Frequently Asked Questions
How long does it take to thru-hike the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (A.T.)?
Most thru-hikes take between five and seven months. The average is a week or two shy of six months. Weather conditions tend to limit the amount of time available, and northbound (NOBO) thru-hikers must plan to reach Katahdin, the Trail’s northern terminus, before Baxter State Park closes the Trail to the summit in mid October. Flip flop thru-hikes generally offer the longest window of good weather; southbound (SOBO) thru-hikes, the shortest.
How can I avoid crowded conditions and still hike the entire A.T.?
Increasingly, hikers are choosing to start somewhere in the middle of the Trail, with the most popular starting locations. Damascus, Virginia is also a popular place to start and is closer to the southern terminus. These hikers, called flip flop thru-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 protect the A.T. by reducing the resource damage that accompanies overcrowding at the southern end of the Trail in the spring. More information about various thru-hike itineraries and the benefits they offer can be found here.
Where do I register my A.T. thru-hike?
Most A.T. thru-hikers register on ATCamp.org. Registering on ATCamp provides charts that show previous registrations, a tool enabling thru-hikers to spread out their start dates, to prevent crowding. Crowding creates overnight site expansion with damage to campsites, shelters, land along the Trail and to the Trail, itself. Hikers registered on ATCamp also receive helpful planning resources and tips and can sign up to receive vital updates while on the Trail.
ATCamp is a voluntary registration system and is not a reservation system. All A.T. shelters and campsites are first come, first served (except those in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park). ATCamp registration does not replace the need to obtain permits in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Shenandoah National Park, and Baxter State Park.
Do I need a permit?
There is no single, Trail-wide permit for the A.T. A.T. hikers are required to obtain permits in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Shenandoah National Park, and Baxter State Park.
- Backcountry permits for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park must be obtained in advance and cost $40.
- Backcountry permits for Shenandoah National Park can be obtained in person at one of the self-registration kiosks along the Trail or can be obtained in advance online.
- A.T. hiker permits for Baxter State Park must be obtained in person before hiking Katahdin. Hikers can pick up their permits at the Katahdin Stream Campground Ranger Station. Southbound hikers and hikers planning to summit Katahdin as a day trip will need a day-use reservation with Baxter.
More information and links to permit sites can be found here.
Why do I need a permit in Baxter State Park?
Baxter State Park is a special place along the A.T. Gifted to the people of Maine by Percival Baxter, the park is funded through a private endowment and has the motto “wilderness first, recreation second.” A.T. hikers should always show respect and practice Leave No Trace wherever they are on the Trail. However, the special significance of Katahdin and BSP means that this area should receive particular care.
Learn about the rules and how to be a considerate visitor to this special place here.
Do I have to worry about wildlife?
Most hikers see a few bears during their hike of the A.T. Black bears are the only bear species native to the A.T. While black bears generally avoid people, bear encounters are on the rise as bear populations increase along the Trail and more and more people use the Trail. The best way to minimize human-bear encounters and protect the bears that call the A.T. home is to use a bear canister for the duration of your hike. See the next FAQ for more info.
Hikers may see snakes occasionally, but most often the non-venomous variety, mice, and other small rodents are a staple at many shelters, attracted by crumbs, food scraps, and other trash. Help reduce mice at shelters (and the snakes they attract) as well as bear encounters by keeping a clean camp and packing out all trash and food waste.
More likely to be a threat to a hiker’s well-being than mice and snakes are ticks, which can transmit Lyme disease and other pathogens that can cause serious illness.
Learn more about wildlife on the Trail here and about tick safety here.
Should I carry a bear canister?
Yes – bear canisters provide the most surety and flexibility to ensure bears on the A.T. do not access human food, therefore providing the best protection for bears against becoming habituated to humans and human food. A fed bear is a dead bear. You can learn more about bear canisters and bear canister lending programs along the Trail here.
Some A.T. campsites and shelters have provided food storage devices (bear boxes, cables, poles, etc.) and those should be used when available. However, hikers should not depend on food storage devices being available as they may be broken or full when you arrive.
Hikers are required to use the food storage cables in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. To hang a bear canister from the cables, place the canister in your pack and attach the pack to the cables. Never tie ropes to a bear canister – that may allow a bear to carry the canister away!
What navigation and communication devices do I need to carry?
The Trail is well-marked in most places, but not all. In areas managed as wilderness, signage and blazing are significantly less prominent. After a storm or in snow, the Trail may be hard or impossible to find. Above treeline in New Hampshire and Maine, blazing may also be harder to follow and may be replaced with cairns (rock piles used as markers).
You should always know where you are on the Trail, and in relation to roads. 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 be extremely valuable but are dependent on battery life and cell service, which 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).
Learn more about what to do in an emergency here.
How do I stay in touch with friends and family?
Be sure to periodically check in with a trusted support person back home to let them know where you are, what your general itinerary is, and tell them your “Trail name.” Many hikers check in with their support people when they reach town. Family members may worry if you do not check in on schedule, so be sure to tell them that you cannot entirely predict your schedule and that cell phone reception is often spotty at best on the Trail. There are even some sections of the Trail where it is hard to get a GPS signal, such as the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. 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.
