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Best Hikes for Kids in Southern Vermont

Best Hikes for Kids in Southern Vermont

As mud season gives way to honest-to-goodness spring in Vermont, our family has taken to the mountains, exploring our favorite trails in the southern part of the state. We’ve been trekking and meandering the trails around Southern Vermont with our kids for the past 10 years, and now we want share our favorites with you.

The following hikes, rambles, and walks are perfect for families with children. Most are under five miles, and all have a kid-friendly feature to help entice them along. The best way to encourage my own kids down a trail is with the promise of water for swimming. We’ve got a few more tricks up our sleeves if you’re interested, but a good many of our favorite trails surround lakes, meander along rivers, or end up at the bottom of waterfalls.

Here they are – in my humble opinion – the very best hikes for kids in Southern Vermont:

Hikes for Kids in Southwestern Vermont

Lake Shaftsbury State Park, Shaftsbury, Vermont

An autumn view from the beach at Lake Shaftsbury State Park. These are our best hikes for kids in Southern Vermont

An autumn view from the beach at Lake Shaftsbury State Park

This 84-acre park is small, but well-loved. It is most popular as a picnic and swimming spot for local families, but the trail around the lake is underappreciated and quite lovely. The hike is more of a ramble — a mile in length, meandering through the woods, then wetlands, than back into the woods, with a constant view of the lake. Waterfowl are plentiful most of the year, and we’ve also spotted bald eagles and osprey on numerous occasions. After your hike, your kiddos will want to spend some time on the water, and the beach is the perfect spot for relaxing with a good book. I highly recommend driving south on route 7A for another mile and visiting the Chocolate Barn for the best ice cream you’re ever likely to taste in Southern Vermont.

Difficulty level: easy
Length of trail: 1 mile loop
Kid appeal: swimming, boardwalk through wetlands, decent fishing, boat rentals
Dogs: nope
Fee: $4 for adults, $2 for children

For more on this hike, check out: An Autumn Walk Around Lake Shaftsbury

Woodford State Park, Woodford, Vermont

An image of two children running through the water at Woodford State Park. Best hikes for kids in Southern Vermont.

After hiking around Adams Reservoir in Woodford State Park, be sure to make time for a swim.

The hiking trail in Woodford State Park brings you around Adams Reservoir, a gorgeous, tree-lined lake nestled in the Green Mountains. Woodford State Park is much more secluded than Lake Shaftsbury, and much cooler (temperature wise). We’ve seen moose up here, and spent days on the water without running into another person. The trail around the lake isn’t difficult, but at 2.7 miles, it might be hard for younger kids to make it around. We love how dark and mossy the trail is. There are several easy stream crossings, and you may even see the carnivorous sundew plants if you look very carefully along the shore.

Difficulty level: easy to moderate
Length of trail: 2.7 mile loop
Kid appeal: swimming, playground, boat rentals
Dogs: on leash
Fees: $4 for adults, $2 for kids

Want to learn more about Woodford State Park? Check out: Woodford State Park: A Park for All Seasons

Mile Around Woods, North Bennington, Vermont

A shot of a huge sugar maple in North Bennington, Vermont

This is my favorite tree – Mile Around Woods, North Bennington

The Mile Around Woods trail sits behind the beautiful Park McCullough house in North Bennington. This loop starts by taking hikers through beautiful farm fields of grazing horses, then meanders through a hardwood forest on a lovely, wide path. The forest loop is exactly a mile long, but you can make the adventure last by traipsing across several fields, or by visiting the historic Park McCullough House and Hiland Hall gardens. I recommend making an afternoon of it – the Park McCullough House is open for tours on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from May to October. The Hiland Hall gardens have been meticulously restored and are located behind the main house.

Difficulty: easy for all ages
Length: 1 mile loop
Kid appeal: farm animals, wildflowers, rocks for climbing
Dogs: on leash
Fees: none, unless you want a tour of the historic house

For a trail map, please visit the Fund for North Bennington.

