I recently put together a list of 10 kid-friendly hikes on the Appalachian Trail (AT), plus 3 additional AT hikes that start from AMC huts or lodges in the White Mountains. But there are many other family-friendly options on the trail, which covers nearly 2,200 miles from Georgia to Maine.
Former AMC Outdoors Senior Editor Karen Ingraham has explored the AT with her daughter, Mabel, now 2 years old, since shortly after Mabel was born. Not every section of the long trail includes good options for shorter hikes, baby backpacks, or for small legs, but Ingraham has developed some simple guidelines for finding child-friendly hikes on the AT. Her tips will help you and your children find your own favorite stretches of the trail.
– Look for easy access. “Many segments of the AT are not readily accessible from the road,” Ingraham notes. Look for places where the trail crosses a road or where a short spur trail can bring you to the white-blazed Appalachian Trail.
– Consider the grade and terrain. Before she had Mabel, Ingraham says, “I’d hike anything.” Now, however, she considers the steepness of the trail — both for her benefit, in case she’s carrying Mabel on her back, and for how well Mabel can navigate the trail. The Appalachian Trail is generally well maintained over its length, and it’s generally easy to locate maps and trail descriptions for every section.
– Choose kid-friendly summits or destinations. For Ingraham, “kid-friendly” often means enough surface area for Mabel to explore safely, such as large slabs of rock and broad tabletop summits. “We have hiked up to viewpoints that have drop-offs,” she says, “but generally, we seek out end points where, with supervision, Mabel can get out and enjoy her surroundings.”
– Keep it short. Children may be excited to hike the Appalachian Trail, especially if they see thru-hikers, but resist the temptation to keep going. Remember that unless you’re getting on the trail at either of its end-points, Springer Mountain or Katahdin, you’re not anywhere near “the end.”
Ingraham is looking forward to exploring more sections of the Appalachian Trail with Mabel again this hiking season. They’ll be joined by a child who will be getting his first introduction to the pleasures of the famed trail: Mabel’s new little brother, Fergus.
– The Appalachian Trail Conservancy helps maintain the Appalachian Trail over its length and is a clearinghouse of information about the trail
– AMC’s White Mountain Guide contains information about AT hikes in the White Mountains.
– Read “10 Great Appalachian Trail Hikes with Kids” on AMC’s Great Kids, Great Outdoors.
– For another perspective on hiking the AT, read “Thru-hiking with a 10-year-old” and “Mother and son hike the AT: the son’s story” in AMC’s Great Kids, Great Outdoors.
Photo: Aidan at Shenandoah National Park, by Matthew Culbertson. Courtesy grimbert.net.
“Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine and Heather Stephenson. Kristen wrote this post.