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  1. #1

    Lightbulb Planning the first AT trip with children.

    Hello, everyone. Please help with your advice.
    My wife and two children (10 and 13 years old) are planning a 7-10 day trip for AT. This will be our first experience in the USA.
    Do not worry, I had a lot of experience in backpacking in Russia in Siberia, since I grew up in the taiga. I really want my children to be interested in backpacking.
    We live in the neighborhood of Charlotte, NC.

    I am interested in three questions:
    1) What point is the best for start the route? Where I can park my car? I plan to park my car in the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club area and move north. We are interested in lakes where we can stay longer. Tell me the most successful entry point to AT.
    2) 15-20 miles a day is normal distance for beginners?
    3) Tell me what should I take for traveling with kids?

    Extremely grateful for your advice and recommendations.

  2. #2

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    First welcome to WB and second please dont be offended by any of the comments you hear on here. Some people are grumpy.


    1) What point is the best for start the route? Where I can park my car?
    I plan to park my car in the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club area and move north. We are interested in lakes where we can stay longer. Tell me the most successful entry point to AT.
    The AT had entry points every 2-5 miles of trail just about all the way from Georgia to Maine. If you are wanting to plan a trip with your 10 and 13 year old I would suggest possibly a 50 mile stretch starting at carvers Gap and heading north. Or Damascus North for 50 miles.


    2) 15-20 miles a day is normal distance for beginners?
    No, I would not expect a 10 and 13 year old to want to walk 15-20 miles a day for a week. I would expect 8 miles a day, with a break halfway thru the trip.


    3) Tell me what should I take for traveling with kids?
    Everything you would by yourself but for them as well. The family can share cookware and water filtration. Shoot for a 20-25 lbs overall weight for each family member.

  3. #3
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    I do not have a specific route for you, but i would recommend that you incorporate the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) in your trip. They have a bunch of fun activities for kids. It is south of the Smokies though.

  4. #4

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    The first thing you need to know is to camp anywhere in the Smokies you need to get and pay for reservations at specific campsites. Therefore you need to plan exactly when you'll be at a specific campsite.

    The AT follows the height of land as much as possible, so it doesn't pass by very many lakes. Lakes you can camp next to are mostly in Maine.

    That said, there are some campsites in the GSMNP along Fontana Lake, but this is not on the AT.

    I would suggest visiting the GSMNP web site for more specific information and trip planning. Also visit the Appalachian Trail Conservatory web site for more info on the AT in general and camping advice. https://appalachiantrail.org
    The AT - It has it's ups and downs...

  5. #5

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    Customs regarding camping may be quite different here than in Siberia. Please review "Leave No Trace" rules to guide you. You will not be in true wilderness, and there are too many people for high impact uses that might be common and reasonable elsewhere.
    "It's fun to have fun, but you have to know how." ---Dr. Seuss

  6. #6

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    Also, keep in mind that there's no way you can carry 7 to 10 days of food at the outset. You will need to "resupply" at least once, possibly twice for a 10 day trip. The spacing of towns and the ease of which it is to get to them will be a factor in deciding exactly where to start. The other decision will be if you want to spend the night in town or just get in and get out again. That will affect where you want to be the night before going to town. Will it be a short way or long way to go? Getting to town often requires hitch hiking or calling a shuttle, which complicates things a bit with two kids in tow.

    Like Gambit said, you will have to keep the mileage on the short side for the kids. Planning to go shelter to shelter is a good plan, as these are usually 7-10 miles apart. Camping at shelter sites (you'll want your own tents though) is a good idea as it is where you'll find reliable water, a privy and a picnic table. And a lot of other hikers.

    For this kind of planning, you really need to get a guide book so you can see the spacing between shelters, towns and the profile of the trail between those places.
    The AT - It has it's ups and downs...

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    In my experience your wife will likely be a bigger pain in the butt in the kids.....

