The Appalachian Trail is one of North America’s most iconic hiking trails. This famous route has been the walk of many soul searchers. People who have been challenged through life have used the Appalachian as the pathway to fulfillment and life understanding. At the same time it spans over a wide range of landscapes, taking visitors through some of the most beautiful places and spaces. It’s a nature lover’s dream hike.
Average Completion Time: 5 Months
Distance: 2190 Miles
Passes Through: 14 States
Number of People Who Walk the Trail Each Year: 2.5 Million
Number of People Who Complete the Whole Distance: Less than 13%
How Long is the AT
The Appalachian Trail spans a total distance of 2190 miles, covering 14 states and traversing diverse landscapes from Maine to Georgia. It is North America’s longest Hiking trail.
If you were to hike the Appalachian in one solid go without stopping, it would take you around 5 months to complete. Even if you’re one of the fittest trail runners in the world, the fastest record for the whole trail lies just over 45 days!
Thankfully, because of the nature of the trail, it could be broken up into shorter sections.
How Many Miles Can You Walk in a Day?
There is no set rule, but most hikers who have planned a thru-hike on the trail, average between 12 and 24 miles per day depending on their fitness and conditioning.
The best way is to stagger longer and shorter days, giving your body (and feet) time to recover. There are also many rest camps where you could easily spend the day just relaxing and getting your energy back for the following big day.
How to Hike the Appalachian Trail
As with any hike in a wilderness area, you need to have a plan. You also need to have the correct equipment and supplies for the sections you tackle. There are important things to consider when planning for the AT, whether you’re planning a thru-hike or planning section hikes.
For thru-hikes an important part of your planning will go about re stocking you supplies at certain points along the trail. To do this you need to breakdown your distance per day travelled and how much food and provision you will need before reaching the next town where you can restock on supplies.
Here are some other important points that you need to think about and plan for.
What to Expect
What you can expect varies wildly due the distance and diversity of the various sections. In general, you can prepare yourself for wilderness type hiking, where you’ll need to be self reliant for long stretches (of up to 24 miles). On the other hand, shorter and more popular sections can sometimes actually seem a bit crowded.
Let’s take a look at a few of the most important things that you should consider during the planning stage as well as on the journey.
Is There Camping & Shelter?
There are over 250 backcountry shelters across the length of the trail which may be utilised by hikers. There are also frequent designated sites where you can set up camp. Make sure that you check the maps and know where the shelters and camp areas are.
Backcountry camping (where you set up your own camp along the trail) is also allowed in many areas. Make sure you have the necessary permits.
How Fit Should You Be?
There are so many different sections that each has its own level of difficulty. However, you should expect the hike to be challenging. This is one of the reasons it’s so rewarding.
There are going to be days where you’ll be tested mentally and physically, especially if you’re doing a longer stretch like White Mountains, Southern Maine or around Kathadin.
You’ll need to be a pretty strong hiker with some experience in longer distances. Your body will have to be somewhat used to the conditioning before attempting these sections.
Loading a backpack with some bricks or weights and training on longer hill walks or even inclined treadmills will give you a pretty good fitness foundation. You should be able to walk around 15 to 20 miles with at least 45 pounds of weight added to your pack.
Even then, expect some difficult climbs and possible strain related injuries along the way.
What is the Terrain Like?
The trail covers diverse landscapes, from mountainous areas to forested regions criss-crossed by mountain streams. Expect to get dirty, expect to slip and get wet, as hardened hikers know, this is par for the course.
Where Does the Appalachian Trail Start?
The Appalachian Trail starts at Springer Mountain in the state of Georgia. It works its way in a north easterly direction towards Maine, where the trail ends at Kathadin.
Hiking Each Section Individually Over Several Years and State Maps
One way to enjoy the Appalachian Trail as a long-term commitment is to hike it over several years, completing shorter sections of it on your vacations. This is ideal for folks who can’t quit their jobs for a year to do the thru-hike in one go.
A brilliant idea for this type of hike is to tackle a state at a time, enjoying each one for its diversity, towns and people.
The official site has a brilliant interactive map. It gives great info on the shelters along the way as well as towns and other points of interest. It also gives statistical info like elevations and landscape types. It’s a great point of reference for planning your hike.
There are some really nice hand-painted traditional maps available. Something nice to have at home to dream about while planning your hike.
Best Sections to Hike
Another difficult question to answer… Pretty much anywhere on the AT is spectacular!
Great Smoky Mountains
A firm favourite however seems to be the Great Smoky Mountains section in Tennessee, traversing mountainous regions with forest and streams. It’s absolutely awe inspiring.
The Presidential Range in New Hampshire is also a brilliant section covering the highest ranges on the trail. The landscape here could be likened to the arctic tundra, with open slopes met by coniferous forest. This section can be quite tough at points with long arduous accents to the higher ground. The incredible views and majestic mountains and valleys below make the hard work very much worthwhile.
