There are many hiking trails in New Hampshire with rewarding mountain top vistas, but many of them are too difficult for young children. So what do you do if you want to introduce your kids to the joys of mountain hiking? Take them to Mt. Major.
This popular hiking destination is on Rt. 11 along Lake Winnipesauke, between Gilford and Alton Bay. Although it only climbs to 1,100 feet, the summit is bare and offers 360 degree views of the surrounding lakes and mountains. It is part of the Belknap Range (which includes Gunstock, a popular ski mountain) and has trails of various difficulties to the top. This report covers the easy trail, well-marked with orange blazes.
The trail begins in the rear left corner of the parking lot and starts by crossing two small foot bridges over a small stream. It follows this for about a quarter mile before the water tapers off. The trail is soft single track at first and then becomes rockier the further you go. The trail is steep at times, but it is generally a gradual climb. There are many boulders along the trail’s edge, perfect for kids to climb on (my two boys liked climbing on top of each one and claiming kingship over the whole world) and plenty of wildlife.
As you near the mile mark, the trail gets a little more technical and younger children may need assistance past certain spots. There is one stretch, as the trail nears the summit, with a small drop off (maybe 15 feet) and loose dirt and rock. I carried my four-year-old son through portions of this section for safety, since he can be a little tipsy at times.
Once you’ve passed that section, it’s a short walk through gnarled, scraggly trees and mountain-top undergrowth to a large, open and bare summit offering spectacular views of Lake Winnipesauke and the White Mountains. My sons enjoyed climbing on the foundation of an old abandoned structure and seeing all the boats down below in the lake, especially the M/S Mt. Washington.
The hike is about 3.5 miles and took us about 3.5 hours to complete (with a four and six year old). Mt. Major is enjoyable and it’s a great way to introduce kids to the mountains (or to just get rewarding views with less effort than some of the larger mountains).