    10 miles per day would be fine to plan most likely, unless you're really heavily weighted down. My son was 11 he was hiking 15+ miles per day, but he had a light pack. I remember him snickering at the thru-hikers resting with their heavy boots off as he blew by.

    But yeah don't make it a death march for them.
    Keep it fun, keep it light.
    And a hiking trip is not a camping trip.

  8. #8

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    Is this jazz for real?

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    I run a children's hiking group. Distances of 6-10 miles are a good range for kids/early teens, with a easy first day, you can see how they are and go further, but you have to judge their ability, not to hike further, but not hike beyond their limit - a child won't know their limit is passed - you have to decide for them. Put your ambitions aside and put on your service guide hat, they are primary, your role is to cater to how they need to hike, explore and have fun. You want to chose a route with 'quick rewards'. Something interesting every 3 miles is a good goal, and plan to stay there a bit for snacks. I would try for 2 'in town' resupply options. It will give them a goal which is not 7-10 days long and allow them to carry less and get what they want on trail. It will also teach them (perhaps the hard way), not to carry too much and to chose wisely. Two stops will give them the opportunity to correct what they bring.


    As for what to bring for them, a deck of cards and a book could be helpful, something to pass the time, plan to make campfires if allowed. Also since hiking days will be shorter and camp time will be longer, you need to account for this, bring a bit more luxury, perhaps a better cook set where you can make food that may take a bit longer then usual.

    A place that comes to mind is SNP with it's waysides which makes good goals for them.

  10. #10

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    Guys, thank you so much for your attention and your recommendation!
    Last edited by Ted_Weekend; 06-14-2019 at 09:23.

  11. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by Slo-go'en View Post
    The first thing you need to know is to camp anywhere in the Smokies you need to get and pay for reservations at specific campsites. Therefore you need to plan exactly when you'll be at a specific campsite.
    https://appalachiantrail.org
    1) If I understood correctly we have to stay overnight in campsites only?
    2) For example, I didn`t pay reservation, arrived in camp/shelter and no spots. Where can I install my tent?

    Thanks for Fontana Lake. Amazing idea.
    Honestly, I would like to hike to Lake for first experience. Find there special camping and stay there for 3-4 days. After that change positions to another shelter/camp.

  12. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by chknfngrs View Post
    Is this jazz for real?
    what do you mean?

  13. #13

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    Quote Originally Posted by MuddyWaters View Post
    In my experience your wife will likely be a bigger pain in the butt in the kids.....
    You are absolutely right! My biggest concern is my wife. Already, she whines like it will all be difficult, mosquitoes, restroom and etc.
    *
    ,

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by chknfngrs View Post
    Is this jazz for real?
    Have to say that was my first thought as well. 15-20m per day? I can do that easily on flat terrain, but you need to know that the AT is anything but. There are some periods of ridgewalks, but the flats are few and far between. In the summer on a full, fair day I have done up to 18, but that was pushing it a little later than I wanted. Lots of folks can do more, and you probably can with your experience, but you probably worked up to that and you need to dial back so your kids and wife can do the same. Lot depends on what you're carrying, too. You may have lightened your load over time, but that will be more difficult for them to do now. You can pack their bags for them, but where's the fun or learning in that?

    Assuming you're talking about going this summer and given a more reasonable 10m per day, if that, I'd say you might start at Sams Gap and hike north. Some good eye candy along the way and puts you in the neighborhood of Mountain Harbour B&B/hostel up to Kincora hostel for an ending point and place to arrange shuttle from. You might also consider staying at Blackberry Blossom campground in the middle of that route, either as a day hiking base or perhaps arranging for pickup to stay there in the middle of the hike.

    This would include the Carver's Gap section as Gambit suggested, and you may well want to consider starting there has he suggested as the overall route to Damascus is a little easier.
    "I wonder if anyone else has an ear so tuned and sharpened as I have, to detect the music, not of the spheres, but of earth, subtleties of major and minor chord that the wind strikes upon the tree branches. Have you ever heard the earth breathe... ?"
    - Kate Chopin

  15. #15

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ted_Weekend View Post
    1) If I understood correctly we have to stay overnight in campsites only?
    2) For example, I didn`t pay reservation, arrived in camp/shelter and no spots. Where can I install my tent?

