Frequently asked questions
How long does it take to thru-hike?
Most thru-hikers take between five and seven months. The average is a week or two shy of six months.
How can I avoid crowded conditions and still hike the entire Appalachian Trail (A.T.)?
Increasingly, hikers are choosing to start somewhere in the middle of the Trail, with Harpers Ferry, West Virginia and Shenandoah National Park in Virginia the most popular starting location. These hikers head north to Katahdin, then return to their starting point and hike south to finish their hike at Springer Mountain, Georgia. This approach allows you to avoid the crowded conditions at the southern end of the Trail, reduce exposure to extremes in temperature, and start the A.T. in its most beginner-friendly terrain. Choosing these itineraries also helps with conservation of the A.T. More information about various thru-hike itineraries and the benefits they offer can be found here.
Do I need to register?
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) provides a voluntary thru-hike registration to help hikers choose starting dates that will allow them to choose less-crowded dates and help alleviate crowding.
Be sure to let friends and family know where you are, what your itinerary is, and your “Trail name.” The A.T. passes through numerous state and national parks, forests and public lands, a few of which require permits, fees, or reservations to stay overnight in shelters or campsites. In some cases, the reservation system is different for long-distance hikers. You must acquire a backcountry permit for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park prior to arriving; northbound thru-hikers are encouraged to purchase a Great Smoky Mountains National Park A.T. backcountry permit just before leaving home.
Do I have to worry about bears and snakes?
Most hikers see a few bears in the course of their hike of the entire A.T. Black bears, the only species native to the A.T., are generally shy creatures and avoid people, except in locations where people have been careless with their food and bears have become habituated. Hikers may see snakes occasionally, but most often the non-venomous variety. More likely to be a threat to a hiker’s well-being are ticks, which can transmit Lyme disease and other pathogens. In recent years, those in the midst of the increasingly large “bubble” of northbound thru-hikers may have found themselves exposed to norovirus, a short-lived but extremely unpleasant stomach bug. More information on these and other important topics can be found on our Health & Safety page.
What navigation and communication devices do I need to carry?
The Trail is very well-marked in most places, but not all. In federally designated wilderness areas, signage and marking is significantly less prominent. After a storm or other situations, the Trail may be hard or impossible to find.
In an emergency, a map and compass may be your most reliable source of information on how to get off the Trail to find help, locate an alternate route, or describe your location and access points to potential rescuers. Cell phones and navigation apps can both can be extremely valuable but are dependent on battery life; cell service is not available in many locations on the A.T. Satellite messengers and personal locator beacons can fill the gap in emergencies when cell service is not available (those with two-way communication capability are most useful to rescuers).
How hard is hiking the Appalachian Trail?
Hiking the entire A.T. is a grueling and demanding endeavor. It requires great physical and mental stamina and determination. The terrain is mountainous for its entire length, with an elevation gain and loss equivalent to hiking Mt. Everest from sea level and back 16 times. The treadway in many places is rocky or filled with roots or mud. Maine, and sometimes other states, requires fording of streams that can be hazardous after heavy rains. Sections that could be described as flat or smooth seldom last long.
Because the time frame in which a northbound thru-hike can reasonably undertaken without specialized winter gear is limited to about seven months, the saying “No rain, no pain, no Maine” has become an apt mantra. Those who are physically fit may have an edge, especially in the beginning, but ultimately completing the A.T. is more of a mental challenge. The A.T. has been hiked by people ranging from age five to 86 and by hikers with a wide range of disabilities.
If hiking the Appalachian Trail is so hard, why would I want to do it?
Walking the entire A.T. in a continuous journey is one of the most rewarding, exhilarating, and memorable ways you can spend six months of your life. Thru-hiking enables you to immerse yourself deeply in the natural world and view some of the most beautiful, wild and pastoral landscapes in the United States. Thru-hiking will also give you the opportunity to form friendships with people of all ages, from all walks of life, and from around the world.
How detailed should my plan be?
A detailed day-by-day itinerary is not necessary for a successful thru-hike. In fact, it can set you up for a lot of discouragement and frustration. There are many things out of your control that can alter your plans on a thru-hike, such as weather or injury. Sometimes you may find an opportunity for a once-in-a-lifetime experience that sets you back. It’s important to remain flexible. An outline of when you expect to reach specific milestones will be helpful to friends and family back home. It can help keep you on track, too. Be mindful that family members will worry if you do not check in on schedule. Make sure they know you cannot entirely predict your schedule and that cell phone reception is spotty. Also inform them that you may keep your phone turned off much of the time to save your batteries and protect your phone from inclement weather.
Northbound thru-hikers are advised to start out hiking only eight miles a day the first week, and very gradually increase mileage over the next several weeks. By some point in Virginia, most hikers will have gained their “trail legs” and will do their biggest miles from there through Vermont, where terrain is overall less challenging than the southern states. In the extremely rugged terrain of New Hampshire and Maine, northbound hikers can expect their mileage to drop as much as 30 per cent, even though considerably more effort is required.
What are my chances of finishing a thru-hike?
One in four thru-hikers report completions to ATC. The most common reasons for a hiker leaving the Trail sooner than planned is due to an injury, running out of money, family matters at home, or finding the experience was not what was anticipated.
How do I know if I’m ready?
The smartest thing you can do is to take a practice hike that includes at least two nights on terrain that approximates the part of the Trail you plan to start on. This will help you evaluate gear, physical conditioning, and mental readiness.
How much does it cost?
