Flip-Flops: An Alternative A.T. Thru-Hike

April 1, 2022

Page updated November 17, 2023

Are you or someone you know getting ready for a flip-flop thru-hike? Appalachian Trail (A.T.) flip-flop hikes offer multiple advantages over “traditional” northbound or southbound thru-hikes. Hikers can take advantage of milder weather, have a more flexible time frame to complete their thru-hike, and start their journeys on more moderate terrain.

Flip-flop thru-hikes are also great for the Trail itself and Trailside communities. Thru-hiking outside of the thru-hiker “bubble” helps reduce overuse impacts on the footpath and overcrowding at shelters and campsites, and visiting communities in the “off-season” helps support hiker-focused businesses during periods of low visitation.

Whatever flip-flop itinerary you choose (or create), here are some general tips for making the most of your hike.

Start Your Hike with us at the Flip-Flop Kickoff

Stay tuned for information about Flip Flop Kickoff 2024!

Taking place in Harpers Ferry and Bolivar, West Virginia, and Brunswick, Maryland each year, this event is a celebration of the A.T. and flip-flop hiking itineraries. It’s the perfect place to begin (or dream about) your own flip-flop adventure!

The Kickoff typically features a series of hiking workshops hosted by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), including pack shakedowns by Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC) ridgerunners, and a cookout nearby. Hikers begin their adventures on the final day of the event with a send-off breakfast hosted by the town of Harpers Ferry! Check out the event website for last year’s schedule and more information.

Whether you attend Kickoff or note, if you start your hike in Harpers Ferry, be sure to stop by the ATC Headquarters and Visitor Center on Washington Street to pick up your A.T. hangtag and have your hiker photo taken. For parking and lodging information, click here.

Photo by Laurie Potteiger.

Getting to the Trail

While flip-flop itineraries provide a lot of advantages to both hikers and the Trail, they also require a bit more transportation planning. Visit our transportation page for information on getting to/from your starting and ending locations for every part of your hike. You can also overlay parking information on our free online interactive map to help plan your trip.

Leave No Trace with the Seasons

How you apply the seven Leave No Trace principles will vary slightly depending on the section of Trail and the time of year you are hiking. For example, most trails in Vermont are closed during mud season, hikers on the A.T. in October should wear blaze orange for hunting season safety, and snow/cold weather can linger into late spring and arrive early in late fall.

Arrive prepared for your hike by checking the weather and packing the 10 essentials.

Solo hiker on Big Bald. Photo by Douglas Wright.

The Benefits of Solitude

Many hikers choose a flip-flop itinerary to avoid the main “bubble” of northbound (NOBO) thru-hikers leaving Georgia in the spring. Flip-flop hikers can take advantage of a less-crowded Trail and connect with nature and the quiet simplicity of being alone in the woods. Take extra care to stay safe, especially if you’re hiking alone.


Keep in mind that not all hiker services are available year-round. If you are on a section of the Trail before or after the traditional hiking season (typically spring to early fall), be sure to call shuttles and businesses ahead of time to make sure they are still available.

More Tips for Planning Your Next A.T. Hike

Visit our Hiker Resource Library for in-depth information ranging from gear selection to health and safety tips. For aspiring long-distance A.T. hikers, view more from our hiker preparation series.