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Three Family Hikes in the White Mountains

by Barbara Rogers

May 19, 2019

Shanshan533 | Dreamstime.com


New Hampshire’s White Mountains are a favorite for serious hikers and backpackers, with the Appalachian Trail skimming across the tops of the tallest peaks in the Northeast as it traverses the mountains on its way from Maine to Georgia.  But the White Mountains’ trails aren’t just for serious backpackers. The region is also networked with trails all ages can enjoy, even those not in shape for strenuous climbs.


Zealand Falls

A pleasant and not very strenuous half-day hike, the well-marked trail ends with a tumbling waterfall and a view only hikers can enjoy. The trailhead is at at the end of Zealand Road, which leaves Route 302 a few miles west of Bretton Woods at the Zealand campground. Most of the trail is level or rises gently through the woods. Stop to look for woodland wildflowers, especially in the spring when you’ll see trillium, lady slippers and trout lilies by the trailside. At the junction with Ethan Pond Trail, follow Twinway to the right, and begin the only steep climb of the hike. It’s only a short way as you climb alongside Zealand Falls to the AMC hut at the top. Enjoy a glass of lemonade on their porch as you look out across the deep, U-shaped Zealand Notch. It’s a view only hikers can see, as no roads lead to this little-known notch.


Mt. Willard

In the same area, and a few miles east of Bretton Woods, the small Mt. Willard marks the gateway to Crawford Notch. Its summit rewards hikers with one of the White Mountains’ finest. The climb is only about 1.5 miles through the woods on a smooth, well-maintained trail. At the top it comes out onto the top of cliffs overlooking the entire sweep of Crawford Notch. This is a good place to explain how the retreating glaciers scooped out these bowl-shaped notches. Do be aware the cliffs fall off sharply, so keep hold of young children and be careful not to get too close to the edge — the view is just as good at a safe distance!


Crawford Notch, Elephant Head, New Hampshire. Photo: Stillman Rogers

Crawford Notch, Elephant Head, New Hampshire. Photo: Stillman Rogers


Elephant’s Head

From the same parking area across the road from little Saco Lake, the kids will certainly have noticed the big rock that looks like the head of an elephant looking down into the notch. There’s even a dent in the granite for his eye. The trail to the top of his forehead goes around Saco Lake before beginning the short climb. From the Elephant’s Head you can see AMC’s Highland Center, a good place for families to stay when exploring the White Mountains. Family rooms with bunks are value priced and the atmosphere is casual and friendly. Family-style meals in the evening and cafeteria breakfast and lunch help keep costs down, and they’ll pack a box lunch for your day hikes.


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