Hiking Mount Lafayette and the Franconia Ridge Trail Loop with kids
September 12, 2016 1:45 PM   Subscribe

This fall - late September - I'm planning to take my sons (age 7 and 9) hiking in the White Mountains. After a bunch of research - my #1 choice is Mount Lafayette and the Franconia Ridge Trail Loop. However, I'm a little nervous that it might be too challenging for my sons. Is this hike too ambitious?

My sons are have a fair amount of hiking experience - we spent a week hiking in Acadia this summer, including the Sargent Mountain South Ridge Trail (6.7 miles), and the Beehive - both of which they loved.

They also loved climbing Mt. Monadnock (White Dot/White Cross), as well of plenty of other less ambitious local hikes (Wachusett, Great Blue Hill, etc.)

They're also very active kids in general (all of normal kids sports - soccer, swimming, etc.)

I know there are dozens of other great hikes in the Whites, but Lafayette hits all their favorite things - tons of scrambling, waterfalls - and they're thrilled by the prospect of a 5,000' peak.

And - this is crucial - my kids and I have crazy schedules, and we live in a suburb of Boston - so we don't have that many opportunities to get to the White Mountains - once a year if we're lucky.

I know about the Greenleaf Hut, but our schedule doesn't give us two days... It has to be a day hike.

So - do you think it's crazy to try with kids this age? I know that I could try something a little more moderate (Chocura, Welch Dickey, or a dozen other great hikes) - and save Lafayette for another year. But you never know what the future holds, and that hike just seems spectacular to me. I'm dying to do it!

Thanks in advance!
posted by stuehler to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
From the AMC Guide:

"Caution: the portion of Franconia Ridge about the treeline...does not involve any unusually difficult or hazardous climbing, but it is almost constantly exposed to the full force or any storms and is dangerous in bad weather or high wind....the danger from lightening is unusually great, and this portion of the ridge should be avoided when thunderstorms appear to be brewing".

And there would be my main concern. Assuming kids have busy schedule, you figure out the one day in September you can get up there from Boston. You get up there, and the weather looks bad. Or, you get up there, up on the ridge and the weather turns. This is a problem anywhere in the Whites, but it seems like this particular ridge gets the worst of it. Particularly in late September, you're easily running into "could die of hypothermia" situations if you get wet.

I think you definitely want to plan a back up hike, at the very least, if the weather is not ideal.
posted by damayanti at 3:27 PM on September 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've done this hike before, and I found it super enjoyable and also quite doable, as an active and athletic young adult who is not a hardcore hiker. It was a longer hike (I think we spent 8-9 hours doing it, but we also brought a picnic and spent some time sitting, meandering, and picnicking at the top). However I found it less grueling than some shorter hikes that I've done previously. The panoramic views were incredible, and lasted for the whole time up on the ridge (an hour or two?). It should be especially spectacular during leaf season (which I would guess you would be hitting the beginning of in late September?). It's actually by far my favorite hike that I've ever been on (out of a few). I also saw some kids around the age of yours when we were at the top, and they seemed in good spirits and enjoying themselves.

My one caveat is as damayanti says - the weather. I believe it was around late September when we hiked it, and it misted over towards the end of our time up on top of the ridge, and it turned from fun to scary, as we couldn't see more than a few feet. We had started a bit late, and the mist slowed us down, and it was getting pretty dark as we finished the hike (so dark that we needed to turn on flashlights). It was also quite cold up at the top of the ridge, and when it got misty it also got colder and wet. I would only advise it on a clear day with a clear forecast for the whole day (and even then, the weather up top is a gamble). I'd also advise starting early, bringing waterproof clothing and flashlights and food, with a change of clothing and more food and water in the car. Obviously this is typical of the White Mountains, especially outside of high summer, but something to keep in mind. I'd definitely still recommend the hike to you, though!
posted by ClaireBear at 3:48 PM on September 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Damayanti, ClaireBear,

Thanks for your comments - much appreciated!

I agree with your emphasis on the weather - my plan is 100% dependent on great weather (i.e., anything less, and I wouldn't go).

