Gunstock and Pack Monadnock
Families living in southern New Hampshire don’t have to go far to take a hike. While most older children and teens won’t shy from some of the Granite State’s more rugged trails, there are a few nearby family-friendly hikes for younger family members.
Wanda Rice leads the family group for the New Hampshire Appalachian Mountain Club and said that even 1-year-olds join the family overnight trips (albeit in a backpack-type carrier). But she also cautions that people need to have reasonable expectations when it comes to hiking with kids.
“Those little legs, they don't really go that far. I would say anybody younger than 5 or 6, you’re probably expecting a lot out of them,” Rice said. “It kind of depends on the kid. A lot of kids are physically capable of doing things; it’s just mental.”
Rice recommends setting a goal or finding something to entice young hikers (like reaching the summit, checking out the fire tower or having a picnic lunch at the top).
In terms of gear, she said not to wear cotton (since it will stay wet) and kids don’t necessarily need hiking boots, but sneakers with good tread will work fine.
“On any of my hikes, I always require kids to carry a minimum of their own stuff,” Rice said. “It’s partly for kids to develop responsibility for themselves and for [safety].”
Rice recommends each child carry their own rain jacket, a fleece, water, a snack and a whistle regardless of how long or difficult the hike is.
Although there are plenty of kid-friendly trails, the Hippo checked out Gunstock and Pack Monadnock as good starting points for family-oriented hikes.
Visit Gunstock sans snow
Mount Gunstock and its neighboring peaks in the Belknap Mountain Range, like Mount Rowe, offer plenty of hiking options.
“There’s a lot close by that you don’t have to go very far for,” Hal Graham, president of Belknap Range Trail Tenders, said. “Gunstock of course has a nice campground and has nice amenities that way.”
There are a few different trails that lead to the Gunstock summit, including the Ridge Trail (marked with white blazes), the Brook Trail (marked with yellow blazes), the Overlook Trail (orange blazes), and other nearby trails like Round Pond Trail and a wetland area with boardwalk hiking.
Families with really young children might enjoy the nature walk through the wetlands at Gunstock, which is also home to a blue heron.
“Sometimes that’s a good way to engage kids,” said Rice. “You can make nature an aspect of any hike. … If you’re going this time of year, there’s a lot of wildflowers. If your kids are at all interested in nature it might be good to bring a wildflower guide. It gives you an excuse to stop and take a break.”
The Brook Trail takes just under two hours to hike and is 1.7 miles from the resort parking lot. This trail can be steep and rough, but it also crosses ski trails, woods and brooks. Hikers on the Brook Trail will come to a junction that meets the Saddle Trail (with white blazes). From there, the trail that continues to the right (with yellow blazes) will lead to the summit of Mount Gunstock, and the trail to the left (with blue blazes) takes hikers to the top of Mount Belknap.
“The views are great off Gunstock, in the summer especially,” Graham said. “If you go up the Brook Trail you have several outlooks.”
In addition to the different trails that lead to the summit, the cross-country trails on the resort make for easy hikes as well, which may be more appropriate for younger children.
Pack Monadnock with
grandma and grandpa, too
Pack Monadnock might just be the most family-friendly hike in southern New Hampshire. It only takes about an hour for a family to reach the 2,290-foot summit, it’s dog-friendly, there’s a fire tower at the top and there’s an auto road if family members who are unable to hike want to meet up with their family members who do hike at the top. It’s one of the mountain’s features that makes the hike so popular, according to Norma Reppucci, park manager of Miller State Park.
“They can drive up to the top and meet other people,” Reppucci said. “Some people have disabilities and can’t just go anywhere. … A lot of grandparents do that too and meet at the top, maybe with a picnic.”
There are three ways to get up the mountain: the Marion Davis Trail (1.4 miles), the Wapack Trail (1.4 miles) and the auto road (1.3 miles). Reppucci recommends the Marion Davis Trail for families with younger children, since it’s not as rocky or ledgy.
“Families with preteens can do the Wapack and will probably enjoy it,” she said.
If you do choose to hike up and down Pack Monadnock, it can take around three hours round-trip. But if your tykes are tuckered out, there’s always the option for someone in the family to drive up the auto road and meet the rest of the family at the top with the car.
Along the hike, kids can spot wildflowers in spring, salamanders and a lot of blueberries in July, Reppucci said. In mid-September, many families and school groups visit Pack Monadnock for a hawk release day. Then, they can search the skies for both hawks and eagles.
“Kids love to go up the fire tower,” Reppucci said. If a ranger is in the tower and it’s a regular day, kids might get the chance to go up to the platform and look out.
Although it’s not a guarantee that the fire tower will be open, there are plenty of views from the summit. On a clear day, hikers can spot Boston, Manchester, Mount Wachusett, Mount Monadnock and various peaks to the north (like Pitcher Mountain, Crotched Mountain, Mount Washington, Mount Cardigan, Mount Kearsarge and even the White Mountains in the distance).
Miller State Park, which is located on Pack Monadnock, is also one of few state parks that permits pets. Dogs should always be leashed, and at the summit, there’s drinking water and water dishes.