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11 Great Family Hikes near Waterfalls, Rivers, and Lakes
June 8, 2016

When hiking with kids, it’s always good to have a payoff to reward their effort, whether you’re offering a mountain view or a chocolate bar from your backpack—or maybe both. One of the best attractions to keep kids going on the trail is water, whether it’s burbling brooks, flowing waterfalls, or swimmable lakes. Here are 11 recommended day hikes in AMC’s region with watery highlights.

The hikes are described in order from north to south, and feature recommendations from many AMC guidebooks, including AMC's Best Day Hikes in Vermont, AMC's Best Day Hikes in Connecticut, 2nd ed., and Outdoors with Kids Philadelphia.

The Bubbles 
Acadia National Park, Maine
In their book Discover Acadia National Park, authors and parents Jerry and Marcy Monkman describe this “short but irresistible” hike as a great starter “mountain climb” for kids. The hike goes up two rounded granite hills at the northern end of Jordan Pond; you may choose either an up-and-back route that includes just one summit, or a route with two separate summit loops off of the initial trail from the parking lot, called the Bubbles Divide Trail. The pond below is home to loons and mergansers. Some parts of the trail are so steep that it includes a set of stairs. The lower of the two hills, South Bubble, has better views of the pond at its summit; near the top is Bubble Rock, a living-room-size glacial erratic of white granite that contrasts sharply with the pink granite all around it. If you have more energy, or don’t want to climb, there is also a loop path around Jordan Pond. After your hike, stop by the Jordan Pond House for lunch, or tea and popovers with jam.
Details: 1.6 miles. Elevation gain 550 feet. High points: 766 (South Bubble) and 872 feet (North Bubble).
More information: Discover Acadia National Park, 3rd ed. (AMC Books)

Burton Island 
St. Albans, Vermont
Jennifer Lamphere Roberts, author of AMC’s Best Day Hikes in Vermont, says Burton Island is such a great hike with kids that “it’s difficult to keep this description short.” The approach to this Lake Champlain island north of Burlington, Vermont, is “a fun, windy, wavy adventure all by itself”: Hikers travel to and from the island by boat, either on the state park-owned ferry, which costs $4 per person round-trip, or by paddling their own craft. The 253-acre island is almost flat, so the hiking is easy, and there are many trails through a variety of landscapes: fields, marshes, tunnel-like sumac forests, and rocky lakeshore. “The views are stupendous,” Roberts says, and extend across water in any direction to the Green Mountains, Adirondack Mountains, and the forested shorelines of nearby islands. There's a campground on the island (with a two-night minimum stay), so you can take your time exploring over several days. Roberts’ favorite hike (which goes around the edge of the island) starts at the campground and follows the North Shore Self-Guided Nature Trail along the shore to a lovely beach at Eagle Bay, which she says has the best swimming on the island. From there, you may continue along a more remote-feeling stretch of trail to the wide-open grassy bluff at the southern tip of the island, where the island's most breathtaking views look south to the high peaks of the Adirondacks.
Details: 2.8 miles round-trip. Elevation gain minimal.
More information: AMC’s Best Day Hikes in Vermont (AMC Books)

Little Rock Pond 
Mount Tabor, Vermont
Roberts calls Little Rock Pond, which is nestled in the Green Mountains about 17 miles south of Rutland, Vermont, a “magical spot.” She recommends it for kids ages 7 and up. The trail to the pond, which is part of the Appalachian Trail and Vermont’s Long Trail, is almost flat and follows a river and brook for a good part of the way before passing a small swamp. A loop trail around the pond leads to plenty of swimming opportunities, including a spot with an island a temptingly short distance away. Berry bushes (both blueberry and huckleberry) line the shore in places, and a small cliff provides big views. For more than a day hike, consider camping at the Little Rock Pond Campsite, maintained by the Green Mountain Club. This hike is popular, so if you visit in the summer, expect some company.
Details: 4.8 miles round-trip. Elevation gain 365 feet.
More information: AMC’s Best Day Hikes in Vermont (AMC Books)

Glen Ellis Falls
Pinkham’s Grant, New Hampshire

This hike features one of the most impressive falls in the White Mountains and is reached by a very short walk, so it’s terrific for families with younger children or with reluctant hikers. Do expect other people to be sharing the views. The trail runs parallel to the Ellis River and is marked with educational signs. Three lookouts, at the top, middle, and bottom of the falls, provide different perspectives. These falls were originally called “Pitcher Falls” for the way the water seems to pour over the top. Flat rocks surround the pool at the bottom; use caution if you choose to explore them, as the mist from the falls can make your footing slippery.
Details: 0.6 miles round-trip. Short descent.
More information: AMC’s Best Day Hikes in the White Mountains, 2nd ed. (AMC Books)

Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary 
Topsfield, Massachusetts
This Mass Audubon sanctuary is along the Ipswich River, just as its name suggests, and some of its 10 miles of trails lead to the river’s banks, where Mass Audubon members may rent a canoe. But one favorite hike for families here doesn’t even reach the river. Instead, it takes kids over boardwalks to the “rockery,” a set of tunnels and staircases made as part of an arboretum in the 1900s. After taking some time to explore this area, you may circle the rest of the way around the small rockery pond, where painted turtles often sun themselves on rocks and logs. River otters, beavers, and great blue herons also can be seen sometimes, and a stone bridge, observation tower, and many other waterfowl add to the waterside attractions.
Details: Hikes of varying lengths are possible on the network of trails.
More information: Outdoors with Kids Boston (AMC Books)

