Ask A.T. Thru-Hikers: Pros and Cons of a Flip-Flop Hike

March 21, 2024

Are you getting ready for a flip-flop thru-hike or dreaming about a future adventure? A flip-flop hike is a method for hiking the entire Appalachian Trail that involves starting somewhere in the middle, hiking to one end, returning to the middle, and hiking to the other end, flip-flopping directions. Flip-flop hikes offer multiple advantages over “traditional” northbound or southbound thru-hikes. Hikers can enjoy milder weather, have a more flexible time frame to complete their thru-hike, and start their journeys on more moderate terrain. 

In addition, choosing a flip-flop route can be beneficial to the Trail itself and Trailside communities. Thru-hiking outside of the northbound (NOBO) thru-hiker “bubble” helps reduce overuse impacts on the footpath and overcrowding at shelters and campsites. Visiting communities, including those in the A.T. Community Program, in the “off-season” helps support hiker-focused businesses during periods of low visitation. 

Photo by Maurice Fliess in Harpers Ferry, WV

We asked flip-floppers to share their experiences with some of the benefits and drawbacks of flip-flop hikes to pass along their wisdom with those who may be thinking about planning their own flip-flop hikes.

Submission by Chris Roundtree: Pros and Cons 

I thru-hiked the AT in 2017 and did the “inside-out” flip-flop out of Harpers Ferry: Harpers Ferry to Katahdin (Apr. 24-Aug. 16), then HF to Springer (Aug. 27-Nov. 13). I would highly recommend a flip-flop hike to anyone, especially anyone who isn’t able to start until later in spring. This allows time to reach Katahdin at a reasonable pace, take a few days off to rest, return to Harpers Ferry, and then make it to Georgia before it gets too late into the fall. Based on my experience, I’ve compiled a list of a few pros and cons of flip-flopping:


  • Having the ability to wait to start until spring weather warms
  • Starting in the mid-Atlantic area allows for easier Trail conditions at the start
  • Starting in Harpers Ferry around Flip-Flop Kickoff weekend means having others to hike with while learning the ways of the trail and getting your “trail legs” under you
  • Avoiding issues that arise from starting in Georgia and hiking with the northbound bubble 
  • Having greater availability of off-trail accommodations (hostels, lodges, etc.) when hiking during a quieter time on the Trail 
  • Avoiding cold and snowy weather in spring in the Smokies 
  • Experiencing fall color in the Smokies and other southern sections  


  • The second half of hike (southbound from Harpers Ferry) typically sees fewer interactions with thru-hikers, and could be very quiet at times and potentially lonely for those who prefer more social opportunities
  • Getting into New England too early means dealing with bugs and potentially muddy Trail
  • Water sources in Virginia can become scarce in the lingering heat of late summer and early fall
  • Taking too much time to get south into North Carolina and Georgia brings a higher potential for cold and wet fall weather (I got caught in a blizzard in the Smokies in the last week of October)

Chris’ pro tip: don’t take too long of a break between the two halves of your flip-flop hike. It’s easy to lose your trail legs and general conditioning, as well as your mental momentum. 

Submission by Ben Jewart: The Broken Loop 

We completed a “Broken Loop” flip-flop hike class of 2023 (June-October). This means we hiked from Harpers Ferry to Katadhin, then from Springer Mountain back to Harpers Ferry. This was a great way to hike the Trail. I couldn’t start until Memorial Day, and as it turns out, a lot of hikers still going from Springer with a March start reached Harpers Ferry at the same time I started. This meant that from the start, I was surrounded by experienced hikers who knew what they were doing, which was very helpful. 

When we flipped south, it was like we had the whole Trail to ourselves. We even hit peak leaf season right around the Virginia Triple Crown! It was also great to end our hike in Harpers Ferry where it all started. I got to hike right into the ATC’s headquarters and mark by hike officially completed, which was very rewarding. I would highly recommend the “Broken Loop” thru-hike. 

Ben “Wy’East” Jewart holds Kibo “Blue Eyes” on Mt. Moosilauke

Submission by Phil Barnes: Flip-Flop Weather 

We did a flip-flop starting in Hampton, Virginia, in early April 2004. Being from Hawaii, I really wanted to avoid hiking in the snow. We either started too early or too far south and experienced a two-day snow storm our first day out. My down bag got soaked in the shelter, and I had a very cold night. But finally, the sun came out the third day and there was no more snow for the rest of the hike. 

I was 59 at the time and only planned to hike 15 miles a day, so it was nice not having to get to Katahdin before Baxter State Park closed for the season. My daughter picked us up in Maine and drove us back to Hampton where my wife joined me for the 500 miles hiking south. The hike was excellent weather for the most part with beautiful fall scenery. 

Submission by Leanna Keegan: The Trail Provides 

After reading the call for Flip-Flop thru-hike stories, I was inspired to reflect on my flip-flop thru-hike! The short version of my Flip-Flop thru-hike is: I took 194 days to complete the Appalachian Trail between April 25, 2022, and April 19, 2023. As I reflect on my hike, I think about the people I met throughout the entire experience. The following story is an example of a surprise meeting that happened because of a flip-flop thru-hike.

Meeting #1: On July 4, 2022, I was hiking north on the Appalachian Trail toward Nauman campsite. I was about two hours away from camp when I started to get a migraine, and by the time I arrived, I was feeling very sick. I found the caretaker of the campsite at his tent and he introduced himself as Chris. I quickly introduced myself, completed the paperwork and payment, apologized for my current migraine state, and advocated for what I needed: A place where I could set up my tent to sleep. Chris led me to a tent pad that was away from other tents. This tent site allowed me to get the sleep I needed to rest and recuperate from the migraine. The next day I hiked to Mount Washington and beyond. I often think about how thankful I was for Chris’s kindness that day!

Leanna “All Good” Keegan heading south between Peck’s Shelter and Newfound Gap.

Surprise Meeting #2: Fast forward to: April 1, 2023 at Peck’s Corner Shelter in the Smoky Mountains. As I approached the shelter, I noticed that there was a Ridgerunner at the shelter,and he said something to the effect of: “You just missed a bear!” I paused and took a breath realizing three things. First, the bear was gone. Second, the Ridgerunner had bear spray. Third, I was not alone with a bear nearby. As I began to get settled, I realized that I met the Ridgerunner before! It was Chris, who I had met the previous July! I was so surprised to have the opportunity to tell Chris how thankful I was for the kindness that he showed me on my migraine day in New Hampshire.

Flip-flop hikes provide opportunities for meeting people and making memories on the A.T. all while benefitting the Trail and local communities. Learn more about flip-flop thru-hikes and join us at this year’s Flip-Flop Kickoff in Harpers Ferry!