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Northbound

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_bynickreid

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).
  • The need to carry 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.
  • Mid-April through May, walk north with spring, with mostly pleasant temperatures and an abundance of wildflowers
  • Very hot, humid weather though the mid-Atlantic states.
  • Favorable temperatures through southern New England.
  • Periods of cold weather in New Hampshire and Maine in September and October.
  • A dramatic ending on Katahdin
northbound_katahdin_bynickreid

Recommendations and considerations

  • Register your thru-hike at ATCamp to find a less-crowded start date and receive critical updates.
  • Plan your hike so that you finish at Katahdin in Maine before October 15.
  • Choose Amicalola Falls State Park (instead of Springer Mountain) as your start point. Read why here.
  • 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

Starting early (in February or even March) to ” beat the crowds” can put you in extreme winter conditions, potentially even in Georgia or the southernmost portion of North Carolina, but even more likely at the high elevations of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Hiking in winter conditions that you are unprepared for can be difficult, disheartening and even dangerous. Waiting until later in April can allow you to start in milder weather with longer daylight hours. If mid-way into your hike you find you are running behind schedule to complete your hike before October 15, you can always do a “leapfrog” (skipping over a section of trail in the middle, continuing northbound, and returning to hike it after completing the northern part of the Trail), or “flip” up to Katahdin from some point in the middle and hike south. See these and other  alternative thru-hike itineraries.

 

UPDATE: May 11, 2021

With a widely available and distributed COVID-19 vaccine in the United States and the latest information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the ATC has updated its guidance for long-distance hiking and visitor centers. Long-distance hiking on the A.T. is now considered to be a safer activity, especially for those who have received one of the approved COVID-19 vaccines. The ATC 2,000-Miler Recognition Program has resumed, and A.T. 2021 hangtags will be distributed when designated A.T. visitor centers reopen. Some COVID-19 safety recommendations are still in place. For more information, visit appalachiantrail.org/covid-19.