While thru-hiking, it’s important to remain flexible. 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, frustration, and worry from the folks back home. 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. Remaining flexible is an important part of thru-hiking. Give your support people your general itinerary, but remind them that the Trail does not keep a strict schedule.
What gear do I need?
Specific equipment will vary slightly from hiker to hiker, but each hiker should at least bring the 10 Essentials on every overnight hike to help be prepared for unexpected weather, injury, or other obstacles.
Northbound and flip flop thru-hikers starting early in the hiking season (January – April) should consider a warmer sleep system and heavier layers at the start of their hike for cold days and snow, and keep their cold weather gear until they are north of Mt. Rogers in Virginia. Southbound hikers should generally plan to pick up warmer gear before reaching the highlands of southern Virginia in the fall. As always, check the forecast before leaving town and keep in mind that weather can change quickly at higher elevations, particularly above treeline.
Learn more about gear and the 10 Essentials here.
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 be 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.
How many miles should I plan to hike each day?
Thru-hikers are advised to start out hiking eight to ten miles a day the first week, and gradually increase mileage over the next several weeks to give their bodies time to adjust to long-distance hiking. By some point in Virginia, most northbound 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 percent.
Southbound and flip-flop thru-hikers should also expect to keep mileage to around eight to ten miles for their first week or two. Given the rugged terrain in Maine and New Hampshire, southbound hikers likely won’t increase their daily mileage until Vermont.
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 $1,200 – $1,400 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 end up purchasing smaller packs and lighter gear along the Trail, replacing their initial purchases of heavier gear. Doing extensive research ahead of time can help save money.
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, medication (if any), 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 possible emergency medical and travel costs, as well as money to travel to and from the Trail at the start and end of your hike.
Are there any fees I will have to pay on the Trail itself (not in town)?
There are a few fees hikers will encounter on the Trail:
Great Smoky Mountains National Park: An A.T. thru-hiker permit in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park costs $40 and must be purchased in advance.
White Mountains of New Hampshire & southern Maine: Some overnight sites require fees between Kinsman Notch in NH and Grafton Notch in ME. These sites typically range from $10 to $20 a night, but there may be 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 at these huts.
To protect this highly visited and fragile area, land-use regulations differ in this section of the A.T. than those you may encounter elsewhere on the Trail. The Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC), the local A.T. maintaining Club, has assembled the following information to make your journey through this region as seamless as possible, including information about a Thru-Hiker Pass that gives thru-hikers discounts on campsites and other perks: AMC Thru-Hiker Info Bundle
Baxter State Park: NOBO A.T. hikers who have hiked 100 miles continuously from Monson, ME are eligible to camp at “The Birches” at Katahdin Stream if space is available. The Birches is limited to a maximum of 12 persons a night and the fee is $10 per person. There is no work for stay in Baxter State Park. SOBO hikers and hikers who left the A.T. corridor in the 100 Mile Wilderness will need to make and pay for a day-use or overnight reservation in advance. Learn more here.
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. About one in four thru-hikers report completions to the ATC. 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. These 12 months are not restricted to a calendar year.
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 their hike completion to the ATC. The ATC has been keeping records of thru-hike completions since the A.T. was first connected 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 the people applying for inclusion in our 2,000-miler records have walked the entire Trail. A 2,000-miler application form can be found here.
Are courses available to help me prepare for a thru-hike?
Some A.T. maintaining Clubs offer backpacking or hiking workshops, as well as outings on the Trail and volunteer work trips. Some outfitters and gear stores offer workshops as well.
How can I reach out to past thru-hikers to get tips and advice?
The ATC maintains affinity 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 on a variety of topics and from a variety of experiences. The lists themselves are not currently available online, but you may e-mail [email protected] to request a copy. Available affinity lists:
- Alternative Thru-hikes – Flip-flop, leapfrog and other non-traditional thru-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.
- BIPOC – Hikers identifying themselves as African-American, Asian, bi-racial, black, Hispanic, Native American, Pacific Islander, and South Asian are currently on the list.
- Cancer Survivors – Hikers who were in recovery or undergoing treatment while hiking.
- 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, flip-flop, and southbound thru-hikers as well as section-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.
- LGBTQ – Hikers identifying themselves as lesbian, gay, and transgender.
- Lightweight – Hikers with pack weights ranging from 12 – 30 lbs.
- Lyme disease – Hikers who contract Lyme disease or other tick-borne illness.
- Military Veterans – Including hikers injured during military service.
- Over 55 – Current age range on list: 55 – 77.
- Section Hikers – Hikers who have taken more than 12 months to complete the Trail, ranging from 2 to 20 years or longer.
- Slower Hikers – Hikers who took more than 7 months to complete a thru-hike.
- 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?
Check out the rest of our Hiker Resource Library for more information. You can also email or call us with questions.
The ATC’s Ultimate Trail Store offers thru-hiking how-to books, videos, and a number of memoirs.
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 exploration:
What can I do to help preserve the Appalachian Trail?
Here 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! The A.T. would not exist or be passable without the thousands of volunteers who help build, maintain, manage and protect the A.T. Join an ATC volunteer trail crew or work with a local A.T.Club to build or maintain the 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 as well as our A.T. Footpath Blog. 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.