Thru-Hike

Permits, Fees and Regulations

Permits, regulations, and fees

Most areas of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, more commonly referred to as simply the Appalachian Trail or “A.T.,” do not require fees or permits, but a few do. Know before you go.

The A.T. is managed so those who experience it on foot can intimately connect with the wild, scenic, and natural elements of the environment.

Background: The A.T. is a footpath and corridor of land under the overall administration of the National Park Service (NPS), through the Appalachian Trail Park Office, often referred to as “APPA.” However, more than 60 percent of the A.T. passes through lands owned and managed by the U.S. Forest Service and many other federal, state, and local agencies. Rules and regulations may vary in different areas. Official rules and regulations are set by land-managing agencies; however, the A.T. is managed through a cooperative management system, with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) as the lead coordinating partner working with APPA, 87 land-managing agency partners, and 31 local trail-maintaining clubs.


PERMITS
Permits are required for specific trail visitors in three areas of the A.T.:

  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina/Tennessee – for backcountry camping; fees required.  Must be obtained in advance up to 30 days prior to the start of the hike. Reservations are required for overnight sites except for thru-hikers; the number of spaces are limited (except for thru-hikers).
  • Shenandoah National Park, Virginia – required for backcountry camping, no fee. Can be acquired in advance or when entering the park.
  • Baxter State Park, Maine – required of all long-distance hikers for their climb of Katahdin, free. May be obtained at Katahdin Stream Campground in person up to 7 days in advance.

See “Site-Specific Regulations, Permits, and Fees” below for more information.

FEES

Entrance or parking fees are collected at some national and state parks that the Trail passes through; however, the vast majority of remote trailhead parking areas require no parking or entrance fees. Some overnight sites, especially in New England, require fees. (See below for more details.)

REGULATIONS
Regulations are set by each of the 87 different federal, state, or local land-managing agencies, whose land the Appalachian Trail passes through.

Listings of these agencies that form the cooperative management system of the A.T. can be found on the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s Clubs and Partners page.

Several hundred miles of the A.T. (and the surrounding corridor of land) in Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Maine are located on APPA lands. These A.T. lands are generally those outside of national, state, and local parks and forests as well as state game lands and national wildlife refuges.  Visit the Appalachian National Scenic Trail website for Regulations on NPS A.T. lands; A.T.-specific regulations that apply to APPA corridor lands can be found in the Compendium of Orders.

Camping and fire regulations  along the A.T. have been compiled in our A.T. Camping Chart.

Overnight and Thru-Hiker Registration is available through the ATC’s ATCamp registration system, which helps hikers avoid crowding, enables hikers to sign up for alerts, and contribute to the preservation of the Appalachian Trail.

Register Now


Large-group use, events, and some commercial filming require permits.
(See “special uses” below.)

Smoking is prohibited at all shelters on federal lands and many shelters on state lands.

Site-specific Regulations, Permits and Fees

The most notable regulations are listed below but are not comprehensive; be sure to check regulations with local agencies before you go.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Tennessee/North Carolina)
(Note: policies and protocols may be different during the COVID-19 pandemic.)

  • Backcountry permits: Permits are required for all overnight stays in the backcountry. Hikers  who meet the park’s unique definition of an A.T. thru-hiker (those who begin and end their hike at least 50 miles outside the park and only travel on the A.T. in the park) are eligible for a thru-hiker permit of $20 (valid for 38 days from the date issued for an up to 8 day hike through the Park). Camping is permitted only at designated backcountry campsites and shelters. Permits are available here. Hikers staying overnight in the backcountry are required to have a printed copy of the permit. For more information, call 865.436.1297.
  • Shelter Policy: Great Smoky Mountains National Park regulations require that you stay in a shelter if you have a reservation for a shelter site. While other backpackers must make reservations to use backcountry shelters, those meeting the park’s definition of thru-hiker are exempt. From March 15 to June 15, four spaces at each A.T. shelter are reserved for thru-hikers. If the shelter is full, thru-hikers can tent close by. Only thru-hikers are allowed to tent next to shelters, so they are responsible for making room for those who have reservations in the shelters.

Shenandoah National Park (Virginia)

  • Backcountry Camping Permit: While there is no charge for permits, they are required of all backcountry campers. The permit can be obtained online or by visiting a self-registration stations at various park entrances and other locations including on the Trail at the park’s north and south entry points. For more information, visit the park’s Backcountry Regulations page.
  • Shelter and Hut Regulations: Two types of structures are near the A.T.: day-use (“shelters”) and overnight-use (“huts”). Camping at or near day-use shelters is prohibited. Huts are available to long-distance hikers (those spending at least three consecutive nights in SNP) as space is available. Tenting at huts is permitted in designated campsites; all huts within the park have campsites available.
  • Entry Fee: An entry fee of $30 per vehicle, valid for seven days, is collected at vehicle entrance stations in the park. More information about fees, and fee-free days, can be found here.