That's why I'm shooting for a day hike - you've got to book the Greenleaf Hut well in advance, so you can't count on weather.

So - assuming great weather - you think this might be feasible?
posted by stuehler at 9:04 PM on September 12, 2016

Stuehler - in my opinion, assuming great weather, it would be feasible for very active kids ages 7 and 9. In other words, I would bring my hypothetical athletic sons of those ages on that hike, based on my experience of doing it. (Then again, although I have done a lot of babysitting in my time, I'm also not a parent, so take my parenting advice with a grain of salt!) As I said though, I did see at least one family with kids about the ages of yours, who were about halfway through the hike and seemed to be having a great time, with no over-exertion or tears. Doing a bit of Googling, it sounds like others have brought their children/families and it went well:

Went this past Saturday. Incredible day - clear, great temp - went with my 9 & 14 year olds and we had perhaps best day of hiking ever!!! Lots of people there but still awesome! (John Young)

Could be our family favorite. Challenging yet not too hard hike to one of the prettiest views imaginable. (Mary Lindewirth)

If I were in your shoes, I might start the hike and go for 2 hours and reassess. If it is too difficult for your sons, you can just abort rest of the mission and head home, having gotten some hiking in. The first few hours of the trail were pretty but didn't really have views: the ridge was the really spectacular bit, obviously.

One final caveat that I forgot earlier, which is that when I went around the same time of year (late Sept or so, early leaf season), on a Saturday, with good weather starting out, it was a bit congested. Definitely not too much to enjoy the hike, but there were a fair amount of other Bostonians who had had the same idea. Then again, as an occasional hiker, it was also a bit comforting to be able to see others ahead of us on the trail and know that if there were some problem or accident I could get help easily...
posted by ClaireBear at 2:11 PM on September 13, 2016

So, I took ClairBear and Damayanti's advice, and yesterday (10/5) - we went for it!

What an incredible hike! The weather was perfect - 68° and sunny, and the foliage, while not quite peak, was spectacular.

My sons - ages 7 and 9 - did just great, and absolutely loved it. We were all absolutely exhausted by the end, but I could tell by the smiles on their faces that they were both incredibly proud of their accomplishment.

They made it!

A few thoughts for anyone else considering hiking with kids, who finds this post..

We did the hike counter-clockwise (up Falling Waters, down the Old Bridle Path), which I'd recommend for three reasons:

1. It's great to approach the waterfalls from the bottom
2. It's nice to reach the three summits from lowest to highest, saving the best for last. You always having something even more awesome to shoot for.
3. You reach the Greenleaf Hut at mile 6, when you might need to refill your water or enjoy some great snacks to fuel your final push.

My kids each carried their own water in 1.5L Camelbaks, and I carried mine, along with plenty of reserves. All-in-all, I probably drank 3-4L, and they drank about 2L each. (My kids loved having Camelbaks - they thought they were really cool, and they drank non-stop, which I think is essential).

Definitely consider bringing back-up shoes; one of my sons slipped into the water during one of the numerous water crossings on Falling Waters, so I was really glad we had an extra pair.

We didn't use trekking poles, but most of the hikers we saw had them; seems like they'd be REALLY helpful.

The hike is VERY strenuous - I bike regularly, so I'm in reasonable shape. But this hike (with a 25-30lb pack full of 6L of water, food, warm clothes, back-up shoes, flashlights, first aid kit, binoculars, etc.) took everything I had. But my 7 and 9 year olds managed just fine, and loved it.

With the kids - we were very slow. The 8.9 mile loop just almost 10 hours (including 3 15-20 minute breaks at Haystack, Lafayette, and Greenleaf Hut, and plenty of shorter snack breaks) - so make sure you leave plenty of time. You would not want to get caught in the dark on the rocky, technical descent.

All in all - I had incredibly high expectations - many people have called this the best hike in the Whites, but my expectations were exceeded in every way. It's spectacular from start to finish. And definitely doable with kids!
posted by stuehler at 1:51 PM on October 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

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