View Full Version : Shenandoah with my son (next year)

05-10-2010, 21:09
So later this year the wife and I will be hiking the Smokies. And I am sitting here trying to figure out what we can do next year. But I want to bring my son. I was reading in the other recent thread about carrying a son and I noticed that this section was mentioned (among others).

I started looking into it, and I think it would be a fun hike. Just a little over 100 miles but on fairly gentle terrain, and many opt out points if needed. Also, we could enjoy a good meal everyday, so our packs wouldn't be heavy. This will be good for all of us. It would give me a chance to try out some lighter weight gear I am trying to accrue, as well as keep my wife and my son's packs light.

This will be my son's biggest hike by far if we do this. Up to this point he has been on some over night trips with me to state parks, and a 3 day trip to Sipsey Wilderness back last Thanksgiving (we had Thanksgiving dinner there!) It was pretty cold on this trip, but he did great. He loved it, and has been asking to go back. Here is a trip report from that trip:


So, anyway. He will be 9 years old next year. A little small maybe, about 4' 3" and ~ 60 lbs. He will be carrying his sleeping bag and pad, some water and clothes, and a few other little things. His pack will be about 9 lbs, give or take a pound.

So, what do you think? How many days should I plan on taking for hiking the 100+ miles of the Shenandoah with a kid this size and age? Is this too much for him? I was thinking that since this was a lively area it may be a little easier or more fun for him? I think right now I am trying to consider how many days for this trip, and then I will take it from there.


05-10-2010, 21:41
Wow! I applaud you for getting your son out on the trail. I was just reading another article about Nature Deficit Disorder, so it's good to see your son won't suffer from that.

How many miles do you plan to cover per day? The terrain in SNP is easy for a thru-hiker, but there are still 1000' elevation gains/losses through the gaps, which could be quite a challenge for a youngster. I wouldn't exactly call it "gentle" terrain, especially not if I were 4'3" and 60 or so pounds. Also, stopping to get meals everyday at one of the waysides or lodges won't be do-able with a 9 year old. For instance, there is a good 10 miles between Skyland and Big Meadows lodges, add a mile if you're going to walk to the Big Meadows wayside from the trail, and then a mile back to the trail after the meal. The lodge, however, is very close to the trail. Loft Mountain wayside, the next food service south of Big Meadows is also a bit off the trail, and it's more than a day's walk from Big Meadows for a 9 year-old, IMO. The only other food service in the park is Elkwallow Wayside in the northern district of the park. Too far for a 1-day hike for a 9 year old, including a climb through Thornton Gap, to/from Mary's Rock and over Pass Mtn.

Also, know that the shelters on the AT are often too far apart or too close together. If you want to stop only at shelters, you might find that inconvenient with a young hiker. Good news is there are lots of good campsites in SNP. If you want to spend a little cash, you might also throw in a PATC cabin rental at some point in your trip. But plan ahead for those. You have to call and reserve them in advance. Info about cabin rentals is on their website.

So, I really haven't answered your question about how long you should take. I think that 10 miles a day is a bit grueling for a 9 year old. And if you did that pace, you'd still be 10 days on the AT. Maybe 15 or 17 days. Is your objective to cover the AT, or just to be out in SNP? There are so many fantastic trails with great views, waterfalls, swimming holes in the park. You could easily spend a week seeing those sorts of things in the park.

SNP is a lively area. I started camping there in 1968 when I was 7 years old. We hiked a lot and talked to rangers and hung out in Big Meadows, and on and on and on. Loved the place! It's a national park and so there were things happening there that were unique to national parks. That's how I came to love the park, and that grew into a love for all of the national parks. (Not unlike Ken Burns whose childhood visit to SNP was his first national park experience.)

I think what you need to consider is whether this is an AT trip or a national park trip. In either case, take your time. Enjoy the blue-blazed opportunities, ranger programs at Loft Mountain campground and Big Meadows. Let your son set the pace, and be flexible if he wants to bail at a certain point. SNP does indeed have a lot of bail out points. It also has a lot of re-charging points. If you have the time to spare, you can always get to a campground and make it a basecamp trip if your son gets a bit overwhelmed with a long hiking trip. I did that sort of thing when my boys were his age. They are now 22 and 20 and still enjoy the outdoors. In fact, I'll be taking the 20 year old and his girlfriend with me to a PATC cabin in a few weeks. We're going to do the tourist horseback ride out of Skyland this time!

