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Groups, Families & Pets

Hiking with other people (and your furry friends!) requires a different approach than simply taking it solo. Below are some tips for planning a successful hike with a large group, a family, or your dog.

Planning a family hike

Download our Family Hike Planning Guide for a comprehensive resource. For a list of Appalachian Trail day hikes, click here.


Choosing a Hike

Choosing a hike depends upon the age and experience of the children in your family.

  • Consider a maximum of 3 or 4 miles for an all-ages hike.
  • When very young children are participating, aim for loop hikes or out-and-back hikes. It’s difficult to to rely on shuttle transportation when you’re juggling a car seat.

Adapting your Hike

When hiking with children or inexperienced hikers, don’t be afraid to change your plans. Try to build options into your hike that will allow you to adapt if needed.

  • Don’t wear new hikers out. Empower them to make them realize they can do it!
  • Remember it’s about the journey, not the destination. Be willing to modify the hike if needed based on the comfort and enjoyment of all participants.
  • Be flexible enough to stop and explore the natural world along the way.

Preparing for your Hike

Hiking with children requires additional preparation and careful attention to hikers during the hike.

  • Set ground rules that identify the hike leader and sweep (the person in the back of the group).
  • Adapt your first aid kit for youth and first-time hikers. Add children’s sunscreen, children’s Tylenol, liquid antihistamine, Band-Aids, tweezers, hand sanitizer, blister treatment (moleskin, etc.).
  • Children are especially susceptible to sun exposure and exhaustion; this makes frequent snack and water breaks all the more important. Plan ahead to allow for enough time for these breaks.

Hiking Games and Activities

Hiking with your family is an adventure! There is plenty to see and do while out on the A.T., but having a brief, fun activity can enhance the experience for all. Whether your hike leads you to a stream, wetland, field, or forest, you will find a whole new world to explore with your senses, even if you think you already know the place well! Slow down, open your eyes and ears, and discover some new ways to “know” a place near you.

Games and Activities


Guidelines for groups on the A.T.

Photo by Horizonline Pictures

  • A camping group = 6 to 10 campers, including the leaders. 10 is the maximum size for a camping group on the A.T. (some locations have a smaller group limit). Your camping group should be registered (see below).
  • A day hiking group = 25 or fewer hikers.
  • Your group should take particular care to follow Leave No Trace Practices. This is vital because groups have a more concentrated impact on paths, campsites and facilities.
  • Traveling and camping in small groups reduces the physical impact to the A.T. environment. Small groups also help preserve the sense of solitude and remoteness for other hikers who encounter your group.
  • Your camping group should stay at A.T. overnight sites where tenting is permitted; pitch tents on existing tent sites and leave A.T. shelters for solo hikers. A.T. shelters are not designed for camping group use.
  • Take care to keep group members together; most search and rescue missions along the Trail happen when someone gets separated from their group.

Guided hikes

The A.T. is a primitive footpath where hikers are expected to be well-prepared and self-reliant. However, those seeking guided or organized hikes do have these options:

  • Trail Clubs from Georgia to Maine offer group hikes that are usually open to the public. Most are free, with only a charge to cover the cost of any carpooling. The Appalachian Mountain Club, with chapters from Washington, DC to Maine, has the most extensive offerings.
  • Our Biennial Conference, held in the summer every two years,offers dozens of hikes and workshops during a week-long period.
  • Shenandoah National Park offers free ranger-led walks and programs about the park’s 101 miles of the Trail from early April through late November. Visitors can also rent a GPS Ranger Unit from the Byrd Visitor Center with preloaded content about the A.T. The short hike features historic photos of the history of the Trail and the area, as well as interviews with two thru-hikers.
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park may offer short ranger-led day hikes from Newfound Gap.

Due to commercial use regulations affecting public lands, professionally led hikes may not be available in many areas. However, a few national parks and forests do permit a limited number of outfitters to provide either day or multi-day guided A.T. hikes. These parks and forests include:

Companies or groups charging fees may be required to obtain commercial use authorizations or special use permits. Check with the local land-managing agency that is part of the Appalachian Trail’s Cooperative Management System or Appalachian Trail Park Office. For information on permits and regulations along the Appalachian Trail, visit our Permits, Regulations and Fees page.


Dogs on the A.T.

We recommend dogs be leashed at all times as a courtesy to other hikers and to minimize stress to wildlife.



Dogs are NOT allowed in three areas along the A.T.:

  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina (72 miles)
  • Bear Mountain State Park Trailside Museum and Zoo, New York (1/4 mile – an alternate road walk is available, which must be used by all hikers after hours)
  • Baxter State Park, Maine (14 miles)


Leashes will keep your dog from chasing wildlife and potentially getting lost, or contracting or giving wildlife diseases. Other hikers who are not as comfortable with your pup as you are will appreciate your efforts to control your dog.

Leashes are REQUIRED on almost half of the A.T., including:

  • Blue Ridge Parkway (Virginia)
  • Shenandoah National Park (Virginia)
  • Harpers Ferry National Historical Park (West Virginia)
  • Maryland (entire state)
  • Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (Pennsylvania and New Jersey)
  • Many federally designated wilderness areas in National Forests
  • 500+ miles of A.T. land administered by the National Park Service (portions of Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine)

Trail ethics for dogs and their owners

Many dogs love being on the trail with their owners and you may enjoy sharing your hike with them. However, people hiking with dogs should be aware of the impact of their animals on the Trail environment and their effect on the Trail experience of others. Make sure your dog is prepared for the hike. Having enough water is critical, especially on hot days when dogs can easily become overheated. Be conscientious about cleaning up after your dog and keeping him away from water sources. Dogs, like people, can carry and spread giardia and other diseases.

Here are some recommendations for hiking with your dog:

  • Always keep your dog on a leash
  • Take extra care to restrain your your dog around wildlife
  • Keep your dog away from springs or other sources of drinking water
  • Be mindful that other hikers may be uncomfortable or frightened by even the friendliest dog
  • On a day-hike, carry out your dog’s waste; on a longer hike, bury your dog’s waste in a hole 6-8′ deep and 3-4″ wide, 200 feet from water sources and campsites (as you would your own)

When staying overnight at a shelter site, consider tenting. It’s not a requirement, just a courtesy, especially if your dog barks, drools, is wet or muddy, or overly friendly. When approaching a shelter, keep your dog on a short leash to meet hikers. Ask permission of other hikers before allowing your dog in a shelter; avoid bringing a dog into a full shelter. Be aware that your dog may bring ticks into a shelter.

More tips for hike with pets