Emerald Lake State Park, East Dorset, Vermont

The view from the lake trail in Emerald Lake State Park

The view from the lake trail in Emerald Lake State Park

Emerald Lake State Park is nestled in a deep valley between the Taconic Mountains to the West and the Green Mountains to the east. The two mountain ranges are only a few hundred yards apart here, and they rise up steeply on either side of the lake. Covering just 20 acres, Emerald Lake isn’t big, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in beauty.There are several trails in Emerald Lake State Park, and if you and your kids are into vistas, I recommend checking out the Vista Trail, which is a steady climb with awesome views of the lake. I have to say that our kids much prefer the lake trail, which hugs the shoreline, with side trails into the three campground loops. We like taking the trail to the “C” loop because it travels through the wetlands at the south end of the lake, perfect for some kid-friendly birding adventures.

Difficulty: easy, although the campground trail is kind of steep
Length of trail: The lake trail is .5 miles and the campground trail is .4 miles, one way. You can walk back to the beach and parking lot on the campground roads, or turn around and retrace your steps.
Kid appeal: awesome swimming, rope swing for big kids (on the island), bird watching, boat rentals
Dogs: They’re allowed in the campground and on the trails (on leash), but not at the beach or picnic areas.
Fees: $4 for adults, $2 for children

For more about Emerald Lake trails, check out: A Summer in Vermont: Exploring Emerald Lake State Park

Merck Forest and Farmland Center, Rupert, Vermont

A lone birch tree on the farm road in Merck Forest. Best hikes for kids in Southern Vermont.

A lone birch tree on the farm road at Merck Forest

Merck Forest and Farmland Center is a nonprofit educational center and outdoor stewardship organization that maintains 3,162 acres of woods and farmland in Rupert, Vermont. There are more than 30 miles of trails to explore, plus cabins for camping. We like to stroll around the farm, visit the animals, check out the maple tap house, and then head up to Birch Pond for a dip and a picnic. This is a fairly easy, 3-mile loop, but we often make a day of it because the animals are so hard to resist.

Difficulty: easy to moderate
Length of trail: 3-mile loop
Kid appeal: swimming, farm animals
Dogs: They are allowed on the trails, but if you want to visit the animals, you should leave your dog at home.
Fees: Free

Read more about Merck Forest here: Cabin Camping at Merck Forest

Hikes for Kids in South Central Vermont

Stratton Mountain Fire Tower, Stratton, Vermont

The view from the top of Stratton Mountain, showing the gondola and wildflowers

A view from the top of Stratton Mountain / photo credit: Hubert Schriebl

At 3,940 feet, Stratton Mountain is Southern Vermont’s tallest peak. The hike

Stratton Fire Tower from the base of the mountain gains 1,700 feet in elevation, and is 6 miles, round trip. This is a great hike to aspire to, but it’s probably not suitable for young children. Luckily, there’s a shortcut. During summer weekends, and every day during fall foliage season, you can hop aboard the gondola at Stratton Mountain Resort. From there, it’s an easy, .7 miles to the fire tower, which provides unparalleled views in all directions. 

Difficulty: easy
Length of trail: 1.4 miles round-trip
Kid appeal: gondola ride, fire tower
Dogs: No
Fees: It’s $35 for a family of up to eight people to ride up the mountain in a gondola cabin.

The Stratton Mountain Blog has a good overview if this adventure. Check out: Venture Vermont: Stratton Fire Tower Hike

Mt. Olga, Molly Stark State Park, Wilmington, Vermont

A sign for the trailhead to Mt. Olga

The trailhead to Mt. Olga in Molly Stark State Park

Mt. Olga is a great day hike for folks visiting Wilmington, which by the way, is one of my favorite Vermont towns. It’s a 1.8 mile loop to the top of the mountain. Older kids will appreciate that they are actually climbing a mountain, but it’s not so hard that it’s frustrating. Still, it is all up hill, so prepare yourself and your kids with an incentive for reaching the summit. We usually opt for cookies and ice tea. When my kids were little, we would read a chapter of their favorite book at the top. If you explore the summit a bit, you’ll find ruins of the defunct Hogback Ski Resort up here, which are fun to poke around.

