Step away from those devices (OK, the GPS can stay on) and dust off those hiking boots: It’s time to kick up your heels on a trail. Take on one of these easygoing New England hikes, tailored for families with small fry. As veteran hikers (and authors of a hiking guidebook) with a troop of kids between us, our advice is, keep the trail mix handy, keep the walks short, and keep things lively with hikes that offer fun extras, like cows, caves, and cascades. Here’s a six-pack of trail-tested hikes that hit the sweet spots.
A MOUNTAIN SUMMIT IN JUSTA MILE: BRADBURY MOUNTAIN STATE PARK
“We are going all the way up to the top!” a little tot in sparkly high-tops crowed, as we trekked along the blue-blazed Northern Loop trail on Bradbury Mountain. Even the tiniest hikers can feel the thrill of conquering a summit at this state park, located just a few minutes from Freeport, Maine. At 485 feet above sea level, Bradbury is no Mount Katahdin, but it’s a whole lot easier to summit — in just one mile of gentle ascending, you’ll reach a flat, rocky peak with views to the Atlantic. Abundant bird life and spring wildflowers add to the pleasures of this woodsy walk; when we were there recently, a local birding group was gathered at the summit, scanning the sky for hawks and eagles. Among the 22 multiuse trails at the park, Northern Loop, on the west side, is popular with families. Wide with a gradual ascent, it is long enough to feel like a hike, but not long enough to be a slog, even for the parents who make the trip with kids on their shoulders. Bradbury’s nice flat summit makes a perfect pit stop for a snack, plus there are picnic tables and a playground at the base of the park. 528 Hallowell Road (Route 9), Pownal, Maine. 207-688-4712, www.maine.gov/bradburymountain. $3 per person.
COW COUNTRY TREK: APPLETON FARMS
Anyone in the moo-oo-d for a pastoral hike that includes bovine sightings? Appleton Farms, and the adjacent Appleton Farms Grass Rides property, offers a variety of easygoing hikes, including woodsy footpaths, bridle paths, and old carriage roads. Park at the lot on Waldingfield Road in Ipswich and follow the flat, 1.3-mile Farmstead Loop along pastures and vegetable fields. A short walk gets you to the dairy barn of this working farm (the oldest continuously operating farm in the country), the place to meet the farm’s herd of Jersey cows. A visitors center, restrooms, and the farm’s dairy store are nearby. In addition to cows, you’re likely to see horses on this loop; it’s a popular route for equestrians. Or enter the property from Highland Street in Hamilton to explore 5.5 miles of grass avenues (originally designed for horseback riding and carriage driving) that wind through forests, fields, and wetlands. A favorite of North Shore families, the Grass Rides Loop is a woodsy two-mile trail. Look for the granite pinnacle on Pigeon Hill, a stone pillar salvaged from the demolition of the old Harvard College Library, Gore Hall. From this vantage point, look for — you guessed it — more cows, dotting the landscape of this sprawling expanse of green gorgeousness. Owned and managed by The Trustees of Reservations, the property comprises about 953 acres. Want to hike with your pooch? Dog walking is allowed along the Grass Rides Loop, but not on the Farmstead Loop. Route 1A, Ipswich and Hamilton, Mass. 978-356-5728, www.thetrustees.org. Members free; nonmembers $3.
CONQUER A PEAK: PAWTUCKAWAY STATE PARK
Located only 70 miles from Boston, this 5,500-acre state park offers a trio of hike-able mountain peaks, suitable for families with older, agile kids. Among these, we like 2.4-mile (one-way) Mountain Trail, a rocky path that winds to the 908-foot summit of South Mountain. It’s a gradual uphill, with just one steep section at the last .6-mile. The reward comes at the top, with a climb even higher, to the top of an old fire tower. Allow about three hours to hike it, with time to enjoy the summit. But you don’t need to bag a peak to enjoy a hike here. Amble the Fundy Trail alongside Burnham’s Marsh, where you might see beavers or great blue herons if you arrive early (or late) in the day. After your hike, follow Mountain Road to the beach, where there’s a playground, a snack bar, boat rentals, and the major attraction: Pawtuckaway Lake. The clear, shallow waters and tawny sand will tempt you out of your hiking duds and into a swimsuit. (Check the beach advisories on www.nhstateparks.org if you plan to take a dip, to confirm that the lake is clean enough for swimming.) 40 Pawtuckaway Road, Nottingham, N.H. 603-895-3031, www.nhstateparks.org. Adults $5, ages 6-11 $2.
