Hike Safely

Updated COVID-19 Guidelines for A.T. Day and Overnight Hikers

May 20, 2020

Protecting and managing the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) — while ensuring the safety and health of our staff, A.T. volunteers, visitors, and Trailside communities — are the top priorities of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) during this challenging time.

While the ATC continues to recommend staying at home and staying away from the A.T., we understand that many of you are considering hikes on the A.T. as your states’ stay-at-home orders expire or shift to “safer at home” recommendations. In recognition of this highly dynamic situation, the ATC believes the scientific information has become clearer on how to keep yourself and those around you safe from COVID-19. Based on that science, we offer the following guidance.

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 some states are removing or relaxing stay-at-home orders, there are still numerous restrictions and closures on the Trail. Over 100 shelters are still closed, at least three states have required or recommended 14-day quarantines upon entering, and restrictions are still active throughout A.T. states. The Trail may be closed near you. Even if open, certain Trail facilities may not be open to public use. Keep yourself informed and check the ATC website for the latest updates.

For thru-hikers, we ask that you continue to postpone your thru-hikes for the time being. On a thru-hike, staying local is impossible and requires frequent stops in towns for resupply and shuttles to/from communities, creating multiple opportunities for contracting or spreading the virus. However, we have identified criteria for when this guidance will change. For more information, read our letter to 2020 thru-hikers by clicking here.

We continue to appreciate everyone’s assistance in keeping the Trail community and the Trail itself safe and healthy. Our personal health is now a collective issue: unless everyone is safe, no one is safe. So please be prepared and be thoughtful when you head outdoors.

The Trail will be there, through this crisis, and beyond. Make sure you are safe and healthy now, and in the future, to enjoy all it has to offer.

Thank you and be safe,

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy Team