Difficulty: moderate
Length of trail: 1.8 mile loop
Kid appeal: ruins, Fire Tower
Dogs: on leash
Fees: $4 for adults, $2 for kids

For more about exploring Wilmington, check out: The Complete Guide to Exploring Wilmington, Vermont

Little Rock Pond, Mt. Tabor, Vermont

Cliff diving at Little Rock Pond/Photo credit: Joseph Bylund

Looking for a nice hike to a pristine mountain lake? Little Rock Pond sits just off the Appalachian / Long trail. The hike is 4 miles round-trip, but it gains just 350 feet in elevation. The lake is just far enough from civilization that it is never crowded, but close enough that it can be a nice day trip for a hike, picnic, and swim. Other hikers have seen leeches in Little Rock Pond, but I never have, and we’ve been there dozens of times. Just something to be aware of. There’s a lean-to shelter and several tent platforms set up near the lake for hikers, which also makes this hike the perfect first backpacking adventure for your family.

Difficulty: easy
Length of trail: 4 miles, round trip
Kid appeal: swimming, rock jumping, beaver activity
Dogs: yes
Fees: none, although there is a nominal fee for camping

For a trail description and directions, check out this article in the Castleton Spartan.

Hamilton Falls, Jamaica State Park, Jamaica, Vermont

A child takes in the view of Hamilton Falls in Jamaica State Park

The lovely Hamilton Falls in Jamaica State Park

Jamaica State Park is one of our favorite Vermont State Parks. It includes an awesome rail trail that hugs the West River, which is a gem for swimming. As you hike or bike this trail, you’ll find lots of secluded swimming holes. If you have little kids, I recommend sticking to the West River Rail Trail, which goes all the way to the Ball Mountain Dam. The hike to Hamilton Falls is probably the most challenging on this list. It’s 6 miles round-trip — 2 miles on the rail trail, and then a 1.1-mile climb to the base of the falls. We often shorten our trip by biking the rail trail and then locking our bikes up to a tree while we hike to the falls.

Difficulty: easy on the rail trail, but a steep climb to the falls
Length of trail: 6 miles round-trip
Kid appeal: River swimming, playground, waterfall
Dogs: on leash
Fees: $4 for adults, $2 for kids

For directions and a trail map, check out the Vermont State Parks website.

Hikes for Kids in Southeastern Vermont

Mt Ascutney State Park, Windsor, Vermont

A sunset view of the summit trail in Ascutney State Park. Best hikes for kids in southern Vermont

The summit trail in Ascutney State Park

There are several hikes up Mt. Ascutney, a beautiful monadnock overlooking the Connecticut River Valley, but if you’re hiking with small children, or you want a more relaxing day trip, you can drive right up the mountain to a summit parking area. Once at the top, the summit trails are easy and fun to explore, with incredible views, a fire tower, and a hang glider launch pad. In fact, Mt. Ascutney is one of the premier hang gliding destinations in the northeast. There are several trails criss-crossing the summit, but if you want climb the fire tower and watch the hang gliders, I recommend taking the summit trail to the Weathersfield trail to the hang glider’s trail. The whole loop is about 2 miles.

Difficulty: moderate
Length of trail: 2-mile loop
Kid appeal: hang gliders, awesome views, fire tower
Dogs: on leash
Fees: $4 for adults, $2 for kids

Want to read more about Mt. Ascutney State Park, check out: Vermont’s Mighty Monadnock

Black Mountain, Dummerston, Vermont

A wooded view of the summit of Black Mountain. Best hikes for kids in southern Vermont

The summit of Black Mountain in Dummerston / photo credit: Place UVM

At 1,280 feet, Black Mountain isn’t huge, but it is an unusual ecosystem for Southern Vermont, boasting lots of mountain laurels and blueberry bushes (ready in late July or early August), and lots of exposed granite. The views are good, but a bit obstructed by trees. When you get to the top, it pays to explore a bit for more exposed outcroppings of rocks and better views. There are two trails up the mountain, from either Rice Road or Black Mountain Road. The Rice Road trail is 1.5 miles and steep. The Black Mountain Road trail is 2.5 miles, but a more moderate climb. Choose the one most suitable for your family.

Difficulty: moderate to difficult
Length of trail: depends – see above
Kid appeal: blueberries, wildlife, good birdwatching
Dogs: no
Fees: none

Putney Mountain, Putney, Vermont

A view of Stratton Mountain from the summit of Putney Mountain / photo credit: Putneypics

There is a whole network of trails here, maintained by Windham Hill Pinnacle Association and the Putney Mountain Association. The Putney Mountain trail is easy enough for families, provides awesome views of the Green Mountains to the west, and is one of the premier spots to watch migrating hawks in the spring and fall. Once you reach the summit, you can continue on the West Cliff Trail for a longer hike, or loop around back to your car for a total of 1.2 miles.

