Responding to COVID-19
COVID-19 Guidelines for A.T. Hikers
UPDATED July 12, 2020: Tips for helping prevent the spread of COVID-19 while hiking the Appalachian Trail.
Local and state regulations concerning COVID-19 and outdoor recreation are constantly changing. Click below for the most recent updates.
I want to day hike or overnight camp on the Appalachian Trail. Is this safe during the COVID-19 pandemic?
The ATC believes the scientific information has become clearer over the past several weeks on how to keep yourself and those around you safe from COVID-19 while hiking on the Appalachian Trail in many situations. However, there are multiple precautions and points to consider before planning an A.T. hike.
Before you decide to head out, ask yourself three questions:
- Are you, or anyone in your group, exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, or have you been in contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19?
- Is there an official closure of the section of the A.T. you are planning to hike?
- Are you, or anyone in your group, missing any essential gear to not only have a safe and healthy hike but also mitigate the spread or contraction of COVID-19?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, we ask you to stay home.
If the answer to all these questions is no, we recommend the following:
Be self-sufficient: In addition to the ten hiker essentials, carry a CDC-approved mask and hand sanitizer. Practice social distancing; if not possible, make sure you are wearing a mask and other personal protective equipment (PPE) to help stop the spread of COVID-19. As this virus can remain on hard surfaces for days, we advise not using Trail resources like shelters, privies, or picnic tables. If you come into contact with hard surfaces, either wash your hands (if possible) or use hand sanitizer. Pack a trowel so you can dig catholes (70 adult steps from the Trail, campsites, and water sources and carry out toilet paper) instead of using privies on the Trail. For overnight trips, use a tent or other personal shelter and carry a bear-resistant food storage device to avoid using a bear box, cables, or pole. Treat your hike like a true backcountry experience that is not reliant on A.T. facilities you would otherwise use.
Stay local: Hike close to home. Ensure you do not have to stop for gas or meals along the way. Check the Trail Closures page on our website before heading out, as the section of the Trail you are planning to visit may have an official closure or other restrictions.
Stay small: Hike only with members of your immediate household or in groups smaller than six people. Avoid well-known locations where there will likely be many visitors. Do not access the Trail during high traffic periods (weekends, holidays, etc.). Have a backup plan in case the trailhead is crowded when you arrive. If trailheads are full, turn back and return when crowds have dispersed. Do not park in undesignated areas or block roads or gates.
Be prepared: Carry a physical map of the area where you are hiking. Share your plans with someone you know in case you need assistance. Review Leave No Trace principles on our website so you can leave the Trail the same or better than you found it. Being prepared not only protects you and the Trail — it protects your fellow hikers and, should you become lost or injured, the search and rescue teams that would use their limited resources to come to assist you.
Be respectful: If you head into town on your trip, please wear PPE and use hand sanitizer or wash your hands with soap frequently. Contact businesses and service providers in advance to make sure they are open and follow local guidelines. Minimize the amount of time you spend in town. If you become ill on Trail, particularly if you exhibit any symptoms associated with COVID-19, leave the Trail and seek medical attention.
Be patient: While the Trail itself has reopened on all sections, there are still numerous restrictions and closures along the Trail. Over 200 A.T. shelters are still closed, multiple states have required or recommended 14-day quarantines upon entering, and restrictions are still active throughout A.T. states. Certain Trail facilities may not be open to public use. Keep yourself informed and check the ATC website for the latest updates.
Is it safe to attempt a thru-hike or long-distance section hike of the Appalachian Trail during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Due to the unique nature of an A.T. thru-hike, we ask that aspiring A.T. thru-hikers continue to postpone their hikes for the time being.
An A.T. thru-hike introduces multiple difficult-to-avoid situations that could potentially spread COVID-19:
- Thru-hikers must frequently stop in towns to resupply, whether in grocery stores or via mail drops.
- In order to get to these towns, hikers must either arrange for shuttles or hitchhike, or arrange for other transportation.
- This process is repeated dozens of times throughout a thru-hike, each instance creating risk of becoming infected and spreading the virus along the Trail.
For these reasons, as well as others mentioned in our previous letter to thru-hikers, we ask that thru-hikers continue to postpone their long-distance treks for the time being.
The ATC COVID-19 task force has identified three criteria that will signify the situation has improved and it may be time for thru-hikers to resume/start their journeys:
- All official closures on the A.T. resulting from the pandemic are removed.*
- *On July 1, 2020, all sections of the A.T. footpath itself were officially opened. However, there are still multiple mandatory quarantines and camping closures that effectively prevent hikers from legally completing a thru-hike at this time.
- The rate of COVID-19 infections has remained flat for a period of two weeks and recommended/required quarantines for out-of-state visitors in all fourteen Trail states have been lifted.
- An effective vaccine to protect against COVID-19 is widely available.
In the interest of the Trail community’s health and safety, the ATC will maintain a temporary pause on 2,000-miler recognition.
However, the ATC will recognize all 2020 thru-hikers who began their hikes this year and left the Trail prior to March 31, 2020, postponing until after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that special precautions are no longer necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19 or the ATC issues an announcement giving the okay to proceed.
Once this guidance is issued, thru-hikers can pick up where they left off — whether at mile 5 or 500 — and have twelve months from the date they choose to resume their hikes to complete the remainder of their journeys and still be recognized by the ATC as a thru-hiker and 2,000-miler.