View Full Version : kids on the AT

momma bird
11-29-2013, 23:33
We are planning on section hiking the AT with our 5 kids, ages 9-17, any advice?

Teacher & Snacktime
11-30-2013, 00:06
wait for FarmerChef to get back from his hike next week and PM him.....ANYTHING you need to know, he'll help with

11-30-2013, 07:10
7 people is a sizable group! I'm hoping the age/gender distribution skews towards having some strong young men/women to carry loads, instead of triplet 5-year-olds that can't carry much. Tell us more about yourself, your family, and your experience level, and we'll help out however we can.
First off, :welcome to WhiteBlaze, momma bird (my daughter calls me that sometimes!)

Second, pick an area that is fairly gentle. Shenandoah is a good place to start - but stay on the AT, the side trails are steep! Another option closer to you is a portion of the 40 or 50 miles between Wautauga Lake (near Hampton TN) and Damascus VA. Your daily mileage will be determined by the endurance of your weakest/youngest child, so plan around their abilities.

Next, unless you already have experienced backpackers in your group, you should probably send 2 or 3 of the family out on an overnight or weekend trip to scout out an area you're interested in. Learn where the water sources are, the condition of privies (if they exist), and where there are good campsites. Learn the basic lessons of safety, navigation, how to use equipment, what to wear, how to cook, how much to carry, etc, before you bring the little ones.

Food is important. Hungry tired kids (and adults) can get cranky or quarrelsome. A supper that is delicious, nutritious, and filling will help to give them an experience they'll want to repeat. Bring some comfort foods along.

Since you've got kids and a large group, please educate them about Leave No Trace principles: Avoid having a campfire, pack out all your trash, dig a cat-hole for your toilet, etc.

Make a special effort to monitor each individual's comfort and condition. It's easy to get absorbed in your own difficulties with huffing and puffing, hauling a heavy load, wiping the sweat out of your eyes, favoring a sore spot or blister on your foot - and not notice that somebody else is dehydrated, or too cold, or walking on a blister the size of the state.

Start slow and easy, but start soon. Your older kids, if they aren't outdoorsy or haven't hiked much, may not like backpacking, and it's hard to change their minds. The younger ones don't know any better. ;) Have some special "family time" each evening with stories, games, and maybe some warm cuddling. Take pictures, not just the scenery, but the family. Preserve the memories.

Finally, at this stage it's not about hiking the whole trail. It's about having fun and making memories with your family. So get out there and cross that bridge, climb that hill, climb the next one and the next, feel the cool breeze, gaze at the undulating ridges, notice the sounds of streams and rustling leaves. Do it together!

Once you've gotten a trip or two under your belt, start talking about seeing and maybe petting the wild ponies at Grayson Highlands (a little north of Damascus) and those kids might be clamoring to get back out on the trail. :)

11-30-2013, 08:17
Try to avoid thru-hiker season (early spring down south). The trail will be less crowded and the weather more enjoyable.

Don H
11-30-2013, 09:09
Might be a good idea to have someone on standby with AT maps that can pick members of your group if someone needs to bail out.
Keep the younger kids packs light so they can have fun.

momma bird
11-30-2013, 09:36
Thanks. Kids are girls 9yrs, 11yrs, 13yrs, 15yrs and a 17yrs boy. We all did the grand canyon 3 yrs ago in a three day trip. Me and the youngest did an over nighter at cumberland gap national park this past summer and they were able to carry their own stuff except for shelter. We usually do day hikes and we take it slow so everybody has fun.

11-30-2013, 12:22
Keep the packs light. My kids won't tell me if they are packed too heavy, but after a few miles I can tell if they are getting wore down. I don't let them carry more than 20% of their body weight.

Good snacks and hot chocolate always get them to camp

11-30-2013, 21:10
Make it fun, fun, fun--especially with younger ones, make it more about camping and less about hiking miles. I saw a grandma do this right at Springer this year, campfires with marshmallows and all. (Grandma had thru'd and had her young grandson out.)

Wise Old Owl
11-30-2013, 22:41
Awesome post! Yes... Don't expect ten miles the first time and point out lots of birds and rodents.:)

12-01-2013, 09:16
With the right weather and the right spot on the AT and they could have a great time. I would hike in the Grayson Highlands/Mt Rogers area when school first let's out. Flowers, horses, wide open views.

