On our second day in Franconia Notch, we were excited to see more of the mountains. However, we also knew we had to take it a little easy with the kids since the day before had been relatively long and physically demanding for our three young children. This is a regular pattern for us during our travels. We like to alternate busy days with more relaxed days to make sure the boys never hit the ’tilt and meltdown’ point.
We went looking for two types of activities…
- A short, rewarding hike
- A great swim
…and we found them both at Echo Lake.
Echo Lake, located at the foot of Cannon Mountain, has a beautiful swimming area, fishing area, boat launch and rentals. There is a small fee for use of the lake, but we entered the parking lot before 10 am so we didn’t have to pay (hint, hint).
Hike #1: Artist’s Bluff
Once we parked in the Echo Lake parking lot, we crossed the street to the Artist’s Bluff trailhead. Here we were presented with a couple of options.
We could have stayed to the right and completed a very short but very STEEP rock scramble up to Artist’s Bluff, or we could go to the left and complete a longer loop leading up to the same place. We chose the latter option and then descended from the bluff along the steeper, rockier path.
This was a 1.5 mile loop that was just perfect for a family hike. It had all of the changing landscape, kid-friendly challenges, and stunning views that we look for in a trail.
The boys had a great time practicing ‘careful footing’ on the way down. I had Wes in the backpack, and I was just fine navigating the rocks.
Hike #2: Bald Mountain
This hike is in the same location, but we completed it on a different day. You could easily combine the two hikes into one if you have older children (or just adults!) who have greater trail stamina.
For our climb up to Bald Mountain, we parked in a lot that was just up from Echo Lake on your right coming off of Interstate 93. The ascent was short and dramatic, requiring a lot of rock scrambling and some butt-shuffling on the part of the boys.
This was the perfect difficulty level for our boys since they had to concentrate and exert quite a bit of effort, but only over a short period of time. The summit is only .4 miles from the trailhead, but the whole trail is engaging and interesting.
And the views.
We read over and over that these two hikes offered some of the most rewarding views of Franconia Notch. This is absolutely true. Make sure you bring some snacks or a lunch and relax a bit on the summits.
These were probably our two favorite mountaintop locations during our entire New Hampshire trip.
The Payoff: Swim at Echo Lake
It is never disappointing to come down off the mountain when there is a beautiful lake for a refreshing swim. We thought that Echo Lake would be cold. Freezing, New Hampshire water cold. Actually, that turned out not to be the case. It felt like a crisp, invigorating high 60’s, and the kids dived right in and splashed around comfortably.
One of the best things about this lake was the very large swimming area. We often feel like big, beautiful lakes that we visit have ridiculously small, roped-off swimming sections. There was also an additional shallow area sectioned off for the kids. We loved that feature since our boys still need that visual cue for how far they can swim out.
There was the coveted sandy bottom and clear, fresh water that we love in a lake. The views of the Notch and Cannon Mountain that surrounded us as we floated in the water were truly idyllic.
There is a bike path (and bike rentals) right there as well. We didn’t get to explore the path, but if you do, let us know how you enjoy it. Our boys also looked longingly at the paddle boats, but we promised that for another time.
Just one more thing to put on the list for our next visit to New Hampshire.