Bash Bish Falls 
Copake Falls, New York
This popular hike in the Berkshires is on the border of New York and Massachusetts; the falls themselves, a 60-foot drop into a clear deep pool, are the highest single-drop cascade in Massachusetts. Crossing the border provides an opportunity to talk with your kids about geography and how boundaries are set, while the path itself is shaded enough to be pleasant even on a hot day. At the falls, you may take in the view from a platform or descend a steep stone staircase to the base of the cascade. Don’t reserve this hike for summer only; it is also especially attractive with fall foliage and can be done on snowshoes. You may camp in one of 16 cabins or in tents or trailers at the nearby Copake Falls Area. Some of the cabins are available year-round.
Details: 1.5 miles round-trip.
More information: Outdoors with Kids New York City (AMC Books); AMC’s Best Day Hikes in the Berkshires (AMC Books)

Wadsworth Falls 
Middletown and Middlefield, CT
This loop hike in Wadsworth Falls State Park features two waterfalls and can be followed by swimming in a pond near the parking area. The hike is generally easy, although some sections are steep and you should watch carefully for blazes, because multiple ski trails crisscross the area. A highlight of the hike is the giant laurel, one of the largest of its kind anywhere, with stems nearly a foot in diameter and a canopy that is up to 15 feet high and 30 feet wide. In addition to the exhilarating Wadsworth Falls, named for the man who helped preserve it, the hike also passes Little Falls, which gracefully flows down a series of limestone steps. The park has picnic tables and bathrooms.
Details: 3.3 miles. Elevation gain 100 feet.
More information: AMC’s Best Day Hikes in Connecticut, 2nd ed. (AMC Books)

Kaaterskill Falls 
Haines Falls, New York
This hike leads to the state’s highest waterfall, a two-tiered, 260-foot cascade that was the most popular tourist destination in the United States in the late 1800s and remains a favorite for visitors to the Catskills. The upper plume of the falls fills a large basin known as the Amphitheater, where Rip Van Winkle was said to have slumbered. Be careful along the top of the falls, as the area can be dangerous despite its beauty. The trail is not stroller-friendly, but some parents hike it with children in backpack carriers.
Details: 1.4 miles. Elevation gain 200 feet.
More information: Outdoors with Kids New York City (AMC Books); AMC’s Best Day Hikes in the Catskills & Hudson Valley, 2nd ed. (AMC Books)

Prospect Park 
Brooklyn, New York
This 585-acre park features an enchanting network of artificially constructed lakes, streams, and waterfalls, designed by renowned 19th-century landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. Entering from Grand Army Plaza, you may walk through the area called Long Meadow to Lower Pool and Upper Pool, two popular birding sites. Farther south in the park is the 60-acre Prospect Park Lake. A peninsula that stretches into the lake offers great views and picnic spots, and the Audubon Center at the Boathouse offers a visitor center, café, live animals, and hands-on exhibits, including a human-sized bird’s nest you can climb into.
Details: Hikes of varying lengths are available in the park.
More information: Outdoors with Kids New York City (AMC Books)

Tohickon Valley Park 
Point Pleasant, PA
Tohickon Valley Park is set in a steep ravine along Tohickon Creek. Families will enjoy watching the creek race through a forested gorge while they traverse the rich woods above it on their hike. The park offers tent sites, as well as a few cabins, for families wanting to camp out; in the summer a public pool is open for swimming. A paved path, suitable for strollers, goes from the main parking lot down to the creek. Flat rocks along the creek are perfect for sitting and having a snack. The waters are too swift to swim in, but kids love to watch them. Twice a year, you may enjoy special excitement when the dam upstream is opened for two days, turning the creek into a world-class whitewater course; you can watch the twists and turns of the whitewater paddlers as they shoot the rapids. For a longer hike, follow the woods trails 2 miles to Ralph Stover State Park and High Rocks, a dramatic overlook of the creek from 200-foot cliffs that are popular for climbing.
Details: Hikes of varying lengths are available in the park.
More information: Outdoors with Kids Philadelphia (AMC Books)

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens 
Kenilworth, Washington, D.C.
These gardens, managed by the National Park Service as part of Anacostia Park, feature ponds filled with water lilies and lotuses in summer. The best months to visit are June, July, and August, and the best time of day is morning, when you and your kids may catch the night-blooming flowers closing and the day-bloomers opening. An easygoing out-and-back walk on Marsh Land and River Trail passes beside the last freshwater tidal marsh in the District of Columbia and along the Anacostia River. For an even shorter walk, pick up a hand-drawn map at the visitor center and focus on the ponds and the boardwalk beyond them. One of the most amazing flowers here is the Victoria amazonica, a tropical lily whose platter-like leaves can grow up to 7 feet wide; the flowers open at dusk and remain open all night in August and September.
Details: 2.5 miles if the Anacostia River walk is included. Elevation gain is minimal.
More information: Best Day Hikes Near Washington, D.C. (AMC Books)

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