The Appalachian Trail (AT) is a National Scenic Trail extending from Springer Mountain, Georgia, to Mount Katahdin, Maine, and protected by federal- and state-owned lands as well as public rights-of-way.
The trail measured 2,168.1 miles in 2001. The total distance of the trail changes slightly from year to year as trail maintenance groups reroute the trail as needed.
An Appalachian Trail thru-hike takes between five and seven months to complete the entire trail. (About 20 percent of hikers who begin the trail will complete it.)
The average cost of an Appalachian Trail thru-hike is approximately $3,000 (about $1.50 per mile), not including gear.
A thru-hike can start at either of the trail's termini. The direction of the hike depends on the hiker. If you can start in early spring it is best to start in Georgia as the mountains of the Northeast are very cold and snowy at that time. The majority of thru-hikers hike northbound, beginning in Georgia anytime from late-March to mid-April. Southbound hikers generally begin late May to mid-June.
Some hikers start heading north, then realize that they will not make it to Katahdin before Baxter State Park closes on Oct. 15. These hikers will often leave the trail, take some mode of transportation up to Katahdin, and then hike south back to where they got off the trail. This is a good option for those who are behind schedule but still want to hike the entire trail.
Most thru-hikers stay in the many tentsites and shelters spaced about a day's hike apart along the trail. Some Appalachian Trail thru-hikers also carry a tent in the event that a shelter is full or there is a perfect little campsite by a mountain pond that is simply irresistible. In areas of heavy use, such as the White Mountains of New Hampshire and Baxter State Park in Maine, there may be a fee assessed to stay at the shelters and backcountry tentsites. When in town (see next question below), thru-hikers may stay in hostels or hotels.
Many thru-hikers stop in at the two AMC centers located on the trail:
AMC also offers eleven backcountry campsites and eight high mountain huts along the AT in the White Mountains. Reservations are required for stays at the huts and a fee is charged. There is a work-for-stay option at the huts available only for thru-hikers on a first-come, first-serve basis, and space is limited. In addition, AMC's Upper Goose Cabin in the Berkshires is exclusively for thru-hikers and section hikers.
The trail crosses a road an average of every four miles, making it pretty easy to access trail towns along the way. Although the trail is a wilderness footpath it crosses some major roads and even goes through the middle of many towns along its route. The Appalachian Trail Thru-hiker's Companion (available online at the AMC Store and from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy offers a wealth of information about towns along the way including where to eat, where to stay, and what else the town offers.
Although it is possible to purchase groceries and other supplies in towns along the trail, many towns along the AT are quite small and the opportunity to resupply is limited. Many thru-hikers set up a series of maildrops, sending packages to themselves in predetermined towns along the route. These packages, on average, contain about a week's worth of food and supplies to last until the next town where one can resupply.
Although there are many wild animals on the trail including bears, snakes, and wild boars, the fear of these animals is unnecessary. All hikers should take certain precautions to protect themselves and their food, such as hanging food in bear bags, but there is little worry of these animals causing any serious harm.
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) publishes a complete set of 11 guidebooks and map sets covering the entire Appalachian Trail. The ATC also publishes the Appalachian Trail Databook, which gives the mileage from point to point along the trail and notes availability of campsites and water sources. All of these publications can be purchased online at the AMC Store, at many outdoor retailers, at some local bookstores, and directly from the ATC (see contact information below). We also provide these resources online.
Appalachian Mountain Club, headquarters. Offers hiking and trail information, plus books and maps for reference and for sale. Contact Info: 5 Joy St., Boston, MA 02108; 617-523-0636, ext. 341; www.outdoors.org.
Appalachian Mountain Club, Pinkham Notch Visitor Center. Offers hiking and trail information, plus books and maps for sale. Contact Info: P.O. Box 298, Gorham, NH 03581; Trails info 603-466-2725 or hut reservations 603-466-2727.
Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Publishes the complete guidebook and map set of the Appalachian Trail and many other books on the AT. Contact Info: P.O. Box 807, Harper's Ferry, WV 25425; 304-535-6331; email@example.com; www.appalachiantrail.org.
Appalachian Long Distance Hiker's Association. Publishes the Appalachian Trail Thru-hiker's Companion. Contact Info: 10 Benning St., Box 224, West Lebanon, NH 03784; www.aldha.org.