The voluntary thru-hiker registration is a tool that helps prospective thru-hikers share their start dates with other thru-hikers and plan their itinerary in order to avoid the social and ecological impacts of overcrowding on the Appalachian Trail (A.T.).
Start Well: Thru-Hiking Basics
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy— in partnership with the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club and the U.S. Forest Service—will be holding daily classes every day from mid-February through April at Amicalola Falls State Park, the beginning of the approach trail to the A.T. and the most popular place to begin a northbound thru-hike. These no-cost classes are designed with thru-hikers in mind, but any hiker can attend.
Classes will be held throughout the day as hikers arrive.
Thru-hikers can now play a major role in helping even out the flow of hikers to better seek the “fellowship with the wilderness” for which the A.T. is famous. Voluntary registration allows you to know in advance when overcrowding will exist and to adjust your thru-hike start date or type of thru-hike to your advantage. Voluntary registration enables you to enhance your A.T. experience and enables us to better manage the A.T.– without additional regulations.
Those considering a thru-hike know the A.T. is one of the world’s most popular long-distance hiking destinations. For many, the thru-hike is an adventure of a lifetime. For some, it is a life-changing experience.
But in recent years, the northbound A.T. thru-hike experience has been spoiled by severe overcrowding at the southern end of the Trail. Overcrowding puts undue pressure on, and inflicts damage to, the finite number of shelters and campsites, and on the springs and streams and local wildlife in and around the finite number of A.T. shelters and campsites. When too many people are crammed together at A.T. overnight sites, vegetation is trampled, trash accumulates, wildlife may become habituated to human food and unsanitary conditions can ruin the traditional natural A.T. experience.
With the release of two thru-hike related major motion pictures in 2015 (“Wild” and “A Walk in the Woods”), the number of new hikers is projected to increase dramatically.
Crowding intensifies because prospective thru-hikers have tended to start in Georgia around specific dates, such as March 1, March 17, and especially April 1 and weekends.
You can help break this damaging use pattern! By selecting a lower-use day for the start of your thru-hike using this voluntary thru-hike registration, you will be improving your own hike while improving the A.T. experience for everyone.
You can avoid crowded conditions almost completely and make an even more positive impact by selecting an alternate start location. Mid-trail thru-hike starts can allow you to avoid weather extremes (if you wait until about mid-April). Starting a hike Georgia after April 15 and then planning to “flip” mid-trail also offers the benefits of avoiding crowds and hiking in milder weather. Both of these approaches also give you a longer window of time to complete your thru-hike.