COOL CASCADE: BINGHAM FALLS Although it’s known for rough, rugged climbs, like Camel’s Hump, Vermont offers plenty of hiking on the gentler end of the scale, including a wonderful waterfall walk near Stowe. The hardest part about hiking Bingham Falls is finding the trailhead (it’s located on the east side of Mountain Road, also known as Route 108, about half a mile north of Notch Brook Road. Look for the general store.) On this short-and-sweet hike (about 15 minutes), you’ll descend about .8 miles down a rocky, wooded gorge to Bingham Falls, a series of cascades that tumble into pools of emerald water fed by the Waterbury River. The tallest of the falls is about 25 feet. On hot summer days, the rocky pools are a popular local swimming hole. Keep a tight reign on small fry, since mossy rocks are slippery. Post-hike, take in the charms of Stowe Village, including the five-mile Stowe Recreation Path (fun to explore by bicycle). 802-253-7221; www.stowelandtrust.org.
COASTAL ROMP: SACHUEST POINT NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE Sometimes you just need to feel the sun in your face and the earth at your feet. This 2.5-mile perimeter loop hike offers great views from a rocky peninsula overlooking Sachuest Bay, the Sakonnet River, and Rhode Island Sound. Rich with bird life (we’ve also seen harbor seals haul out on the rocks), this 242-acre property is a pristine landscape of saltmarsh-meets-sea. Following the perimeter of the boot-shaped peninsula, the trail is flat, open, and bordered with beach plum and bayberry. There’s also poison ivy, so beware. Elevated platforms provide expansive overlooks of the refuge. Kids will head directly to the tumble of rockweed-clad boulders along the shore, where a close look reveals critters like crabs and barnacles hugging the rock. By heading in a counterclockwise direction and staying right, you’ll take in all the glories of this salt-scented spot, and you can easily cut it short and head back to the visitors center (home to wildlife-themed exhibits) if the kids run out of steam. 769 Sachuest Point Road, Middletown, R.I. 401-847-5511, www.fws.gov.
SEASHORE AND SCENERY: ROCKY NECK STATE PARK Pack a picnic, take a hike, and hit the beach: A family outing doesn’t get much better than this. Located just off Interstate 95, Rocky Neck is one of Connecticut’s top swimming beaches, but its color-coded loop hikes are worthy too. Park at the small lot at the trailhead (located on Route 156 just before the park’s main entrance) and hike to the huge, circa 1930s stone pavilion that overlooks Long Island Sound. This lofty vantage point reveals big climbable boulders, waterside picnic tables, and a lovely vista of sand-meets-sea. (A boardwalk leads to restrooms and a changing area.) Heading back, take the blue trail to see Tony’s Nose overlook and, off the blue-yellow trail, Bakers Cave, a small cave surrounded by boulders. You won’t feel like you’re deep into the wilderness (the Amtrak train runs right along the shoreline) but it’s a fun, short hike — about a half hour each way — with plenty to see and do. 244 West Main St., East Lyme, Conn. 860-739-5471, www.ct.gov/deep. Parking: free at the trailhead, $15-$22 at the beach for out-of-state visitors, $9-$13 for state residents (reduced after 4 p.m.).
Little hikers, big fun
We asked outdoor guide Deborah Lewis of Bredeson Outdoor Adventures (www.bredeson.com) for advice on making hiking fun for kids. “Once [kids] are walking on their own, leave your adult mind-set at home, except when it comes to safety, and become a fun-seeking kid on the trail,” Lewis says. “Slow down the forced march, smell the roses [or find the bugs under the rocks] and share kids’ wonder,” she adds.
■ Have a scavenger hunt: Make a list of things for the kids to find in the woods, or have them develop their own lists.
■ Bring along walkie-talkies. These are a guaranteed hit.
■ Combine outings with a destination that the whole family will like, such as a museum, playground, or cafe.Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at bairwright@