Thru Hiking Northbound Compass Icon

northbound (nobo) - georgia to maine

Most thru-hikers start their trips in March or the first half of April at Springer Mountain in Georgia and finish at Katahdin in Maine in September.

Northbound Katahdin Kevin Henschel 2014 by Nick Reid

A typical northbounder, starting in March or April and finishing in September, can expect:

  • Hiking in winter conditions for much of the first several weeks (when starting in March).
  • Carrying good winter gear beyond Mt. Rogers, Virginia (a little more than 500 miles from start).
  • Snow, sometimes deep, at high elevations throughout North Carolina and Tennessee.
  • Starting among crowds of thru-hikers, section hikers, and weekenders leading to large numbers of hikers at overnight sites.
  • Higher likelihood of being exposed to norovirus as a result of camping in crowded conditions in the backcountry.
  • Hot, humid weather though the mid-Atlantic states.
  • Favorable temperatures through most of southern New England.
  • Periods of cold weather in New Hampshire and Maine in September and October.

 

recommendations and considerations

  • To avoid crowds and winter conditions, the optimal time to start a northbound thru-hike is the window between April 15 and the first week of May.  However, hikers do need to plan on reaching Baxter State Park in Maine before October 15 due to severe weather conditions that typically occur starting the increasing frequency in early October.
  • Weather is the one of the most critical factors in determining when to start a thru-hike. Virtually every part of the Appalachian Trail has the potential to receive snowfall through early April. Mountains in the South, especially those above 5000 feet, can receive snowfall—sometimes deep—well into April. The highest peaks in Tennessee, North Carolina, and southwest Virginia receive an average of close to 100 inches of snowfall a year. 
  • Starting earlier in February means hiking in colder temperatures longer and hiking in deeper snow, with far fewer hikers around. Snowshoes and strap-on traction devices may be needed in the Smokies or other high-elevation areas. A February start is recommended only for those with experience backpacking in winter conditions in steep, mountainous terrain.

a word of caution

Please avoid starting on April 1, which is the most popular starting date, with as many as a 100 hikers starting that day. This results in trampled vegetation, sanitation issues, and little solitude. Other days with especially crowded conditions are March 1, March 15, and the Spring Equinox (the first day of spring). Weekdays are typically less crowded than weekends.