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Hiking with Grandchildren in Western North Carolina

by Danny Bernstein

What does it take to get grandchildren on the trail? Where’s the best place to go and what’s the best way to approach a hike with children of different ages?

The Carl Sandburg Home ( National Historic Site in Flat Rock, NC is one of many great places in this region to walk with kids. Most visitors come to hike or run the trails here, the same trails that Sandburg himself walked to find stillness and inspiration. My husband Lenny and I brought our two granddaughters, ll-year-old Hannah and 5-year-old Isabelle, to climb Glassy Mountain on the Sandburg estate. Hannah runs up the 1.2 miles to the overlook, Lenny right behind her. Meanwhile Isa and I walk, talk, and sing our way to the top. She doesn’t complain or say she can’t do it. She just walks at a steady pace. Both girls know that when they visit, they’ll go hiking with us. I like to think they look forward to it.

At the top, Isabelle wanders around with a granola bar in one hand and trail mix in the other. Lenny sits on a bench facing the western view out to Mount Pisgah. It’s getting chilly and we head back down. Isa now flies down the mountain, Lenny chasing after her. He catches her just before they both take a side trail to nearby Little Glassy Mountain.

The most important ingredients for hiking with anyone are enthusiasm and energy. Hiking with grandchildren is different from hiking with your children. Our son grew up hiking—the kid had no choice; our grandchildren, however, do. We see them only a few times a year and I always plan a hike that will stretch Isabelle without boring Hannah, the older sister. On another day, I take Hannah on a hike that’s more challenging for her, on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail ( or in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (

If this sounds like a lot of planning, you’re right. Getting the children outdoors is important to Lenny and me. Children today are so programmed at home with school activities and team sports that outdoor pursuits typically come last, but not with us. When I’m taking a young child, I always scout the hike so that there are no surprises. With Hannah, I’m not as concerned. Now I take her along when I’m scouting a new hike, but I explain beforehand that we may be wandering around a little.

In the Southern Appalachians, we’re blessed with so many excellent, well-marked, official trails on public land. The girls have been to Craggy Pinnacle and Craggy Gardens—both short but steep walks to memorable destinations—and loved reaching the top. Many trails in Bent Creek are so easy that Isabelle walked four miles last year. And both girls loved the trails to cabins and homesteads in Cades Cove.

What does it take to get kids on the trail?

  • an early, enthusiastic start
  • water and snacks
  • a clear destination
  • an adult who’s going to enjoy the hike as much as the kids

The rest is details.

Hike leader and outdoor writer Danielle “Danny” Bernstein is the author of Hiking the Carolina Mountains (where you can find more details on hiking at the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site) and Hiking North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains. She resides in Asheville, NC.


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