Most hikers spend an average of at least $1,000 a month during the hike itself. Disciplined, frugal hikers willing to forego motels, restaurants, and other amenities can get away with less; those who like to stay in motels and eat at restaurants when they have the opportunity can easily spend much more. A new set of backpacking gear runs $1,200 to $2,000 or more. Lightweight gear is usually more expensive, but many hikers ending up purchasing smaller packs and lighter gear along the Trail, replacing their initial purchases of heavier gear. Doing extensive research ahead of time can pay off.
What will I need money for?
Aside from trail food, most of your money will be spent in town. Few thru-hikers can resist the temptation of restaurant food, motel beds, and hot showers after days of deprivation. Keep in mind that you will be burning 4,000-6,000 calories a day and may be eating two to three times what you ate before your hike (though it may take a few weeks for the “hiker hunger” to kick in). You will also need money for supplies, laundry, postage, equipment repair, and equipment replacement. The more days you spend in town, the more money you will spend. Be sure you have money for a possible emergency trip back home.
There are also a few fees hikers will encounter along the Trail. An A.T. thru-hiker permit in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park costs $20 and must be purchased in advance. Some overnight sites require fees, particularly in New England. These sites typically range from $5 to $10 a night, but there are usually alternate sites without fees available within a few miles. In the White Mountains of New Hampshire, the most attractive options for overnight stays are a system of full-service huts that run more than $100/night for meals and lodging. A limited number of thru-hikers can take advantage of the work-for-stay options; more about the alternative overnight sites in this area can be found here. Hikers should be prepared to pay a campsite fee in Baxter State Park in Maine.
How many hikers have completed the entire A.T.?
More than 20,000 hike completions have been reported to ATC. This includes hikers who have completed the Trail over many years as well as those finishing in one trip. More facts and statistics can be found here.
How does the ATC define thru-hiking?
We define a thru-hike as a hike of the entire A.T. in 12 months or less.
What is a 2,000-miler?
A “2,000-miler” is a hiker who has walked the entire length of the A.T. and reported his or her hike completion to the ATC. The ATC has been keeping records of thru-hike completions since the A.T. was first completed in 1937. The ATC uses the term “2,000-miler” as a matter of tradition and convenience. When the term was coined, the A.T. was only slightly more than 2,000 miles. Its length changes every year due to pathway relocations. In recognizing 2,000-milers, we don’t consider issues such as the sequence, direction, speed or whether one carries a pack. We do expect that persons applying for inclusion in our 2,000-miler records have made an honest effort to walk the entire Trail. A 2,000-miler application form can be found here.
How can I reach out to past thru-hikers to get tips and advice?
The ATC maintains lists of people who have completed hiking the entire A.T. (or large portions of it) recently. They are willing to share their experience and give advice. The lists themselves are not currently available online, but you may e-mail [email protected] to request a copy. Available lists:
- Alternative Hikes – Flip-flop, leapfrog and other non-traditional hikes.
- Canadians – Hikers from Canada.
- Couples – Couples that hiked the Trail together—including honeymoon hikers.
- Day-hike/Slackpackers – Hikers who spent few or no nights on the Trail and had logistical support.
- Diabetic Hikers – Includes insulin-dependent diabetics.
- Disabilities and Injuries – Hikers with heart disease, food allergies, scoliosis, kidney transplants and other physical conditions requiring special attention.
- Diverse Hikers – Hikers identifying themselves as African-American, Asian, bi-racial, black, Hispanic, Native American, Pacific Islander, and South Asian
- Dog Owners – Hikers who hiked the Trail with their dogs.
- Early Starters – Primarily northbound hikers who began in January and February.
- General – Includes a selection of northbound, southbound, and flip-flop hikers.
- International – Currently includes hikers from Australia, England, Finland, Germany, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Scotland, South Africa, Switzerland.
- Late Starters – Northbound thru-hikers starting in Georgia in May or June.
- LGBT – Hikers identifying themselves as lesbian, gay, and transgender.
- Lightweight – Hikers with pack weights ranging from 12 – 30 lbs.
- Military Veterans – Including hikers injured during military service.
- Over 55 – Current age range on list: 55 – 77.
- Section Hikers – Some have hiked the A.T. is two or three summers. Many have hiked the entire Trail over a span of 10 – 20 years, some longer.
- Winter – Hikers with winter backpacking experience; primarily southbound and alternative thru-hikers.
- Southbound – Hikers traveling end-to-end from Maine to Georgia.
- Vegetarian/Special Diet – Vegetarians, vegans, and hikers who dehydrated their own food.
- Women – Current age range on list: 23-62.
Where can I get more information?
The ATC’s Ultimate Trail Store offers thru-hiking how-to books and videos and a number of memoirs. There are also intensive workshops that can offer valuable information; a listing can be found on our Thru-Hike Preparation page.
The Internet enables hikers from all over the country and around the world to connect with each other, both those who have completed the Trail and can offer a wealth of lessons learned and those who are planning a future trip. These websites are popular starting points for further explorations:
What can I do to help preserve the Appalachian Trail?
There are some things we recommend!
- Learn advanced Leave No Trace skills and ethics. Picking up trash is great, but there’s a lot more to it, especially on a thru-hike. Do you know how to protect water sources and prevent the spread of disease when there’s no privy around? Or what you can do to help prevent erosion and minimize wildfires? Learn these things and more at www.appalachiantrail.org/lnt.
- Volunteer! Join an ATC volunteer trail crew or work with a local trail club to build or maintain trail or other opportunities that help conserve the A.T. and surrounding lands. Learn more here.
- Follow the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s webpage and social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Learn what issues the Trail is facing and what you can do to help.
- Support the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Find ways to give (including becoming a member (you’ll get discounts and receive our stunning and informative magazine) here.