Can Families Thru-hike?

Most of the hiking adventures that we do as a family is what is called a day hike. It is what it sounds like: a hike that you can do in one day. We usually take trails that are part of the parks system such as Ricket’s Glen State Park in PA. These trails are short loops, so you begin and end in the same place within a day. 

Longer trails without loops such as the Appalachian Trail (AT) or the Rail Trail System are designed for thru-hiking. Again, it is what it sounds like. Hikers begin at one point and hike through to another point. They bring a backpack full of supplies for the journey. Most thru-hikers carry tents or tarps but also utilize small three-sided shelters called hostels. Hostels are common on trails like the AT. 

The Appalachian Trail stretches a massive 2,190 miles from Georgia to Maine. Thousands attempt to thru-hike the AT every year. Only about a fourth of them make it all the way to Mount Katahdin. Earl V. Shaffer was the first person to hike the entire length earning him the moniker “The Crazy One.” As more people attempted and succeeded to follow in his footsteps, he became “The Original Crazy One.”

Families rarely attempt such a feat as the AT, although a few youngsters have completed the journey. How can a family prepare for and attempt a thru-hike? Choose a shorter trail or section of trail and think of it more as a camping trip with a hike during the day. 

From Laurel Ridge State Park (photo credit

A place like Laurel Ridge State Park in Pennsylvania features the Laurel Ridge Hiking Trail. There are six trailheads and several backpacker shelter areas. You can plan to hike sections of the trail each day and end at a sheltered area. 

This is one of the fireplace shelters on the trail. How cool would it be to stay here! (photo from wikipedia)

This kind of trip would be an incredible experience for older kids. They can help plan the hike, meals, and what gear to pack. They can help carry the load, set up camps, and tear down again in the morning. 

Many trials like Laurel Ridge are open all year. Early Autumn seems like a great time of year for a family backpacking trip here in the northeast. We have pleasant daytime temperatures, and it doesn’t get too cold at night for tenting. 

If your family has enjoyed camping in the past, take on a new adventure by adding backpacking. We are all so connected to technology that we might have to hike several miles into the heart of a state park to begin to feel unplugged. You can enjoy nature in a unique way when you are far away from where the car is parked.

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