Easiest Sections to Hike
For those who are unable to do the harder sections of the AT, there are numerous shorter and easier sections that still give the full glory of scenery and splendour. Let’s take a look at a few sections that are not that difficult to tackle.
Springer Mountain section
This section covers 75 miles and usually takes about 8 days to complete. The trail is very mellow and takes you along grassy peaks and down through oak filled forest, the scenery is just spectacular! This section is a bit longer than the other short sections, but the going is easy and not too taxing.
Shenandoah National Park
This section rates as the easiest on the Appalachian, but does take ten days to complete. Relaxed scenery with loads of stops along the way.
This famous river valley can be viewed from the higher ground that the trail follows. It takes 2 days but the distance is only 15 miles, so it’s a nice medium paced hike.
Hardest Sections to Hike
Some parts of the Appalachian are just hard, plain and simply challenging. This is usually due to terrain and weather fluctuations. Here’s a brief look at the toughest parts of trail.
This section is over 100 miles long and you will ascend an elevation of 5000 feet along this mountainous section. Things that make this section difficult are rough terrain, quick weather changes and steep climbs with high elevation changes over short distances. You need to be fit and in condition to tackle this piece of the trail.
This section rates as the most difficult. The terrain here is very challenging and hikers are forced to move slowly and carefully. Large boulder strewn gorges intercepted by thickets of forest with gnarly boot snatching roots are the name of the game. Be prepared to suffer here because it’s tough going and a mistake or a bad fall can be a disaster.
This section marks the end of the trail for North-bound hikers. Moving through Baxter State Park, you will ascend 4000 feet over a 5 mile climb. It’s steep and rocky at places. The other thing to bear in mind is that Kathadin is your last epic summit on the trail if you started in the south, so it’s usually quite emotionally charged and epic!
Is the Appalachian Trail Dangerous?
The AT is just as dangerous as any other wilderness trekking environment out there. There are super dangerous sections and less dangerous sections. Wilderness trekkers and hikers know the name of the game, but let’s take a look at some points.
Which Section is the Most Dangerous?
The Maine section described above is probably the most dangerous part of the AT. The terrain here is really rugged, with the possibility of slipping and breaking something a real probability. This section needs to be tackled with patience and endurance as there are not really any paths or well-worn trails. It’s literally section upon section of boulder hopping, crawling and sliding on your bum. Because of the remote and rugged nature of this part, emergencies could take a while to attend to. This section is not recommended if you are not tenaciously fit or don’t have the mindset and willpower to struggle.
Which is the Least Dangerous?
The Harpers Ferry north towards the Pennsylvanian state border is probably the easiest section to hike, with nice sandy paths and less climbs and descents. There are shorter and easy sections on the trail in most of the states so check the interactive map and discover which ones appeal the most to you.
When is the Best Time to Hike?
The best time to hike the AT is a very difficult question because of its entire length and time taken to cover it will span over at least two seasonal changes.
For Northbound hikers starting in Georgia, a great time is to start in spring when things are fresh and cool but starting to warm up after winter. This also gives time for the icy mountains in the North to melt and warm up by the time you arrive there in the late summer.
For Southbound Hikers a good time to start in the North would be early June, by this time it will be warm enough and most of the snow and ice on higher ground will be gone and the trail south will take you through landscapes changing through late summer and the most gorgeous autumn colours as you move through the lower states.
Naturally section hikers can literally choose the best time or season for the sections they choose to hike.
How Much Does it Cost?
This cost depends on the distance you will hike? For thru-hikes, a general rule of thumb seems to be an average of 1000 – 1300 Dollars per month will be sufficient. This includes your permits, foods and other supplies along the way. It would be a great idea to make extra provision for hidden expenses or emergencies too.
What Gear Do I Need to Hiking the AT?
The basic requirements for any long distance hike need to be met for tackling the AT.? A good quality multi-day hiking pack is a must. Sleeping bag, one man tent, cooking utensils, hiking clothing, wet weather gear and the usual hike provisions.
You must also make sure you have all the necessary permits and licenses that you need to enter certain state parks or wilderness areas.
Best Shoes and Boots for the AT
A good pair of hiking boots is a definite must have item for the Appalachian. Good footwear is of paramount importance for doing a lengthy trail like this. It will also be a good idea to have some light and soft shoes or sneakers for the evenings around the camp. Your feet need a time out after a day in your hiking boots.
There are a few great lightweight and packable shoes for the evenings and for easy sections of the trail where there is no rough terrain.
Other Useful Info
Make sure that you familiarise yourself with the laws and regulations in the various states that you will pass through. This is important because many states have different laws and regulations for activities in state parks.
A great idea is to involve yourself with workshops or groups who have done the trail. This is a great way to get familiar with the territory and also the perfect way to learn from others who have already done the trail. Experience like this is very handy, hearing stories about mistakes and mishaps along the trail as well as the amazing experiences had, will stand you in good stead. It will also get you excited and amped for your hike.
We really hope that you enjoyed this article. If we’ve eft something out, please let us know in the comments below.