How to Blaze a Trail with the Family

Break out of the typical family-vacation mold with a hiking trip that even toddlers can tackle. One couple and their 3-year-old get you on track.
woman on hike with daughter

June is not a nature girl. Don't be fooled by my 3-year-old daughter's mess of curls, ragamuffin wardrobe, and fondness for picking neighbors' flowers. Until she was 2, she bristled at the feel of grass on her skin. Recently, she boycotted our downstairs bathroom for months after spotting an ant crawling between the tiles. She hates dirt, is mildly obsessed with Neosporin, and has memorized every train stop connecting our Jersey City, New Jersey, station to Manhattan.

This occurred to me when I booked a family hiking trip in New Hampshire's White Mountains last summer. But nostalgia got the better of me. My husband, Jake, and I had trekked through those peaks when I was six months pregnant with June, spending three nights in huts built and operated by the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC), one of the country's oldest nonprofit conservation and recreation organizations. Back then, the huts' narrow triple bunks, bring-your-own-sheet rule, and crowds of unshowered strangers added to the adventure.

Now, I was seven months pregnant with our second kid. We desperately wanted to revisit the trails but weren't sure we could hack the huts with our little adventurephobe in tow. So when I read that the AMC was rolling out a program called "Kid Spoken Here" -- with family hikes, meals, nature activities, and discounted private rooms at the Club's Highland Center Lodge (starting at $274 per night including meals for four) -- we hit the road.

Day 1: Paradise Found

We arrived a little before 5:30 p.m., cranky and stiff from the car ride. But the second we stepped out, June started running, something she's rarely motivated to do back home unless someone's dangling a cookie in front of her. This time, the attraction was the wildflower field in front of the lodge and a drinking fountain whose copper crank she fiddled with until water shot into her smiling lips.

Lugging our bags through the Highland Lodge lobby, we passed kids galore. A dry-erase board by the check-in desk listed the day's activities, with names like Fun on the Water, Get Outdoors!, Nature Noggin, Make Your Own Pie, and Night Explorations. June led the way to the room. "Bunk beds!" she yelped. "And the top bunk has a rail on it!"

She was still waxing rhapsodic about the beds as we cruised down to the lodge's dining room, a bright space of communal tables where we chatted up a volunteer naturalist. June sacked out shortly after, while Jake and I huddled on our bed beside a tiny, dim light, poring over a trail map. With no TV and a sleeping kid 2 feet away, we were snoring by 9 p.m.

Day 2: Uphill From Here

Our early night may be why we didn't balk when June began somersaulting through our blankets at 6 the next morning. The hike we had planned was fairly easy. Considering my pregnancy and the fact that Jake was likely to be wearing June on his back the whole time, we figured we'd walk about 2 1/2 miles up to the Mizpah Spring Hut, eat the bagged lunch Highland's kitchen staff had packed for us, and be back well before the forecasted storms rolled into the area.

After stopping at the breakfast buffet and swinging by the lodge's L. L. Bean gear room, we signed out a Kelty backpack carrier that put our hand-me-down version to shame. The Crawford Path trailhead up to Mizpah was a few minutes' walk away.

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