Teacher & Snacktime
12-01-2013, 12:17
I don't know how involved you are with the educational aspect of the trail, but through involvement in this group some interest has been added to the hikes my grandson (11) and I undertake. It's simply a matter of observing (photographing if you choose) and recording wildlife, but has caused us to focus a little more and understand a little more of each area we hike.

I've included their web page and fb page.....it's something I think might interest your group based on their ages.


Feral Bill
12-01-2013, 23:46
When I have hiked with groups, I expect to average about 1 MPH. Everyone having different paces and other needs demands it. If you and they are comfortable with it, the older two might go ahead for the last hour or so and have camp started when the rest arrive. Also, groups I've helped lead have an adult in the lead and one trailing, with the kids in between (one might be the 17 YO). This gives everyone a little flexability with their paces. I'd also suggest tarps for shelter. They are light, cheap, and can be used many ways. And do heed Teacher's suggestions, nature study is a great benefit of hiking.

Have fun!

12-02-2013, 00:45
Well, I don't have any kids of my own but I do have plenty of brothers and sisters who have their own. I do live right outside of a National Park and work at a resort serving the National Park. One of our all time best sellers is a children's book which I, in my wildest thoughts would never have thought to put this in children's book form. However, it makes perfect sense. It's called, "Who Pooped In The Park". The title alone should have the kids giggling for at least five minutes. After they settle down, for the next hour they can read all about the animals that reside in the park, or nature by observing what they find on the trail. It always helps to interest, not only kids but those adults who also just have to have a reason to be outdoors. Make it interesting such as using photography to capture certain items while they are on the trail. Disposable cameras are cheap and can be purchased for even the smallest of toddlers. They are also recyclable. Enjoy.

12-02-2013, 11:24
Great advice here. Having led many trips with children from ages 8-15 in the Whites, I would emphasize 1) make sure that everyone keeps a set of warm clothes nice and dry in his pack for when you stop, 2) keep them well-watered and well-fed with snacks while hiking, and 3) if hiking morale begins to suffer, make it fun by singing, playing "I Spy" or other games, etc.

Teacher & Snacktime
12-02-2013, 11:39
By the way, when you do finally decide where/when you're taking out your crew, post or PM us and we'll try to meet up. Snacktime (12) and I love to meet up with folks, and especially if there are some his age in the mix.

12-02-2013, 14:05
Lots of great advice here so far...let me see what I can add.

First off, my oldest 3, my wife and I have all been sectioning the whole trail with a goal to finish in four years (my oldest daughter's goal - I'm a bit more flexible...). We just got off the trail after 9 very cold and snowy, icy, rainy days down between Erwin and the Smokies. This was perhaps our hardest trip though again one of our more memorable. Here are some key takeaways and a link to our trailjournals journal (http://www.trailjournals.com/geigers) where you can read more about our gear list and past sections (we're a little less than 3/4 done with the trail as of this last trip).

Some kids love hiking, some love camping, some love both. Make all of it fun for everyone. Nothing cures the walking blues, in my experience, like popcorn stories (each person dives in with a new part of the story), silly fairy tales (my kids love these), talks about your childhood (every hike I get asked for the same stories), or anything else that takes their mind of the walking. This includes the above mentioned stopping to smell the roses, take in the vistas, check out wildlife, ooh and ahh over hoarfrost, frozen waterfalls and fungus that looks like flying saucers that hit a tree. Oh and when it snows (sigh, again...) what else but make...snowballs and snowmen! Or as my daughter did a "snow trail angel"

Food is a big deal for me (FarmerCHEF) as I try to make one of the highlights of camp our evening meals. That way everyone starts looking forward to getting there rather than dreading all the camp chores (they still do anyway). A campfire (please keep it small, use existing firepits, etc., etc., blah, blah) is numero uno for boy entertainment. My girls love the fires but my son is mesmerized. And anyone who hikes with us knows that the first day on the trail and each resupply afterward always includes making s'mores for dessert (with enough to share).

