Frequently asked questions
FAQs about Voluntary Registration
Why Register? More Info
Thru-hikers themselves can now help even out the flow of hikers to better seek the “fellowship with the wilderness” for which the A.T. is famous. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) views voluntary registration as a way to enhance your A.T. experience and better manage this natural resource – without additional regulations.
Those considering an A.T. thru-hike know the A.T. is one of the world’s most popular long-distance hiking destinations. It is known for its beauty, its intimate passage through nature, the personal challenge it provides, and for the friendliness of the people found along the way.
For many, the thru-hike is an adventure of a lifetime. For some, it is a life-changing experience. Now with the release of two thru-hike related major motion pictures (Wild and A Walk In The Woods), the number of new hikers is projected to increase dramatically.
In recent years, the northbound A.T. thru-hike experience has been defined by severe overcrowding at the southern end of the Trail. Overcrowding puts undue pressure on, and inflicts damage to, the finite number of shelters and campsites, and on the springs and streams near which these accommodations are located. When too many people are crammed together at campsites, vegetation is trampled exposing bare ground, trash may accumulate and unsanitary conditions can ruin the traditional natural A.T. experience.
Crowding is intensified because hikers tend to start thru-hikes around specific dates, such as March 1, March 17, and especially April 1 and weekends.
By participating in this voluntary thru-hike registration, you will be helping yourself while improving the Appalachian Trail experience for everyone.
What are your benefits when you register your A.T. thru-hike?
Registration allows you to:
- Help reduce crowded conditions on the A.T. for you and others during the peak starting periods, especially in Georgia March 1 – April 15.
- Receive information to help improve your experience
- Receive special bonuses:
- Commemorative 2018 A.T. Leave No Trace tag you can hang from your pack (these can be picked up at Amicalola Falls State Park or an ATC Visitor Center)
- Personal satisfaction of knowing that you are helping preserve the A.T.’s natural environment and to protect the A.T. hiking experience
- Provide the ATC with data on the number of hikers starting in Georgia each day to help improve support for the trail.
- Enable ATC to better understand what factors lead to successful thru-hikes and pass that on to others.
Does this mean I’ll have a space reserved on the A.T.?
NO. For most of the A.T., including the first 165 miles south of the Smokies, shelters and campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. You’ll need a backpack tent, tarp, bivy or hammock, because campsites and shelters may fill up early in the day. This registration system is intended to help you avoid crowding so there will be camping space available and prevent additional regulations.
What if the date I want to register is already filled?
If you haven’t yet made travel reservations please pick a date that is not yet full or plan an alternative thru-hike (remember, the purpose of this system is to prevent crowding and thereby give you a great A.T. experience). If you’ve already made travel plans, we will not ask you to change them. Register for the day you plan to start, and tell us in the comments field why you registered when the day was over capacity. The best thing you can do to help the Trail is learn and follow best Leave No Trace practices. You can view ATC’s new, funny short Leave No Trace videos at www.appalachiantrail.org/lnt.
What if I have to change the date that I start after I register?
Again, please pick a new date that is not yet full. Use the link at the top of the page at www.atcamp.org to cancel your registration. Then, please create a new registration for your new date.
Who should complete the voluntary registration?
Anyone starting an A.T. thru-hike. (That’s anyone attempting to hike the entire 2,189-mile trail in 12 months or less).
How much does it cost to register?
It doesn’t cost anything. It’s free.
What will you do with the personal information you collect?
ATC will not share any of your personal information. It will be used to help improve A.T. thru-hikes and A.T. management. Your e-mail address is needed to provide the Registration Confirmation.
Does this mean I’ll have a space reserved at Amicalola Falls State Park?
NO. Visit the park’s website for availability and reservations at: www.gastateparks.org/AmicalolaFalls
Will this mean I won’t need any other permits or fees?
NO, sorry. You’ll still need to pay for permits and fees for:
- A backcountry permit in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (the fee is $20 for an A.T. thru-hiker and you’ll need to get it online before you arrive there). REGISTER for a Great Smoky Mountains National Park Thru-Hike Permit.
- You’ll also need a free backcountry permit for Shenandoah National Park, but you can get that at a self-registration kiosk when you enter the park.
- In New England there are some campsites with fees. Many can be avoided with careful planning.
- You will need to pay a campsite fee at the very end of the Trail in Baxter State Park. For more information about Baxter State Park regulations click here.
Is there any other way to avoid the crowds?
YES! You can start in the middle of the Trail, or some other location, and do an alternative or “flip-flop” thru-hike.
This time-tested, innovative approach can have a number of advantages both for the hiker and the A.T. Variations are explained on ATC’s website at appalachiantrail.org/hiking/thru-section-hiking/when-where-to-start
What about a southbound thru-hike?
A much smaller percentage of thru-hikers walk southbound from Katahdin. There’s a reason for this. A southbound hike starts with the hardest mountain on the entire Trail, which requires hand-over-hand climbing. The next feature is the “100-mile wilderness”—the longest distance between resupply points on the entire Trail. After that, the next 300 miles are the toughest of the whole Trail other than Katahdin. And you can’t start until the end of May or beginning of June because that’s when the snow melts. Conditions then are poor, but that’s when most southbounders begin their thru-hikes because otherwise they’ll be dealing with weeks of sub-freezing weather and deep snow in the high mountains of the South in late fall.
What is the ATC?
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy is the private non-profit organization that was formed in 1925 to oversee the construction of the Appalachian Trail. Ever since then we have been the lead organization that manages and protects the footpath and the land surrounding it that has been protected as a congressionally designated National Scenic Trail.
We partner with the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest service, dozens of other agencies and more than 6,000 volunteers in 31 Trail clubs to ensure the A.T. remains a continuously protected greenway from Georgia to Maine. We’d love to have you as a member even if you don’t register! You can join online www.appalachiantrail.org/join.