COVID-19 Safety

An Update to Our COVID-19 Guidance

May 11, 2021

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) has issued and updated Appalachian Trail (A.T.) visitor and volunteer guidance to help minimize the spread of the virus. We have followed the science, particularly recommendations issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). We have monitored conditions on the ground, and we continue to collaborate with our local, state, and federal agency partners; with Trail maintaining clubs; with Trailside communities; and with the hiker community to ensure coordination across the A.T.

Throughout the pandemic, the ATC and its COVID-19 Task Force have been watching closely for one of the following criteria to be fulfilled:

  • The CDC deems the pandemic “under control” (or similar determination).
  • A COVID-19 vaccine or an effective treatment is widely available and distributed.

We have determined that the second of these criteria has been fulfilled, and significant gains have been made toward fulfilling the first. Successes include:

  • Multiple highly effective vaccines are now widely available, reducing the risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19 among vaccinated individuals traveling throughout the United States.
  • The CDC has determined that people (vaccinated or not) no longer need to wear masks when they “walk, run, or bike outdoors with members of [their] household,” and small groups of both fully vaccinated and unvaccinated people can meet outdoors safely.
  • The A.T. shelters on U.S. Forest Service land from Georgia to Virginia have reopened, meaning a majority of A.T. shelters have now been reopened by land-managing partners (the 55 shelters on National Park Service A.T. corridor lands from northern Virginia through Massachusetts and in Maine remain closed, though the privies at these locations are now open; in Massachusetts, no overnight camping is currently allowed on state lands or any shelters along the Trail). A.T. shelters on U.S. Forest Service lands in Vermont and New Hampshire remain open.
  • All A.T. states have either removed or relaxed mandatory quarantines or other restrictions on individuals traveling into the state (though some restrictions are still in place — click here for more information).

Due to these positive changes, we have made the following updates to our guidance:

  • Long-Distance Hiking: Long-distance hiking on the A.T. is now considered to be a safer activity, especially for those who have received one of the COVID-19 vaccines authorized by the Food and Drug Administration. However, additional precautions are still recommended to help minimize risks to yourself and others. We encourage everyone who is eligible to receive one of the available COVID-19 vaccines. Getting the vaccine prior to starting your hike, no matter the distance you intend to travel, is ideal. If you are already on the Trail, you can find a location to receive the vaccine by visiting vaccines.gov.
  • 2,000-Milers: The ATC 2,000-Miler recognition program has resumed. All miles hiked prior to the pause of this program (March 31, 2020) and after the date of this announcement (May 11, 2021) can be counted. Hikers can submit their applications to the ATC starting the week of May 17, 2021, at appalachiantrail.org/apply-2000-miler. (UPDATE: Due to a technical snafu, the launch of our updated 2,000-miler application was delayed until June. Our apologies for the inconvenience!)
  • A.T. Hangtags: The ATC will resume the distribution of A.T. 2021 backpack hangtags for thru-hikers and eligible section hikers. Hangtags can be picked up at the following locations upon their reopening:
    • Amicalola Falls State Park, Dawsonville, Georgia (began May 31, 2021)
    • ATC Headquarters and Visitor Center, Harpers Ferry, West Virginia (began May 27, 2021).
    • A.T. Visitor Center, Monson, Maine (began June 2, 2021).
  • Visitor Centers:
    • The ATC Headquarters and Visitor Center in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, reopened with modified operations and COVID-19 safety protocols on May 27, 2021. Due to limited operations, restrooms and in-store purchases will not be available until further notice. We will provide additional information prior to reopening.
    • The A.T. Visitor Center in Monson, Maine, opened on June 2, 2021; ATC Information Services staff will offer Trail information, maps, brochures, and details on the special regulations for A.T. hikers in Baxter State Park. Due to limited operations, restrooms and in-store purchases will not be available until further notice.
    • The ATC Visitor Center in Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania, will remain closed until further notice. We will provide additional information when available.

While we are excited to resume some of our programs put on pause for the last year, we remind everyone that there are still risks associated with hiking on popular and often-crowded trails like the A.T. All the information that we have received from National Park Service Public Health Officers and the CDC remind us that we are still a distance away from being able to say that the pandemic is under control and continued vigilance is needed, especially due to COVID-19 variants. We recommend the following safety precautions:

  • As mentioned above, receiving one of the available COVID-19 vaccines will significantly reduce the risk of contracting or spreading the virus. Find a location to receive the vaccine by visiting vaccines.gov.
  • Continue to carry and wear a mask whenever social distancing cannot be achieved. This applies to any enclosed spaces, such as A.T. shelters, in shuttles/vehicles, and when indoors in towns/hostels for resupply. This also applies to crowded outdoor spaces when six feet of distance cannot be maintained with people who are not in your group. The CDC announced that fully vaccinated individuals no longer need to wear masks or physically distance in most cases, whether indoors or outdoors. Those who are not fully vaccinated should continue to wear masks and physically distance as recommended by the CDC. Some regions and businesses might also continue to require masks and physical distancing. Learn more: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/fully-vaccinated.html
  • While most A.T. shelters are open, we recommend overnight campers use a personal shelter whenever possible to maintain physical distancing. Prolonged exposure in semi-enclosed settings like A.T. shelters, where crowding can occur and unvaccinated individuals may be present, could increase your chances of contracting or spreading COVID-19.
  • Wash your hands frequently with biodegradable soap at least 200 feet from water sources. When soap is not available, use hand sanitizer that contains 60- 95% alcohol.
  • Avoid sharing food. Do not eat out of the same food bag, share utensils, or drink from other hikers’ water bottles.
  • Avoid large groups when possible, even outdoors, particularly when physical distancing cannot be maintained. This is especially important for those who have not been fully vaccinated.

The ATC acknowledges the past year has required significant sacrifices both within and outside the A.T. community of volunteers, supporters, and hikers. Many of us have lost friends and family. Some have delayed lifelong plans and aspirations — including postponing attempts to thru-hike the Trail — to better ensure they and those around them are at a lower risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19. We thank everyone who has taken, and continues to take, extra steps to help combat this pandemic.

Sincerely,

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy Team

GUIDANCE FAQS

COVID-19 INFO

Lead image courtesy of Horizonline Pictures

Correction 5/13: In a previous version of this post, we described the COVID-19 vaccines as “approved” by the Food and Drug Administration. The correct term is “authorized.” Learn more.

The response to COVID-19 is constantly evolving throughout the world, and the ATC regularly updates its guidance and listings of Trail-related closures and travel restrictions. To make sure you have the most up-to-date information, please visit appalachiantrail.org/covid19.