Pennsylvania Game Commission (Pennsylvania)

Green & White Mountain National Forests (Vermont & New Hampshire) 

  • Campsite Fees: The Green Mountain Club (GMC) maintains the A.T. through the Green Mountain National Forest in Vermont, and the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) maintains the A.T. through the White Mountain National Forest, respectively. These organizations collected fees of approximately $10/night per person at some of the high-use backcountry campsites they maintain in this area. These revenues help defray field-program costs, support shelter and Trail maintenance along the A.T., and management of human waste at high-use sites. No permits or reservations are required.Note: The AMC also manages  the A.T. in southern Maine north to Grafton Notch; a fee is charged for use of the Speck Pond overnight site in this section as well.

Baxter State Park (Maine)

  • Appalachian Trail Long-Distance Hiker Permit: A free A.T. Long-Distance Hiker Permit is required of all long distance A.T. hikers: Northbound Thru-Hikers (Nobos), Southbound Thru-Hikers (Sobos), Flip Flop Thru-Hikers and Section-hikers.
    • The free permit card required of all long-distance A.T. hikers to climb Katahdin must be obtained at the Katahdin Stream Ranger Station. (The permit card is typically obtained the night before or the morning of a long-distance hikers climb Katahdin, though permits are good for 7 days.)
    • The number of A.T. Long-Distance Hiker Permit Cards are limited by a Baxter State Park quota: 3150 A.T. hikers.
    • If all available permit cards have been issued for the year, “The Birches” long-distance hiker fee campsite (an option available only to hikers traveling on foot northbound at least 100 continuous miles) will close for the year; however, if this occurs, northbound long-distance hikers still have two options for climbing Katahdin:
      • a) As a Day Hiker – Hikers who plan to climb Katahdin as day hikers would enter the Park via the A.T. at the park’s southern boundary near Abol Bridge, hike 9 miles to Katahdin Stream Campground, get a ride out of the park, stay overnight outside the park in Millinocket or another location, then reenter the park by road via the Togue Pond Gate the morning of the day they climb Katahdin; a Day Use Parking Reservation is required for dropoff at Katahdin Stream Campground.
      • b) As an Overnight Hiker – If spaces are still available, hikers may obtain a reservation at a shelter, tent site, or cabin (Katahdin Stream Campground is the most convenient option; Daicey Pond Campground, located two miles trail-south of Katahdin Stream Campground, or Abol Campground, located two miles by road from Katahdin Stream Campground, are other nearby options).
    • For more information, please visit the Baxter State Park webpage.

Baxter Quota FAQs

  • Thru-Hiker Campsite Fees: Those hiking the A.T. and walking more than 100 miles continuously on foot before entering the park are eligible to stay at The Birches site, but must still pay a camping fee. If the site is full, hikers must wait for space to become available.
  • Non Long-Distance Hiker Campsite Fees: To camp overnight, a reservation is required and a fee is charged.
  • Car Parking Reservation: To access Baxter State Park by vehicle for a day-hike, a day use parking reservation is strongly recommended, as there are a finite number of parking spots. Once all parking spots are full, you cannot enter the park.
  • To make parking or camping reservations, click here.

Prohibitions and activities that require Permits

Horses are not allowed on the A.T., except for a few remote segments of the A.T. in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (click here for more information) and the C&O Towpath in Maryland. Use or possession of mules, burros, domestic goats and sheep, llamas, alpacas and other members of the Camelidae or Bovidae family are also prohibited.

Bicycles and e-bikes are not allowed on the A.T. except where the A.T. follows the C&O Towpath in Maryland. Bicycle and all wheeled use is not consistent with the A.T.’s  intended use as a primitive
footpath.

Large-group use, events, and some commercial filming require permits.
(See “special uses” below.)

Smoking is prohibited at all shelters on federal lands and many shelters on state lands.

Special uses (commercial group use, filming, and other)

The Appalachian National Scenic Trail is a footpath and corridor of land under the overall administration of the NPS. However, more than 60% of the A.T. passes through lands owned and managed by the U.S. Forest Service and many other federal, state, and local agencies. Rules and regulations may vary in different areas, but overarching trailwide policies exist.

The A.T. corridor is managed so those who experience it on foot can intimately connect with the wild, scenic, and natural elements of the environment.

To protect the Appalachian Trail and the A.T. experience, certain incompatible activities, such as advertising or use of motorized vehicles, are prohibited. Some activities, including large-group use, events, or some types of commercial filming, may take place only if a Special Use Permit has been issued by the appropriate land managing agencies. Guided hikes, overnight hikes, or other guided activities where participants are required to pay a fee may require a special use permit or commercial use authorization.

To apply for permits or CUAs or find what activities are prohibited, visit the website of the local land managing agency; for APPA lands (lands outside other federal, state or other local lands the A.T. passes through) find rules and regulations governing these lands here the and permit applications here.