Have fun! Take your time! Enjoy!

05-10-2010, 21:43
You're going to need quite a few days, depending on how far he can reasonable walk in a day. Make sure you go at a time when the facilities will be open so you can take advantage of them. There are also regular family campgrounds as well as the hut system and the hotels which makes lodging and food easier (but more expensive, so plan ahead with the budget).

If you want to do the whole thing, I'd go NOBO, and start at McCormick Gap which is the initial entrance into the park (the first miles up into the park from Rockfish Gap are pretty hilly and pretty boring to start) . But from McCormick you then go up to Beagle Gap with the tractor seats etc (cool for boys). First night can be calf mtn shelter which isn't too far. The southern section though will be devoid of huts (Blackrock is pretty far from Calf Mtn) and water except for longer miles, so plan ahead, maybe by having a water cache set up. And don't be afraid to blue blaze or yellow blaze this route to make it more interesting.

05-10-2010, 22:00
Wow, lots of good info there. Thanks Lellers. I do not have much of an idea about the park, except that from my general (or vague) perspective it was an easier part to do (on the AT) with lots of opportunities for food. Thanks for the clarification.

It does not have to be this part of the AT. But I would like it to be the AT that we do. I like the idea of doing it through a national park though. As enthusiastic as he is about wanting to go and do a section with me, I believe that he has the spirit, but I don't want to abuse that spirit. I want him to do enough to have fun, and be slightly wore out, but not enough to feed the hunger, ya know.....

As far as the SNP goes, this was just a brain fart from reading another thread. I guess when it comes down to it, I would like to do a stent for about 10 - 12 days, on the trail. I live in NE MS, so I have to take into consideration for a drive as well (for time off from work). As for time range I am thinking this time next year. I would just take off a little more than a weeks time from work, use the weekends and the Memorial Day weekend.

I would like it to be somewhere easy for him. I am thinking 6 - 8 miles a day, depending on terrain, so this would cover 60 - 80 miles for 10 days, a little more for 11. However, If I were to decide to do a thru of a NP, I would take off the required time for this. However, I would say that 15 - 17 days on the trail would be pushing it (for time off). So, I think I just said a NP is out, unless we only do a section, but I am not sure if I want to do this.

I am not worried about staying in shelters. I would rather stay in my tent, however, for his sake (and benefit) I wouldn't mind staying in a shelter a few times. I would like to be able to make a trip into town to pick up a resupply, or just arrange for a mail drop that I could pick up. (10 days food for 3 people would equal alot.)

I do want to take our time. I want him to be able to enjoy the time out, as well as give me a trip where I don't feel that I am just trying to kick out miles. I will admit, I am curious to see how many miles I can do, but while I am by myself. For this trip, I am dreaming of easy days, with grand views, and then kicking back and relaxing with the wife and son.

05-11-2010, 08:38
I can say because of the AT ridgewalk that there are limited good tenting areas except near shelters (which also have a water supply). I mean they are out there but you have to know where. And the NPS has regulations also. I would factor in the idea of using the NPS campgrounds also in your plans. Plus they have nightly programs, ranger activities, etc

05-11-2010, 12:24
I think he can do that no problem. The only thing you have to do is keep him interested.

Last year I took my daughters who were 13 and 11 on a hike that included McAfee Knob. I thought it was going to kill them and they ripped right up it like it was nothing. We also hiked the Grayson Highlands section.

Personal advice: Let him take the lead and never follow behind.

05-11-2010, 16:08
I agree with letting him take the lead. Nothing kills the spirit of a kid on the trail like an adult in front encouraging him to move faster or to keep going. Walk as fast as he walks, stop when he wants to stop. SNP is a nice place to visit. If you have 10 to 12 days, you can still do a good bit of the park. Maybe what you need to do is adjust the idea of doing a thru of the park. Instead, perhaps just decide you'll be walking the AT in SNP for 10 or so days and see what you do. You can definitely keep him interested if you take the time out for ranger programs. They even do a program about walking the AT! You can rest up at one of the developed campgrounds, too.