    Thanks for Fontana Lake. Amazing idea.
    Honestly, I would like to hike to Lake for first experience. Find there special camping and stay there for 3-4 days. After that change positions to another shelter/camp.
    If you want to camp in the National Park, they have strict rules. You need to go to their web site and read them. Along the AT there are shelters called "huts" you must get reservations for them and you must stay in them. No tenting is allowed. There are exceptions for thru hikers, but your not a thru hiker (to be a thru hiker you must start and end 50 miles outside the park, which mean a minimum of a 175 mile hike).

    Off the AT, you must tent at the designated sites. You can't just camp anywhere you feel like, it's also not really possible due to the terrain and dense forest growth. You will not be issued a reservation if the site is already full. With a reservation you are insured a spot. Having to make reservations for four people might limit your choices depending on how popular the site is.

    In any event, all campsites inside the park require you getting and paying for reservations. If your caught without reservations you could be fined and escorted out of the park by the rangers.

    Note that this is only true for the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Outside the park no reservations or fees are needed and you can camp anywhere you please. Sort of. There are still practical considerations for picking a spot to camp, especially if you need space for 4 people. But that's a whole other issue.
    The AT - It has it's ups and downs...

  16. #16
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    I highly recommend a 1 or 2 night first trip, with a heavy lean to 1. Your kids will enjoy it and your wife will forgive you.

  17. #17
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    You haven't said when you plan to hike. I assume summer, and I assume you want to limit your hike to the South. Summer humidity and heat can make hiking difficult. To escape the heat, you could head to the higher elevations, like the Smokies, or the Roan Highlands for an AT hike. Or you could escape to the mountain streams of the Smokies for a non-AT hike.

    Here are a few handy tools:
    www.atdist.com - for distances between various points along the AT
    https://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvis...omplete4-2.pdf - good trail map of the Smokies
    www.theatguide.com - most popular AT guidebook

    Welcome!

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    My advice is to dial your ambitions back hard for a first hike. I don't know your family and I'm sure that this sounds like fun to you but does this sound like it will be fun for them? It just seems really ambitions for a bunch of novice hikers to me. AT miles are pretty hard. If your family is running marathons together on the weekend then maybe 15 mile days are possible but I doubt that they will think it is fun. Personally, I suspect I'd be facing a full blown mutiny after day two at best and would probably be praying for a clean death by the end of day three.

    I really recommend that you really think hard about your goals here. You want them to get out in the woods, have some family fun, and appreciate nature a little bit, right? My advice is to start with simple out and back hike at lower elevations in the GSMNP, maybe 5 miles each way at first, just to try and get everyone a little used to hiking and camping and also shaking down their gear. There's a steep learning curve there and it can be really uncomfortable at first. Then spend 2-3 nights in Gatlinburg, take some day trips hiking, going to Clingman's dome, zip lining etc. Make the trip fun for them and they'll thank you for it and want to go back again.

  19. #19

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ted_Weekend View Post
    2) For example, I didn`t pay reservation, arrived in camp/shelter and no spots. Where can I install my tent?

    Honestly, I would like to hike to Lake for first experience. Find there special camping and stay there for 3-4 days. After that change positions to another shelter/camp.
    2) For example, I didn`t pay reservation, arrived in camp/shelter and no spots. Where can I install my tent?
    Answer: You dont get to install your tent anywhere, you get a ticket and escorted back to your car
    Honestly, I would like to hike to Lake for first experience. Find there special camping and stay there for 3-4 days. After that change positions to another shelter/camp
    Answer: It dont work like that. You have to go online and reserve your spots

  20. #20

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    You might want to try an "easy" trail before hiking the AT. The trail can be tough. (Rocky & very hilly.) Most state have a wide range of trails in their state park system. If every thing works out, try the AT.

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