Many of the hiking trails that offer the best views involve steep climbs, uneven and slippery surfaces and sheer drops. This is especially true when the goal of a hike is to reach the top of a mountain. The need to be fit and surefooted and perhaps also have experience hiking in high elevations often means that mountain hikes don’t make for good family outings. A notable exception is Mount Monadnock, a 3,165-foot-tall rocky mountain located in southwestern New Hampshire that provides magnificent 100-mile-long views of thick forests and glimmering bodies of water in all directions. The mountain towers over rolling hills and valleys, and from the top, courtesy of its distinctive bald dome (the result of long-ago fires), one can see portions of all six New England states; there is literally no vegetation to interrupt the sightlines. And though the trails are no walk in the park, families tout the hike as a doable, extraordinary adventure.
Legions agree. Mount Monadnock is one of the most-hiked peaks in the world, rivalling only Japan’s Mount Fuji in popularity—and not only because of the beautiful vistas one accesses along the route and at the mountain’s summit, but also because there are a few trails among the many that wend their way up that older kids, 9-12, can readily manage and that younger kids, who are natural climbers, can also handle well. So, gather your troops and head to Mount Monadnock, a National Natural Landmark, and the surrounding 6,000-acre Monadnock State Park for a nature adventure the whole family will relish (you’ll be in good company—illustrious authors like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and Mark Twain hiked the mountain and wrote about its spiritual and environmental symbolism.) If you visit the park in the fall, an extra-special visual treat awaits—blankets of brilliantly colored New England foliage; spring brings magnificent wildflowers. It’s best to time your tip between May and early October to avoid the complications and dangers of winter weather.
Tackling Your Mount Monadnock Hike
Head to Monadnock State Park in Jaffrey, NH (62 miles from Boston, MA and 38 miles from Concord, NH). It’s best to make a reservation before your arrival since parking is limited; a parking pass reservation ($15) will guarantee you a parking spot. Try to avoid going on weekends and holidays—the park is extremely crowded. And don’t venture out when it’s raining (or when there’s a risk of rain); check the weather conditions in advance of your hike by calling 603-532-8862.
Roughly 40 miles of hiking trails, about 35 in total, traverse the park; get important information about all the trails here. When you visit with family, you’ll want to follow the least challenging trails. The two listed below are the ones most people select; expect the roundtrip to take a minimum of four to five hours. If your group includes young children (one to eight years old) or anyone not in good condition, plan on the hike taking a minimum of six hours. Be sure to start your hike early enough to allow for a descent during daylight hours—begin no later than mid-day, but it’s best to start even earlier and enjoy a picnic lunch at the summit. Pause frequently along the way to catch your breath and rest your muscles.
What to Wear and Bring
Slather on the sunblock and wear shoes with a good tread; carry a windbreaker or jacket and a sweatshirt (it can get quite windy and cool on the summit so extra layers are essential); and bring plenty of snacks (like trail mix, fresh or dried fruit and juice), a picnic lunch (the summit’s flat rocks make for a great picnic ground), water (at least one quart per person) and a trash bag so you can carry out everything you brought in.
The Most Family-Friendly Trails to the Top of Mount Monadnock
The Most Popular: White Dot Trail
Most people with older kids opt for the 1.66-mile White Dot Trail, which though steep is the most popular trail and fastest way to reach the peak (hike it from April to November). Access this trail from the park headquarters on Poole Rd. The trail markers are white dots on rocks and trees.
During the first half of the hike, you will be climbing up rocky trails and in the second half, you’ll be going directly up rocks and using your hands. Though the top of the mountain is bare, as you climb the slopes, you’ll see a variety of plant species and ecosystems, among them alpine bogs.
To descend, take the 1.06-mile White Cross Trail, accessed off the White Dot Trail; the intersection is well marked. This trail is less steep than the White Dot Trail and features more rock staircases, which make the trek down easier. Follow the painted white crosses.
Second Most Popular: White Arrow Trail
Another way to reach the summit with a family in tow is to hike the 0.95-mile White Arrow Trail, regarded as the easiest approach. You’ll encounter a few minor challenges like having to clamber up granite boulders, but this well-marked trail accommodates families with younger kids. Access it from the Old Toll Road Trailhead on the south side of the mountain. To descend, look for the large painted marker that reads “To Rt 124-Old Halfway House Trail” and proceed per the markers.
The Mount Monadnock Summit Experience
Near the top, you’ll be scrambling across broad slabs of rock. Once you reach the summit, be sure to spend some time there and soak up the breathtaking panoramic views—the well-deserved rewards of your climb. Hey, you may even be joined by swooping birds. Spread a picnic lunch on the rocks, listen to the wind and snap photos of your family against the wide-open, panoramic backdrop.
Other Fun Things to Do Near Mount Monadnock Park
Consider going on a camping adventure when you visit Mount Monadnock Park. A great spot to camp with your family is the Gilson Pond Campground, located just minutes away from the park headquarters in Jaffrey. The campground offers 35 campsites for tents and pop-ups, a bathhouse with showers and a playground that’s ideal for younger campers. Book a campsite and learn more here.
Stop by Friendly Farm in Dublin, NH, located about 30 minutes away from the park to wander the five acres featuring a variety of farm animals, including baby goats, pigs, rabbits, peacocks and chickens—feeding them and engaging in other hands-on experiences are favorite activities for folks of all ages.
If you visit during the summer, head to Monadnock Berries, a lovely 10-acre, family-owned berry farm in Troy, NH (about 22 minutes from the park), to pick your own mouthwatering berries using their pails. The ‘pick-your-own’ season starts in mid-July. Berry options include gooseberries (mid through late July), red currants (July only), black currents (July only, blueberries (mid-July to mid-September), raspberries (mid-July until late July/early August). The farm also brews ales and beer using the farm’s fruits; those of drinking age can sample them at the farm’s tap house, Granite Roots Brewing, on Rt. 12 north of Troy.
Get in the mood for your hike or celebrate afterwards with the irresistible Mt. Monadnock Sundae from Ava Marie Chocolates in Peterborough, NH (about 30 minutes from the park)–a towering mountain-shaped treat concocted with your choice of five ice cream flavors smothered in hot fudge and caramel, granite chocolate rocks and a mound of whipped cream crowned with a chocolate moose head. One sundae may be enough to serve the whole family, but your kids may not agree.
Read Next: Mount Washington Auto Road in New Hampshire: A Spectacular (and Hair-Raising) Drive in the US. Bundle up – the drive to the summit is chilly but the views are downright chilling.