Would You Let Your Kids Hike the Long Trail Alone?


One day, this past summer, I was in my bedroom changing into my bathing suit. I heard my two boys, ages 4 and 5, arguing downstairs. One wanted to play on the swingset when we got to the pool, and the other wanted to swim. Most people would think, “What’s the big deal?” But our 4-year-old wanted his big brother to swim with him. He was crying and yelling,

“McNultys stick together.”

This phrase has become somewhat of a family motto. I’m not even sure where it came from. I can only suppose that at some point, my husband or I told our kids to stick together, and they really, really took it to heart. Most days, I hear this phrase at least once. It usually comes out when we are hiking and someone falls behind or gets too far ahead when we are splitting up to run errands or attend multiple events in one day, and a lot of times I hear it as my boys walk into school together. Every time, it melts my heart.


My boys are very close.

To be honest, they’ve needed to be. We’ve moved three times in their short lives. They are only 14 months apart. My older son is very cautious and reserved while my younger son is outgoing and adventurous. In a lot of ways, we’ve raised them much more like twins than big brother and little brother. They got their first bikes the same Christmas, they started ski school at the same time, they share all toys, they share a bedroom, and we read to them together each night. Aside from being one grade apart in school, they do everything together. We are very lucky that they get along so well.

One of their latest party tricks is saying, “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” They are usually thinking the same thing. They are incredibly close.


It is so important to me that they remain this close.

I think this need for my boys to remain close comes from the fact that I lost my brother. Though we were always on good terms, there were years where we were busy with our own lives. We didn’t see each other much and talked infrequently. When we did talk or see each other, it was as if no time had passed. But, for my boys, I really don’t want any time to have passed.

My brother worked for the Green Mountain Club. During a recent visit from my sister-in-law, I told her our favorite places to go for short hikes. It seemed that every place I mentioned, she said, “Oh yea, Sam worked on (insert trail project) there.” I knew that he had worked on the Winooski River Footbridge, and a plaque on the bridge bears his name along with his fellow crew members. But I was not aware of each of the other specific projects he was a part of on the Long Trail.

The McNulty boys enjoy the Long Trail

One thing that my husband and I have dreamed about for our kids is letting them hike the Long Trail on their own before they graduate from high school.

We want them to have an independent experience where they rely on each other and forge an even stronger bond before they each head out into the world as adults. Not only do we want them to grow closer through this shared experience, but we hope they will also grow closer to their uncle who they only had the opportunity to know for a few short years. We do realize that we will need to prepare them, that they will need to want to do this, and that it is at least 10 years down the road.

More so than with any other blog post I’ve ever written, I am looking for answers, opinions, and advice, please.

Would you let your children hike the Long Trail on their own? At what age? How would you prepare them?



  1. I would say definitely as a teenager. With social media available you could alert the hiking community as to your children’s travel plans. As a mother of four, I would feel safer if my children hiked in pairs, but I think the trail is well marked, highly traveled, and there are tons of help me out points (road crossed, etc.) My husband has worked locally as a police officer for twenty years and only once dealt with a bad situation concerning a hiker. As a general rule, the hiking community is very supportive of other hikers and keep an out an eye for those who appear to be struggling, whether from age, fitness levels, or handicaps.

  2. Good question. I finished the LT shortly after I graduated high school in 1989; I started doing unchaperoned day hikes with friends when I was in junior high, then backpacking with a friend in high school & finally solo backpacks starting when I was 15. By the time I turned 18 I’d done solo backpacking trips up to 12 days. If my kids wanted to do the same, there would be lots of safety discussion and I’d bite my nails like any parent, but I think I’d let them.


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