Whatever you do, it sounds like you have a good handle on your son's capabilities, and you're well aware that keeping it fun for him is the key to fostering a love of trail life in him.

05-11-2010, 18:34
What exactly is the ranger program?

05-11-2010, 20:15
They publish a paper out every season describing some of the programs rangers give (varies year to year). Can be wildlife, botany, geography, history of the area (like the people who used to live there before the park came into being) etc. The Big Meadows visitor center has some neat exhibits as well as movies. You can call them to see what they typically offer. Check the nps.gov web site

05-11-2010, 20:39
Lellers, Blissful, and Fredmugs gave you some real good heads up info so let me reiterate/emphasize some of what they said and add a bit.

I'm also concerned with Americans having Nature Deficit Disorder, especially the younger generations, so I also applaud you for getting outdoors with your family and spending quality time as a family.

From what you said, you are extending the length of a hiking trip with your 9 yr old son from the longest you have ever been out which is a 2 night/3 day trip in the Sipsey Wilderness(I read your nice trip report) which also included having the company of other children along to a trip lasting at least 10 nights out with only son, your wife(?), and yourself. 10 nights assumes you are asking your 9 yr old son to avg 10 miles per day for 10 days(perhaps a day or two off somewhere, maybe at a campground) along the AT through Shenendoah NP. I bring up these pts because a 2 night trip with other children is going to be a little different than a 10 + night hiking trip with just yourself, wife(?), and 9 yr old son. Without the constant comradarie of other children YOU and wife(?) will have to do more to keep you son interested. More on this later.

When I take my nieces and nephews hiking, ages 6 -16, one of my goals is to keep them continually interested, amazed, and connected with the outdoors without having to dictate every minute of their behavior. I let them make some decisions for themselves but also have them sharing with each other, others who they might meet, and me while learning how to respect others and the environment while hiking. I hope they translate what they have learned with me while out on the trail to their lives when not on the trail.

I'll assume that when you take your son and wife(?) hiking that the MAIN GOAL is not hiking but using hiking as a vehicle to share/bond/spend time with your family. It's about getting them, and yourself, to have a greater appreciation for and connection with the outdoor environment and hiking. The focus is not mainly on yourself anymore. When I take others out on hikes I view it as one of the greatest blessings/opportunities in my life to be able to positively share something special with someone else. When that someone else is a relative, particularly a child, it can make the experience all that more meaningfull. If that means I need to somehow alter the way I customarily hike solo I gladly do it. Another way to put it is that hiking, especially tru-hiking, IS NOT just about hiking. This can even be more true when you are hiking with others, especially your family!

While the AT through Shenendoah NP is not generally rated extremely strenuous by anyone's trail rating system it's also not as easy as thru-hikers make it seem, especially when compared to another hiker(s) who hasn't yet adopted the thru-hiker mentality, routine, physical or mental conditioning, or maybe a hiker who is 9 yrs. old.

While the opportunities of wayside dining along the AT in Shenendoah NP will enable you to carry less trail food wt and consuming SOME good restaurant prepared food you can't rely on the waysides/restaurant(Skyline Lodge, Big meadows) every night of your 100 mile trip. You and/or son will have to add trailfood wt to your pack wt.