Adventure - make a plan (after all you're sectioning) but be willing to let it fly off the rails. This hike we just did went completely sideways and I LOVED it. The kids will remember it for years. It rained, it snowed, an arctic air mass dropped us in the single digits at altitude. We got "stuck" in Hot Springs for an extra nero and never made the Smokies as planned. But we met old hiking friends from up the trail, shared a hiker Thanksgiving with 30 other hikers, met Buddy Backpacker and spent an afternoon with his family and more and more and more. Make sure the kids understand that sense of adventure too, even when their disappointed at not making a particular goal (my kids wanted to give up when we set out in the rain in 40degrees to make it to a hostel that had the most amazing dinner and a wood stove). At least once, my 13 year old daughter said, "Dad, I could just kiss you right now."

Gear - Keep it light, light, light. This isn't a plug for ultralight hiking. If you restrict pack weights to no more than 20% of body weight for your kids, it means you and Dad are carrying extra, usually food. There are many, many ways of doing this with all kinds of gear. What's important is to keep the gear weight low so your food weight can be up. Check out our gear list for ideas but even that has evolved as we've gained more skill. For instance, on this last hike we carried 2 homemade Apex quilts, our regular fleece bag liners and zipped everyone up into two bags. That kept all 5 of us warm and toasty down to the single digits at a fraction of the weight/expense of 5 individual 0 degree bags. We also bring two pots, a 4 quart and a 2 quart. Trying to cook for 5 people in one 2 quart pot is impossible (unless it's Freezer Bag Cooking) and I like to bake (made biscuits and gravy on this trip). I can heat water for drinks in one pot while I'm rehydrating proteins and veggies in another. I could go on. Also check out "dirt bagging", the concept of using found items for gear. We use Gladware soup bowls instead of pricy metal bowls. They work so far from about 0 to around 100 degrees and can be sealed with the lid.

Start out slow, build with overnight hikes and test for mileage limits before planning a long section. You can see that progression in our journal and learn from our mistakes. The key? If you make it fun, they'll come back for more.

Feel free to PM me with questions.

Teacher & Snacktime
12-02-2013, 15:18
We've been waiting for you...loved the photos by the way....oh wait, they were Buddy Backpacker's photos of YOU GUYS!!!!

12-02-2013, 17:46
When families stay with us the kids are having the time of their life.

12-02-2013, 18:23
Sorry we didn't make it to your little slice of heaven this summer though we did have a great stay up at Mountain Meadows Lodge in Killington. I'm sure our kids would have loved your place just as much. I'm still waiting to hit a trail town with a movie theater...the search continues.

Separately, could I ask a Mod to move this thread to general or straight forward? This seems to be in the wrong spot (Forum Help Topics).

12-02-2013, 20:52
Sorry we didn't make it to your little slice of heaven this summer though we did have a great stay up at Mountain Meadows Lodge in Killington. I'm sure our kids would have loved your place just as much. I'm still waiting to hit a trail town with a movie theater...the search continues.

If you were at Mountain Meadows you must have met Alice the pig!!

12-02-2013, 23:35
While it is a ways away from you, my kids enjoyed their first section hike through the state of Maryland. Starting at Harpers Ferry and ending at PenMar Park takes you through the "entire state of Maryland" - which is about 55 miles. My 10 and 12 y/o son's did that with me in 7 hiking days (6 nights). They loved the various historical spots along the way.

As an earlier poster suggested, SNP is another great location. I did that the following year with one of the boys.

For a special treat, I always used to bring one of the dehydrated ice cream bars for each kid. I would break it out after a particularly special day. As another poster stated, be careful to make sure the kids are getting enough to eat. With my sons, I found that they needed to eat every 2 hours - even just a snack like gorp (trail mix) or a piece of jerkey. Whenever they became grumpy, I could reflect back and realize that they were getting hungry.

Have fun!!!

Teacher & Snacktime
12-03-2013, 00:11
The first hike Snacktime, Strife and I did was also from HF to Pen Mar....at least it was supposed to be (got cut short)...and yes, the historical sites were a big attraction, but I think it was that very first "view" from Weverton Cliffs that sold the whole hiking deal to him!

10-30-2014, 00:48
Bring along a mini-deck of cards. My sons loved it much more than the full-size version! They also loved the occasional treat of freeze dried icecream!