groups, families and pets

Hiking with other people (and your furry friends!) requires a different approach than simply taking it solo. Below are some tips for planning a successful hike with a large group, a family, or your pets.

planning a family hike

Download our Family Hike Planning Guide for a comprehensive resource.

Young Child Smiling at Jefferson Rock West Virginia 

​Choosing a Hike

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.
  • When very young children are participating, aim for loop hikes or out-and-back hikes. It's difficult to to rely on shuttle transportation when you're juggling a car seat.

Young Girl Setting Up Tent 

​Adapting your Hike

When hiking with children or inexperienced hikers, don't be afraid to change your plans. Try to build options into your hike that will allow you to adapt if needed.

  • Don't wear new hikers out. Empower them to make them realize they can do it!
  • Remember it's about the journey, not the destination. Be willing to modify the hike if needed based on the comfort and enjoyment of all participants.
  • Be flexible enough to stop and explore the natural world along the way. 

Kids looking at A.T. Map Family Hiking 

​Preparing for your Hike

Hiking with children requires additional preparation and careful attention to hikers during the hike.

  • Set ground rules that identify the hike leader and sweep (the person in the back of the group).
  • 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. Plan ahead to allow for enough time for these breaks.

Child playing on the Appalachian Trail in Harpers Ferry, WV

Hiking Games and Activities

Hiking with your family is an adventure! There is plenty to see and do while out on the A.T., but having a brief, fun activity can enhance the experience for all. Whether your ​hike leads you 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.

Girl Scouts hiking on the Appalachian Trail

guidelines for groups on the a.t.

  • Take particular care to follow Leave No Trace Practices. This is vital because groups have a more concentrated impact on paths, campsites and facilities.
  • When staying at shelters where tenting is permitted, pitch tents nearby, leaving the shelter for solo hikers.
  • Limit group size to no more than 10 (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.
  • Take care to keep members together; most search and rescue missions along the Trail happen when someone gets separated from a group.

Read more about group use in Mt. Rogers High Country

guided hikes

The A.T. 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:

  • ​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.
  • Our Biennial Conference, held in the summer every two years, offers dozens of hikes and workshops during a week-long period.
  • Shenandoah National Park offers free ranger-led walks and programs about the park's 101 miles of the Trail from early April through late November. Visitors can also rent a GPS Ranger Unit from the Byrd Visitor Center with preloaded content about the A.T. 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:

pets on the a.t.

Regardless of whether it is required by law, we recommend dogs be leashed at all times as a matter of courtesy to other hikers and to minimize stress to wildlife.

Dog Pet Ready to Hike 


Dogs are NOT allowed in three areas along the A.T.:

  • Baxter State Park, Maine
  • Bear Mountain State Park Trailside Museum and Wildlife Center, New York (an alternate road walk is available)
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina

Man and Dog Hiking 


Leashes are required on more than 40 percent of the A.T., including:

  • Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, Pennsylvania and New Jersey
  • Maryland (entire state)
  • Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, West Virginia
  • Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia
  • 500+ miles of A.T. land administered by the National Park Service

Family with dog in front of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy's visitor center

Trail ethics for pets and their owners

People hiking with dogs should be aware of the impact of their animals on the Trail environment and their effect on the Trail experience of others. Be conscientious about cleaning up after your dog and keeping them away from water sources. Dogs, like people, can carry and spread giardia and other diseases.

  • Always keep your dog on a leash
  • Do not allow your pet to chase wildlife
  • Do not allow your dog to stand in springs or other sources of drinking water
  • Be mindful of the rights of other hikers not to be bothered by even a friendly dog
  • Bury your pet's waste as you would your own

Take special measures at shelters. Keep your dog leashed in the shelter area, and ask permission of other hikers before allowing your dog in a shelter. Be prepared to "tent out" when a shelter is crowded and on rainy days.