet!).  The Cascades are among the most appealing and approachable waterfalls for kids, as the brook tumbles gently over a series of ledges. Although these can be a rushing torrent in the spring, by fall kids can climb on the ledges, also a favorite spot for picnics. Follow the trail beside the falls to see a continuing series of cascades as you climb higher.


About half a mile above the first cascades is Kinsman Falls. From there the trail gets steeper, leading to Rocky Glen Falls. If you’re ambitious, and little legs are up to another climb and a rougher trail, you can continue upward, crossing a wooden bridge and climbing to Lonesome Lake.

Exploring the Flume’s rocky chasm. Photo: Stillman Rogers


Only a few miles south of The Basin, the family-friendly Indian Head Resort has indoor and outdoor swimming pools, paddle boating and other activities for kids, as well as a hikers’ shuttle to take you to nearby trailheads. Another nearby family attraction is The Flume Gorge, also just off I-93. A trail leads through the woods, past giant boulders, to this 800-foot-long chasm, which you can climb through on a wooden walkway. Hike farther to cross a miniature covered bridge above Liberty Falls.


South of Franconia Notch take the exit for Waterville Valley to find the Welch-Dickey Trail. From Route 49, which leads into the valley, follow Upper Mad River Road to Orris Road to the trailhead. The loop connecting the ledges of Welch and Dickey mountains is about 4.5 miles long, a nice route that doesn’t require backtracking.


The ledges slope gently, and although the elevation isn’t great, they offer great views of the taller mountains all around. Because much of the trail is on rock ledges, it’s not a good choice after recent rains when the rocks are wet.


If you continue on Route 49 you’ll reach the resort village of Waterville Valley, where you can pick up a map of more walking trails at the Jugtown Store on the main plaza of the resort. Here you’ll also find a variety of lodging in different price ranges. The resort is especially geared to families, with swimming and other activities for kids.


A bonus for families is that at many of the participating hotels in the valley, each guest gets a Freedom Pass, which provides access to canoe and kayak rentals, tennis, golf, bike rentals, admission to the White Mountain Athletic Club pools and scenic chairlift rides.


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