Hiking with your Family
Planning a family hike requires a different approach than planning a hike for adults. Even experienced hikers may not be prepared for the needs of children.
Below are some tips for planning a family hike or you can download our Family Hike Planning Guide.
As noted above, choosing a hike depends upon the age and experience of the children in your family.
- Consider a maximum of 3 or 4 miles for an all-ages hike
- Especially when very young children are participating, aim for loop hikes or out-and-back hikes rather than shuttles that are difficult, or impossible, for juggling car seats
When hiking with children or inexperienced hikers, don’t be afraid to change your plans – in fact, try to build options into your hike that will allow you to adapt if needed.
- Don’t wear them out on their first time. Make them feel like they can do it.
- It’s the journey, not the destination. Be willing to modify the hike. If you planned a 4 mile hike that was an out-and-back and the pace of toddlers means you are only going to walk half the distance, do so without making it feel like a concession. Adjust the hike to the comfort and enjoyment of all participants.
- Be flexible enough to stop and explore the natural world along the way – animal tracks, frogs, turtles, mushrooms, ants, flowers, wild raspberries, or evidence of beavers. Compare different ecosystems you pass through – a meadow, deciduous forest, or a pond.
Hiking with children requires additional preparation before the hike, and careful attention to hikers during the hike.
- Make frequent stops to rest and refuel.
- Set ground rules that includes who is the leader and who is the sweep.
- If toddlers or very young children are participating, the pace may really slow significantly as they explore everything; go at a speed that is comfortable to everybody.
- Adapt your first aid kit for youth and first-time hikers. Add children’s sunscreen, children’s Tylenol, liquid antihistamine, Band-Aids, tweezers, hand sanitizer, blister treatment (moleskin, etc)
- Children are especially susceptible to sun exposure and exhaustion; this makes frequent snack and water breaks all the more important.
HIKING GAMES AND ACTIVITIES
Hiking with your family is an adventure – there is plenty to see and do while out on the Appalachian Trail! Still, having a brief, fun activity can enhance the experience for all. Whether your trail leads to a stream, wetland, field, or forest, you will find a whole new world to explore with your senses, even if you think you already know the place well! Slow down, open your eyes and ears, and discover some new ways to “know” a place near you.
CLICK HERE for a list of games and activities.
Groups on the A.T.
Groups are welcome on the Trail, but bear in mind that the Trail is narrow and campsites are small. Please follow these guidelines as you plan your outings.
- Take particular care to follow Leave No Trace Practices. This is vital because groups have a more concentrated impact on paths, campsites, and facilities. Click here for specific Leave No Trace guidelines for groups on the A.T.
- When staying at Trail shelters where tenting is permitted, pitch tents nearby, leaving the shelter for solo hikers.
- Limit group size to no more than 10 for overnight trips, or 25 on day hikes. Four to six is best. Traveling and camping in smaller groups reduces the physical impact to the Trail. Smaller groups also help preserve the sense of solitude and remoteness for other hikers who encounter your group.
- In New England, voluntary group registration systems help reduce crowding and allow groups to reduce their chances of arriving at a campsite area that is already full.
- The Mount Rogers High Country of Virginia, which includes the Grayson Highlands, requires special consideration from groups. Check out the Mount Rogers VA High Country Trip Planning Guide for Groups to help you plan a group hike.
- Take care to keep members together; most search-and-rescue missions along the A.T. happen when someone gets separated from a group.
The Appalachian Trail is a primitive footpath where hikers are expected to be well-prepared and self-reliant. However, those seeking guided or organized hikes do have these options:
Appalachian Trail Clubs from Georgia to Maine offer group hikes that are usually open to the public. Most are free, with only a charge to cover the cost of any carpooling. The Appalachian Mountain Club
, with chapters from Washington, DC to Maine, has the most extensive offerings.
The ATC’s A.T. Biennial Conference offers dozens of hikes and workshops during a week-long period in the summer every two years. Shenandoah National Park
offers free ranger-led walks and programs about the park’s 101 miles of the A.T. from early April through late November. Visitors can also rent a GPS Ranger Unit from the Byrd Visitor Center with preloaded content about the Appalachian Trail. The short hike features historic photos of the history of the Trail and the area, as well as interviews with two thru-hikers. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
may offer short ranger-led day hikes from Newfound Gap.
Due to commercial use regulations affecting public lands, professionally led hikes may not be available in many areas. However, a few national parks and forests do permit a limited number of outfitters to provide either day or multi-day guided A.T. hikes. These parks and forests include: