Even before I had kids, I learned a valuable parenting lesson from a friend of a friend. His 7-year-old son had already (happily) summited more mountains than many adults I knew. This was no accident. The parent in question had a crucial insight: when kids get old enough to leave Mom or Dad’s backpack carrier (at least for part of a hike) and trek on their own, they tire quickly of the monotony of trail walking.
When that happens, a fun family hike can quickly turn into a miserable death march, which usually involves turning around and making haste back to the trailhead. For young kids, straightforward hiking just doesn’t cut it. They need a little something extra to keep things fun and engaging—easy rock scrambling.
Now that I have two young daughters of my own, I’m starting to see that philosophy put into action. My older daughter, Marin, is young enough (and light enough) that I still carry her in a backpack carrier over rougher trails. But there are two times when she gets down and hikes on her own—when the trail is relatively even and flat and when the trail (usually as we approach a summit) turns bald and rocky.
You can guess which type of hiking she enjoys more. (Hint: it’s not the flat, easy hiking.) Marin calls it “rock climbing,” but I know it by another name: a formula for fun scrambling adventures the whole family can enjoy. Try this roundup of peaks and routes to get your own tiny tots upwardly mobile and having fun on their own mountain adventures.
Bonticou Crag, N.Y.
Located in the Hudson Valley’s Mohonk Preserve—the same nature preserve that’s home to the world-famous rock climbing of the Gunks—the Bonticou Ascent Path weaves its way up through giant blocks of talus and a broken cliff face to reach the eponymous summit, with a vista overlooking the valley. Families routinely make the climb, but if it proves too spicy for your wee little ones, an ascent up the backside trail (a continuation of the Bonticou Ascent Path) follows forests and then low-angle rock slabs to reach the same dramatic high point.
Hurricane Mountain, N.Y.
At 3,694 feet tall, Hurricane is relatively modest by Adirondack standards, which makes it a great choice for young families. Yet it still packs a scenic punch. The bald, rocky summit—topped with an old fire tower—is a tiny scrambler’s dream come true. Parents can enjoy it too, because the mountain’s bald summit area lacks the large cliffs (worrisome, if you’re a parent responsible for little tykes running around) found on other moderate Adirondack peaks, such as Noonmark, Rooster Comb, and Crane mountains.
Camel’s Hump, Vt.
Camel’s Hump’s imposing, rocky south face is unmistakable from many vantage points in the Green Mountain State. Conveniently, the Long Trail weaves its way up the face, requiring some easy scrambling en route. From the west, take the Forest City Trail, or from the east, the Dean Trail to Windy Gap. Then turn north and tackle the main ascent. Once on top, return by the Burrows Trail to the west or the Monroe Trail to the east. (Remnants of an old plane crash make for a neat diversion on the Monroe side of the mountain.) As with Bonticou, if the main ascent proves too risky for your young hikers, other mellower options exist.
Mount Monadnock, N.H.
Reportedly the second most climbed mountain in the world (behind only Japan’s Mount Fuji), Monadnock—tucked away in southwestern New Hampshire—is justifiably popular. The perennially popular White Dot Trail heads up over exposed rocks to a treeless summit that feels much taller than it actually is, thanks to the mountain’s relief above the surrounding landscape. The climb is never difficult, but challenging scrambling for the little ones is constantly within arms reach, making Monadnock a “win” for the whole group.
Mount Chocorua, N.H.
Every time I drive to and from the Mount Washington region of the White Mountains, my eye is drawn to Chocorua. There’s something about the way its craggy summit vaults up above the surrounding evergreens that begs it to be climbed. The Champney Falls and Piper trails provide opportunities to do just that, and once you break out above tree line on the upper mountain, it’s a scrambling delight over smooth slabs for the younger hikers in your group. Plus, the view of the Presidential Mountains to the north is exceptional.