Want to add some excitement to a family hike? Take kids to "bag a peak!" Scaling a summit hiking trail to the top of a real mountain rewards kids with jaw-dropping views (and some legit bragging rights). Here are 14 of our favorite kid-friendly hikes that end on the peak of some of the prettiest or most interesting small mountains in the U.S., all within driving distance of a major city or resort town. Most of these hikes are best suited to older kids (or little ones in a carrier) but some feature shorter routes that even younger children can scramble up.
Be sure to check out our U.S travel guide for more ideas for stateside family adventures in the great outdoors, including top national parks to visit with kids and family-friendly ski resorts.
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Scramble to the top of Bear Mountain to see the Perkins Memorial Tower. Photo by Firoz Ansari/CC BY 2.0
Less than two hours from New York City, Bear Mountain State Park features a beautiful lake, a trailside zoo (with, you guessed it, bears), and plenty of kid-friendly hikes. The 3.9-mile Perkins Memorial Tower hike is a challenge for older kids that concludes with an exciting, 900-foot steep scramble to the summit, which has a lookout affording views of the Hudson Highlands and various parklands. Find more of our favorite New York state park hikes for families.
Sure, the name alone is a draw, but this lovely mountain on the east side of St. George is fun for kids because of the rocky switchbacks that guide climbers to the top. Park at the Hog Town Trailhead. (Or, for a slightly shorter hike, drive a mile or so farther to the Dacy Town clearing trailhead. Only attempt if the road is open and your car can handle a bumpy dirt road.) A well-marked trail to the best overlook just short of the summit is about 5.5 miles round trip from the Dacy Town lot, or 6.5 miles round trip from the Hog Town lot.
The Ted Stiles Preserve at Baldpate Mountain is easy to get to and hike around. A trail to the top affords kids views of the Delaware River and the Philadelphia skyline. The Summit Trail (following blue blazes) is a steep but short hike (ascending 325 feet in 1.2 miles) that even younger kids can tackle.
There are many long and challenging trails up and down Piney Mountain from Pine Grove Furnace State Park, but a fun and short (but steep) route for kids is the Pole Steeple Trail in Gardners, Pennsylvania. Soak up views of Laurel Lake, South Mountain, and sandy beaches from the dramatic, quartzite rock outcropping at the top—created, local geologists say, during the last Pangaea, when Africa and North American split into continents. Find more of our favorite PA state parks for kids.
RELATED: 20 Hiking Trails Easy Enough for Toddlers
Ragged Mountain is aptly named for its craggy rocks and dramatic cliffs. Photo by Brian Manning/CC BY 2.0
Straddling Berlin and Southington, Ragged Mountain is just 761 feet in elevation but the dramatic cliffside views of Wassel Reservoir from the top make the summit feel somehow more majestic. The 5.5-mile summit loop passing the rocky overlook is the most popular among hikers, but there are shorter routes to the top. Find more kid-friendly hikes around Connecticut, which is loaded with pretty forests, trails, and yes, mountains.
There are three well-marked trails all under three miles to reach the mountain's 1,642-foot peak that dishes up views of New York's Catskills and Mount Greylock, the state's highest point. The 1.5-mile Indian Monument Trail is the least steep and brings hikers past the remains of Native American trails and cart paths once driven by Model Ts. It's a great hike for storytelling: It's where Herman Melville (on a hike with fellow novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne) came up with the idea of Moby Dick. Here's what else we love to do in the Berkshires with kids.
Reservations are temporarily required to hike Monadnock.
Southern New Hampshire's most prominent peak is also wildly popular: "America's favorite mountain" is said to be the most hiked mountain in the U.S., probably owing to spectacular 360-degree views from the bare, expansive top. With the shortest and most direct route to the 3,165-foot peak consisting of 1.9 rocky miles back and forth (see the White Dot Trail), it's definitely a hike best suited to older kids.
Your kids will certainly be proud to say they stood on the peak of the Eastern seaboard's tallest mountain, right in the middle of Acadia National Park. For a 2- to 4-hour hike with older kids, you can ascend up and back the 4.4-mile North Ridge trail loop, but families with smaller children can park near the top of the mountain and trek along the Cadillac Summit Loop. For a lifetime memory, go at daybreak to watch the sun rise over the Atlantic Ocean. Read up on the area with this guide to Acadia Park with kids for next summer's trip.
The summit of Hawksbill Mountain is the highest point in Shenandoah National Park, just 75 miles outside of Washington, DC. The Upper Hawksbill Trail will get you there in a 2.1-mile round trip hike that is mostly smooth (even paved for part of the way). A stone hut at the top is a nice place to rest, have a picnic, and look out over the gorgeous Shenandoah Valley, known for its fall foliage and wildflowers.
Grandfather Mountain boasts a suspension footbridge at the peak. Photo by Monty Combs/ Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation
2020 update: Reservations are temporarily required to hike the main section, which contains the footbridge, of Grandfather Mountain.
Hiking any of the 11 well-marked trails in the main portion of the park is only part of the fun to be had at this iconic peak outside of Asheville, North Carolina. The top features a thrilling, mile-high "swinging" bridge to walk across—America's highest suspension footbridge—and several wildlife habitats among the rocky areas just below the summit. The mountain gained its name because it's said that the visage of an old man's face appears on the side of it.
It's uncertain whether Blood Mountain was named for the Native American battles in the area or the red shrubbery that grows in the area. Upon reaching the summit, families will be sure they're standing on the highest point on Georgia's stretch of the Appalachian Trail. The well-marked Bryson Reece Trail in Neels Gap to the summit is just short of 5 miles round trip, and the top has many great flat spots for a picnic before returning to the car.
Checking out a "window" at Camelback Mountain. Photo courtesy of Take A Hike Arizona/CC BY 2.0
Rising out of the 'burbs just 20 miles from downtown Phoenix, Arizona, this mountain is a cinch to get to. The Cholla Trail is steep and exciting, gaining 1,250 feet over 1.2 miles. Kids can look for the saddletop shape that tells them they have reached the peak, and if they're lucky, roadrunners, hawks, and chuckwallas along the way.
Go for sunset for incredible views of Los Angeles. A hike up the winding switchbacks of Sam Merrill Trail, about 5 miles round trip, is fun for kids (and easy on parents with little ones, since a sturdy stroller can navigate the route). At the top, hikers will find remnants of an old railway and luxury hotel, picnic space, and panoramic views of the city and its expansive suburbs. Find more top hikes in the LA area for little legs.
This peak with the thrilling name is just east of Seattle, in the foothills of the Western Cascades. For a challenging hike with older kids take the popular, 5-mile West Tiger 3 loop. It takes families through old logging roads and dense forests before everyone climbs the summit for views of Mount Rainier. If you're traveling with little kids who don't care to reach the peak, point yourselves toward the fantastic Swamp Trail. It's a lush loop designed for children, who can be on the lookout for Zoe, the area's mythical swamp monster.