Fall is my favorite time to take my family hiking. The bugs are gone, the summer crowds are waning, and I know I’m not going to sweat due to muggy hot weather. It is an especially magical time to hike in New England because of the fall foliage. I plan at least one trek per weekend during the month of October simply so I don’t miss out! Whether you’re looking for a short jaunt through the woods on the Seacoast or a climb in the White Mountains, our region offers some of the best fall foliage hiking in the world. Although I could share a million ideas for amazing fall hikes, I decided to highlight a family friendly fall hike from three prominent regions of New Hampshire: Seacoast, Lakes, and White Mountains. Happy Hiking!
Stratham Hill Fire Tower – Seacoast Region, New Hampshire
This local destination is the PERFECT place to view fall foliage on the Seacoast. The short loop hike in to the fire tower from the main parking lot takes you through colorful hardwood forest. The summit is the part that will really make this an October destination. At the top, the cleared meadow gives views to the changing forest and Seacoast below. For extra foliage-amazingness, climb to the top of the tower and get a 360 degree view of reds, oranges, and golds in beautiful Stratham NH below. To make this a short-and-sweet trek (less than a mile), continue past the tower and turn right. The steady wide downhill path will return you to the playground and main parking lot. For extra mileage through a leaf-carpeted trail, continue straight into Stratham Town Forest. Hikers can explore the expansive network of trails that continues all the way to Stratham Memorial School. The Perimeter trail loop is almost 5 miles and a favorite of dog walkers, trail runners, and walking enthusiasts. Be prepared, and download the trail map before hand and pay attention to sign markers.
This is a wonderful choice for a quick trip and a manageable outing for families with small children. I took my three year old on this hike and he had no problem completing the short loop. Plus, he was really excited about the tower climb as well as the playground near the parking lot. For more easy walks that will provide great foliage opportunities, visit my recommendations for best Seacoast nature walks!
Distance: 1 mile loop (up to 5 miles if you take the Perimeter Trail Loop)
Trailhead Location: 270 Portsmouth Ave, Stratham, NH
West Rattlesnake Mountain – Lakes Region, New Hampshire
Located on the northern portion of Squam Lake in Holderness, West Rattlesnake provides epic views of Squam Lake after a moderate one mile climb. The Old Bridle Path Trail is steadily uphill but not technical (my dad who has had four knee surgeries was able to do it). After a mile, you reach the summit with rock ledges providing stunning views of the lakes and surrounding oak forest. Return on the same trail to make your adventure a total of two miles, or continue to East Rattlesnake or one of the many other offshoots.
Visit Hike New England’s website for a trail map and more detailed trail information. Word to the wise – this is a heavily trafficked trail with limited parking. If visiting on a summer or fall weekend, plan ahead and get there early to beat the crowds and score a parking spot. For families, I pair this hike with a trip to the Squam Lake Science Center and it makes it all well worth the drive!
Distance: 2 miles out and back
Trailhead Location: Rt 113 in Holderness, NH
Boulder Loop Trail – White Mountains Region, New Hampshire
It’s actually easier than you think to do a White Mountains foliage hike. Many of the higher elevation 4,000 footers are well above the “hardwood zone” so you don’t experience any fall foliage except for the beginning of the hike. This means, for fall foliage your best bet is to pick a lower elevation peak that still provides views of the valleys below. Boulder Loop is the perfect choice because not only does it never pass 2,000 feet in elevation, it’s also a 2.8 mile loop – providing new views and terrain through the entire hike. Boulder Loop trailhead is located off the Kancamagus Highway. Follow signs to Covered Bridge Campground in Albany, pass through the Albany covered bridge and parking is on the right. The hike, by White Mountain standards, is considered moderate, but if comparing it to Stratham Hill, it is much more difficult. The views from the ledges are unparalleled. The hike itself passes through oaks, maples, birch, and beech – all changing for the season.
I recommend purchasing Appalachian Mountain Club’s White Mountain maps. This tool not only helps to plan your hike, but is also useful for finding parking lots and a trailhead when GPS fails under zero cell service. For more details about the trail, parking, etc – check out my blog The Freelance Adventurer. This is not a toddler friendly trail, however, on separate occasions, I have taken both my children on this hike by carrying them in baby carriers. For more perfect fall foliage hikes in the White Mountains, visit to my blog The Freelance Adventurer.
Distance: 2.8 mile loop
Trailhead Location: Passaconaway Road, Albany, New Hampshire
Before you set out to immerse yourself in fabulous fall foliage, take a moment to plan your trip and be safe. Fall hiking means weather can be unpredictable, and trails can be wet and slippery with leaves. Bring multiple layers of clothing, snacks, water (1 Liter a person), and a map. I also recommend adults use trekking poles for descend on steep and slippery trails – especially when baby wearing.