As Lellers and Blissful stated you might give greater consideration to adding some of the very worthy blue blazes adjacent or near the AT in Shenendoah NP. You could easily accomplish this if you shortened your miles of AT hiking and adding/connecting to other trails. Personally, I think by including some of those blue blazes(White Oak Canyon, dark Hollow Falls, Lewis Run, Cedar Run Falls, Rag Top, for example), catching one or more of the ranger talks/presentations(Astronomy, local history, Geology, Biology, local fauna and flora, etc), breaking up the section of your hike along the AT by including stops at the waysides(treat your family to Blackberry milkshakes), lodges(last time I checked Skyline has some great dining), AT shelters(I think it would be neat if your son could meet other hikers, especially some long distance ones, the AT shelters are a good place to do this), etc you will provide for a more stimulating/interesting overall hike for everyone on the hike than just hiking the AT through Shenendoah NP. The AT through Shenendoah NP, while providing some outstanding views across Shenendoah Valley at some key overlooks(Hawksbill. Mt Mary summit overlook, etc.), scenic ridge walking(including some possible raptor viewing), some harder ups/downs, and access to waysides, lodges, etc also has 10's of miles of rather mundane wooded forest walking, that I think a 9 yr old would start to find monotonous. Hiking just the AT in Shenendoah leaves out some very interesting creekside hiking, waterfall viewing, summit views, and rock hopping else where in Shenendoah NP. Do you think a 9 yr old boy would enjoy exploring such areas? How about you? Your wife? If you have a vehicle a dayhike at Rag Top is a possible adventure in itself. You could even make a strenuous two day hike by hiking to Rag Top over Mt Robson. Or reverse the hike by getting dropped of at Rag Top and hike back to Skyline Lodge over Mt Robson. Another interesting dayhike is begun by hiking down the Cedar Run Trl, past a few waterfalls(TH is across from the Hawksbill overlook on Skyline Rd), and hiking to White Oak Canyon Tr and up that trail past lower, middle, and upper White Oak Canyon Waterfalls back to Skyline Lodge. What I'm trying to get at, is that hiking does not just have to be about hiking! or about how many miles you have hiked! And, it doesnt need to be all about the hiking the AT in Shenendoah NP.

05-11-2010, 21:19
One of the nice features of this section is the ability to easily quit if it becomes too much at some point. Lots of road crossings and other facilities.

05-11-2010, 22:06
I agree wholeheartedly with Dogwood!

And with regard to the ranger programs, a new one was added recently at Big Meadows just for kids. I don't remember the specifics, but it's kid-oriented and involves GPS in the meadow. It seems to be wildly popular, and I do believe it's free. The schedule is posted on the NPS website for Shenandoah NP.

05-11-2010, 22:43
SNP also offers the Lodge-to-Lodge hike, if that would be of interest. Check out www.HikeLodge2Lodge.com (http://www.HikeLodge2Lodge.com).

If traditional backpacking along the AT would be of primary interest, keep in mind that overnight shelters (called huts in SNP) are spaced further apart in some cases than along much of the AT. All the huts in SNP do, however, offer designated tentsites in addition to three-sided structures for sleeping. But the huts' spacing means you might need to find campsites in between the huts. This can be done! Drivers for Mountain & Valley Shuttle Service (www.MVshuttle.com (http://www.MVshuttle.com), or 1-877-789-3210) have some possibilities that they pass along to shuttle clients when asked. :sun

If planning a long trek, it is best to have a shuttle driver meet you where you want to park, drive your party to where you want to start hiking, and then you all can hike back to your vehicle without worrying about meeting an arbitrary deadline for meeting a driver. Often, the shuttle service can also help you out if you want to cut the hike short for any reason.

Other info about specific hikes in SNP (on and off the AT) can be found on this site: http://www.hikingupward.com. Each hike description is very detailed and includes maps and photos.

SNP is divided into thirds by US highways (South, Central, North) so if a full thru-hike of the Park isn't in the cards, it is easy to divise other plans. There are actually many points other than just the road crossings to begin/end hikes at parking areas within a couple minutes of the AT.

05-12-2010, 00:51
Wow! Thanks for all the info. Once I get a chance I will need to sit back and try to digest some of it.

It also seems that I need to get on the website and check into it all a little more, which I was going to do anyway. I looked into it a little earlier, but very briefly. THis is why I am trying to figure this out now, or at least start to work on it. I want to go to a section that I have not been to, just for a little difference.

I would love to work in a little of all of it. I do want to make it entertaining for him, and this is the challenge. For me and the wife, just being out there will be great. I do realize that he will need a plan though. Especially because of the time frame, and because he will not necessarily have other kids with him. I would love to take my nephew, which would be great for both him and my son, but I don't see that happening.....

Thanks so far everyone for all the great information. Like I said, I will start taking it all in and sorting it all out, and I will let him go through some of it with me and help to plan the trip as well.

05-12-2010, 12:11
Hey, I just looked at the Shen Ranger Explorer Activity Guide on the AT - MAGS did the trail journal part!