Hiking with Kids

Scroll down for a list of kid-friendly hikes
My son at 5 (left) and 33 (right)

In my experience, most parents underestimate how far their kids can hike. Humans, after all, evolved as nomads. From a very young age, children needed to walk along with everyone else. The photo on the left shows my 5-year old backpacking on the Pacific Crest during a family vacation in the 1990s. On the most intense day of the trip he walked 8 miles, climbing 2,200 vertical feet. We had started him hiking in the Catskills when he was 3, and by age 4 he was comfortably completing day hikes of 4-5 miles and 1,000+ vertical feet.

Now my son is 33, 6’5″, and kicks my butt whenever we hike together (right). But these early walks inculcated a life-long love of the outdoors, and established an activity we still share.

The best hikes for kids aren’t necessarily easy, but they do need a “payoff”.   It can be a great view, a waterfall, a cave, or a ruin: something that gives them a goal to reach, and intrigues them.  Throughout we’ve listed some of the hikes which we think kids are likely to find intriguing.  Note they are of all different challenge levels — including some advanced hikes — so read the full review before deciding whether to take your kids along.

Click on Title for Full Review Gravitas / Map
Baldpate Mtn: Eastern Trails
Kids will love the stream crossing and the farmhouse ruins off the west branch of the Copper Hill trail.
Trail Map GeoPDF
Baldpate Mtn: Overview and Summit Trail
Kids will be fascinated by tornado damage, enjoy scramble up rock fall, boulders
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Baldpate Mtn: Pine Grove Hike
Fun, mysterious hike for fit, motivated, reasonably experienced kids. Too long for beginners.
Trail Map GeoPDF
Berry Picking in Local Parks
Pick delicious, wild raspberries and blackberries along the trails, usually in mid July.
Bowmans Hill Tower Hike
Steep climb for serious hiker-dude kids only. Or skip hike and park near tower for the view
Trail Map GeoPDF
Bowmans Hill Wildflower Preserve
Fabulous for a kid with the right interests; will bore others silly.
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Dry Run Creek / Rockhopper Trails
Engaging, intermediate hike. Nothing spectacular, but fun twisty bits particularly Rockhopper.
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Goat Hill Preserve: Family Hike
Easy walk to spectacular views of the Delaware.
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Greenway Meadows / Stony Brook Trail
Go in late spring or summer with water shoes and plan to splash
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Griggstown Native Grassland Preserve
Unique landscape, and lovely variations. Though no stunning payoffs other than the views.
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Hamilton Veterans Park
An alternate network of woods trails and large lake makes this an OK walk in the woods; viewing a real tank, jet fighter, or helicopter gunship may be an exciting addition.
Trail Map GeoPDF
Hartshorne Woods Park
NJ's mystery spot: a forest and 200 ft tall ridge right next to Sandy Hook. Highly recommended!
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Haycock Mountain
Superb, intense scramble for experienced hiker kids and parents only. Trail is poorly marked.
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Jacobs Creek Trail
Easy hike along a stream. Go in warm weather, wear water shoes, and plan on splashing
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Laurie Chauncey Trail
Kids will want to splash in Stony Brook as well as walk. Back loop through ETS a yawn. Exit the way you came.
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Morisville Levee Walk
Fascinating walk along river and two bridges (not to mention the NJ Capitol)
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Mount Rose Ridge
Fun little climb up, over, down, and back up a 120' ridge
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Mt. Tammany / Water Gap
Spectacular hike to an amazing view. Steep. Hiker dude kids only: see Notes for Parents about alt hike to water fall
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Musconetcong Gorge Preserve
Serious hike for experienced kids. Fun, very steep climb out of Scout Run.
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Omick Woods at Rocktown Preserve
Woods hike with a panoramic view and multiple, small stream crossings.
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Point Mountain Preserve
Great for hiker dudes: varied terrain, gorgeous river, corn fields, steep scrambly climb to panoramic views.
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Schooleys Mountain County Park
Great for hiker dudes and dudettes, if you park low and climb up. Pack a lunch and explore the views and Electric Brook gorge. Park at top for less challenge.
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Sourland Mountain Preserve
Big boulders are fun, but require mile+ walk plus 300 ft. elevation gain
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Teetertown Preserve
One of the nicest, closest places to take your kids camping. Little used except when the Boy Scouts show up
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Tohickon Valley Trail System
Exciting, at times challenging area with spine-tingling views
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Valley Forge NHP: Mt. Joy / Misery Hike
Lovely hike, with lots of interesting variations, and serious history you can explore in bits. Only 45 minutes away.
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Watershed Reserve
Lots of kid-focused events, tots to teens. Arts, sciences, and games too!
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White Oak Trail
Short, interesting path with good footing and moderate elevation gain. The old quarry pit adds interest, and if you return via Quarry Rd you can view it from another angle.
Trail Map GeoPDF
Wickecheoke Creek Preserve
Challenging in parts, but gorgeous and entertaining. Even a truly old cemetery standing in the middle of a field.
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Witherspoon Woods / Mountain Lakes
In Princeton. Charming trails and mysterious boulder formations including the "Devil's Den", which is close to trail head
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Woodfield Reservation
Compact trails to some cool boulders. Can get muddy in spots, and little used (wear long pants, even in summer)
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Woosamonsa Ridge Preserve
Fun, hilly trails with multiple, well-designed stream crossings.
Trail Map
Zega-Lockatong Preserve
Sophisticated kids will love the geology; everyone will love the crystal clear water & climb
Trail Map GeoPDF