The White Mountain National Forest is just over the Maine border and closer for many southern Maine folks (about 90 minutes from Portland) to visit than some of Maine’s popular mountains. Hiking the Presidential Range (the 4,000-foot mountains, and higher) along the Appalachian Trail are well-known, but if you have kids or are just an occasional hiker and not looking for that sort of challenge, there are some great options for wonderful adventures that aren’t all about the views – though there are plenty – but offer waterfalls, an AMC hut and the kid-pleasing name of Frankenstein Cliff (which is easier to say than the waterfalls near that trail).
Here are a just a few of my family’s picks from the easiest hike to Diana’s Baths with minimal elevation gain and plenty of splashing fun to the more challenging hike in Crawford Notch.
Trail Note: Elevation gain is how many feet it takes to climb from the trailhead to the summit/vista point. This is not how tall the mountain actually is. I chose to list elevation gain as a way to more accurately compare the difficulty of each trail with their fitness level. All mileage listed is round-trip. The difficulty ratings are based on occasional hikers with children of average fitness in tow.
LEVEL OF DIFFICULTY: Easy
LOCATION: Bartlett, New Hampshire
MILEAGE: About 1 mile round trip
ELEVATION GAIN: minimal
TRAILHEAD COORDS: 44.0746, -71.1637
BATHROOM: Yes, at trailhead
This is an easy, mostly level hiking trail in the White Mountain National Forest about five minutes from North Conway. The Moat Mountain Trail leads to Diana’s Baths, a series of small cascading waterfalls and pools at Lucy Brook. Bring a towel and wear clothes than can get wet because the falls and pools are tempting to little ones and adults alike. This is a great way to compromise with the family to be able to enjoy the outdoors and still have the time (and energy) to shop at the outlets on the way home.
LEVEL OF DIFFICULTY: Easy to moderate
LOCATION: Bethlehem, New Hampshire
MILEAGE: about 5.6 miles
ELEVATION GAIN: 650 feet
TRAILHEAD COORDS: 44.2249, -71.4783
BATHROOM: Yes, at trailhead and at the AMC hut at the top of the falls
Climbing to the summit of Zealand Mountain isn’t necessary when the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Zealand Falls Hut offers a less strenuous destination that can be appealing to children and adults. The AMC huts are open to all hikers during the day and sometimes (no guarantees) offer baked goods with a donation jar. This trail is mostly level with the majority of the elevation gain from the base of the falls to the hut. The view at the hut is lovely but not a full panorama, you need to hike to the summit of Zealand for that. But having a picnic on a large boulder near the top of the falls, or inside the hut on the picnic-style benches, is a nice (and less challenging) way to spend a day in the mountains.
LEVEL OF DIFFICULTY: Moderate
LOCATION: Gorham, New Hampshire
MILEAGE: about 2.7 miles
ELEVATION GAIN: about 800 feet
TRAILHEAD COORDS: 44.3540, -71.2316
BATHROOM: Yes, near trailhead
The trail begins along a gravel road (visitors to the Horton Center can drive on it but hikers are asked to park at the trailhead) and passes the retreat center before finding the turn to the Ledges Trail. This offers a nice hiking loop option as it climbs the mountain with great views of Mt. Madison and Washington. At the summit views stretch across Carter Notch. With an elevation gain of about 800 feet, the views can’t be beat for the effort. Note: Visitors are asked to be respectful of the retreat area and religious activities going on in buildings near the summit.
LEVEL OF DIFFICULTY: Moderate to difficult
LOCATION: Crawford Notch State Park, Hart’s Location, New Hampshire
MILEAGE: about 5 miles
ELEVATION GAIN: about 1,300 feet
TRAILHEAD COORDS: 44.1489, -71.3669
BATHROOM: Yes, at trailhead
The Frankenstein Cliff Trail leads to a bluff that offers great views of the lower part of Crawford Notch State Park. The trail is a steady climb to the bluff lookout but as far as picnic lunch spots, it’s a great one. Connect with the Arethusa-Ripley Falls Trail to make the trip loop to the falls. The waterfall is spectacular and worth the side trip to see it. If the family isn’t ready to hike the cliffs, simply take Arethusa Falls Trail to the base of the falls, about three miles round trip hike with only a couple of hundred feet elevation gain.