Mom and Her 15 Kids Have Been Hiking the Appalachian Trail for Six Months
On March 6, 2023, Nikki Bettis and her 15 children set off from Georgia to hike the famous Appalachian Trail.
Their story has made headlines across news and social media platforms, as trekking the Appalachian Trail truly is one of the most incredible undertakings for anyone, let alone a family of 16.
Introducing the Great Appalachian Trail
Running for more than 2,190 miles, the Appalachian Trail is one of the longest hikes in the United States.
It’s considered by many hikers to be one of the most challenging and rewarding trails on the planet. Many dream of completing this awe-inspiring journey, including Nikki Bettis. She had wanted to hike the famous trail since she was 12 years old, but had no idea that she would end up doing so with her 15 children.
Mapping the Bettis’ Family Journey
Beginning at the official trailhead in Springer Mountain, Georgia, Nikki and her children planned to hike as much as they could of the over-2,000 mile trail up the East Coast.
The trail typically takes between 5-7 months to hike, but that estimate is for experienced, adult hikers—not 13 children. The Bettis family has already made it to New York after five long months and a few rides in between the hundreds of miles they’ve hiked. They plan to continue up through New Hampshire and Maine, putting one foot in front of the other and heading north together.
The Bettis Family’s Background
Nikki explained her family’s dynamic to the world when she posted, “For those new to the story and to answer all the questions that will be asked … .I’m a single mom hiking the AT with 13 of my 15 biological kids….all from one past marriage. They range in age from 25-4.”
Though Nikki stated that only 13 of her 15 children are hiking with her, the other two have joined in on the wild adventure at different points along the way. So while there are usually 14 of them in total, sometimes, all 16 are able to hike together.
A Time to Reconnect
Nikki told the press that she had long dreamed of hiking the Appalachian Trail, but her desire to do so wasn’t the only motivation behind the great venture.
The mom of 15 said that she felt her family drifting apart, so she decided the trail would be an amazing way to “leave social media behind and reconnect as a family.” She reportedly told her kids, “Let’s just go to the trail and remember who we are as people.”
Preparing for the Hike as a Family of Sixteen
While the trip has been underway since March, preparations started long before they could hit the trail.
For months, Nikki did the necessary research, organized packs, water filters, warm clothing, tents, and all the other essential camping gear they would need for their journey. Luckily, the Bettis family often hikes and camps around their home in Virginia, so they already had most of what they would need.
Feeding a Family of Travelers on the Trail
While they had the camping gear ready, one of the biggest challenges Nikki and her children faced was figuring out how much food they would need and how to carry it all.
Of course, the family always planned to restock along the way, but when they first left Georgia, they needed enough food for 14 people for seven days, which is an absolutely incredible amount of food. However, Nikki planned well and the family had plenty of food until their first stop several dozen miles later.
On the Trail, Everyone Has a Job
In addition to carrying their own packs, every child in the Bettis family has a job on the trail. Well, everyone except the youngest (who is only four years old).
The kids organized themselves into crews—a tent crew, a fire crew, and a food crew. And even Nikki’s two adult children who aren’t hiking the entirety of the trail have jobs to do. Grayson, the oldest of the Bettis clan, has been instrumental in their journey by meeting up with his family along the way to drop supplies, as well as organizing stays with “trail angels” when needed.
Dangers of the Trail
Although Nikki and her family are certainly prepared with the necessary gear and food, that doesn’t mean the trail doesn’t still pose some serious dangers.
Several of the Bettis kids got sick due to the water parasite Giardia. Luckily, they have all recovered and are feeling great. While many travelers worry about running into other hikers with malicious intent, Nikki says that they stick together, use satellite communication devices, and have yet to meet anyone who has been anything but lovely.
Sharing Their Adventure with the World
Nikki has used Facebook as her main method of sharing her family’s great adventure with the world.
Although she started a YouTube channel called “32 Feet Up,” named for the 32 literal feet of the 16 people hiking, she found it was a waste of precious battery life to record and post videos on the platform.
Dealing with Social Media Backlash
As with any social media story, the Bettis family’s adventure has received its share of negativity. Some say that Nikki is putting her children in danger, but others are displeased with her choice simply because they don’t believe the Bettis’ are good for the trail itself.
Large groups can negatively affect the trail, as well as campsites and other hikers’ experiences. But Nikki firmly believes that she and her kids are in no way negatively impacting nature or the other hikers
What ACT Has to Say About the Bettis Family
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ACT) recommends groups no larger than 10 people, but that allotment is for 10 adults with individual tents. The Bettis children share tents and cook communally, so Nikki argues that they are actually making less of an impact than other groups of adults.
Nikki also makes sure they always set up camp on forest service roads and open spaces so as not to disturb the beauty of the forest itself. Technically, the ACT cannot enforce its rules, but Nikki communicated directly with the organization before she set off and told the press that her family is certainly adhering to ACT’s instructions and ensuring they treat the trail with the respect it deserves.
More Than Anything, They Have Received Overwhelming Support
The backlash the Bettis’ have received is nothing compared to the incredible support they’ve been shown from all over the world.
Most people watching Nikki and her kids are excited for them and believe that this reconnection of family and instilling the value of respecting nature is something to be admired. And it’s not just those on social media who support the family—trail angels feel the same way.
Trail Angels Love the Bettis Family
Trail angels are people who live along and around the Appalachian Trail, and spend their time providing food, supplies, and even housing for those brave enough to hike it.
The Bettis family has received an outpouring of support from these people. Nikki told the media, “Each of these people know the importance of the trail. They don’t know why you’re here, but they know it will heal and teach and love. Because of this, they will go above and beyond… These are the people that understand why you’re here without ever needing to say a word. They don’t question your life choices, your family size, your past.
The Bettis’ Are Still Going Strong
Nikki recently updated the world from New York stating, “1400 miles in!!!!! We managed to knock out 100 miles in 6 days. We’re gettin better at this! Only took 5 months.”
With just New Hampshire and Maine left to go, this wild adventure is almost done, and there’s no doubt that the Bettis family has not only done what they set out to do, but also learned quite a few important life lessons along the way.