Difficulty: moderate
Length: 1.2 mile loop
Kid appeal: vista, hawk watch
Dogs: on leash
Fees: none

For a directions and a detailed trail map, visit Windam Hill Pinnacle Association

There are many, many trails in and around Brattleboro that I haven’t explored yet. If you have, please leave a comment. I’d love some more recommendations. Also, the Brattleboro Area Trail System has a fabulous trail map and guide for anyone who wants to explore the area. As I visit more trails in Southeastern Vermont, I will update this page.

If you’re interested in reading about our favorite hiking trails for kids in Northern Vermont, check out this post: Super Awesome Hikes for Kids in Northern Vermont

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There are so many reasons to visit Southern Vermont with your family, and if you like getting outside, here's a few more. The best hikes for kids in Southern Vermont.

15 Comments

  1. These look like great places for all people, even those without families like me. I would definitely love to visit Southern Vermont.
    Gioko Pat recently posted…Smartphone Safety When Camping or HikingMy Profile

  2. I liked the Mile Around Woods trail the best out of the list. It looks so beautiful! Does it rain there? The sky sure looks cloudy. The Little Rock pond too looks quite promising but the possibility that I may find leeches there scares me!! I am too scared of that creature!

    • We get lots of rain in Vermont, but plenty of sunny days too. I wish I had never read that bit about the leeches in Little Rock Pond. I’ve never seen any, but I’m always on high alert now!

  3. I love seeing kid-friendly options to do outdoor things. My husband and I are still a couple of years away from children, but as avid hikers, we definitely love seeing that the hikes don’t have to end with children. I think that Vermont will hold lots of great hikes for us in the future!
    Paige W recently posted…Exploring Nashville’s Downtown Through A Strayboots Competitive Scavenger HuntMy Profile

    • For us it has been hardest hiking with our teens – our toddlers were up for anything!

  4. I’ve actually never been to Vermont, but I’ve always wanted to visit as I’ve heard the nature is so special. I absolutely love all of these photos, as I’m a big fan of autumn colors. That orange is so vibrant! Thanks for sharing!

  5. I’ve actually never been to Vermont, and I didn’t realize how beautiful it was. I don’t have kids, but I still think I would enjoy all these hikes. The fall foliage is truly spectacular. This is a very comprehensive list!

  6. All of these hikes look amazing. The photos are amazing. It is wonderful to see that there are so many safe and adventurous places for kids to hike. I don’t have kids, but I would love to check out all of these hikes one day. Thank you for sharing so useful information 😀

  7. Thanks for putting this list together! Even without kids, it’s always nice to find some easy hikes. Vermont is so beautiful — I’m excited to be heading there in a few weeks and hopefully be able to try a few of these out.

  8. Susan

    What an informative blog post, and some great suggestions for kids. Being a big kid myself, I’d love to try the rope swing in Emerald Lake State Park. The Chocolate Barn at Lake Shaftesbury State Park sounds fab too!

  9. WOW!! I would SO love to visit Vermont in the fall months — especially for the gorgeous fall coloring. I visited in the summer a few years ago, but need to head back. Hiking sounds like the perfect idea! Thanks for this great guide. 🙂
    Natasha recently posted…Exploring the Food and Wine of Chile with foodTRIPMy Profile

    • Hi Natasha –
      Fall is indeed a gorgeous time of year to visit. Plus, you can hike without having to worry about mosquitoes!

  10. I’m so happy that there a great and safe place that kids can hikes in Southern Vermont cause kids need to also embrace and commune with nature’s bounty. I’m sure that families that are living in Southern Vermont will surely be happy about this list and they will get to bring their kids here and hike. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. You also own a beautiful photos.

  11. This is absolutely a wonderful post for families looking to take their kids out on a hike. Loved reading about each of those hikes and things that the kids can do while trekking. Those attractions add to the curiosity of the kids and makes the hikes all the more fun.

  12. I have never been to Vermont and this is really making me want to book a trip right now. I don’t have children, but I would go to many of these locations with friends and family. I would love to visit Woodford State Park and take a swim after a hike. I also love the photo of that beautiful tree in Mile Around Woods.
    Candy recently posted…How To Enjoy Disney World in One Day and Visit All 4 ParksMy Profile

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