Hiking the Appalachian Trail – The Definitive Guide
The Appalachian Trail (often referred to as “A.T.”) is a 2,184 mile (3,515 km) footpath that travels across the major valleys of the Appalachian Mountains from Springer Mountain in north Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine.
The Appalachian Trail covers 14 states, including Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia.
Thousands of hikers attempt the 2,000+ mile journey every year (usually in spring time), yet only around 10% of those who attempt it actually make it to the end.
Most people like to start in Northern Georgia and head north. However, if you’re planning on hiking during the colder months (or when it’s approaching this time), it’s better to start in the north and work downwards, as the north holds the most difficult sections, and these sections can be closed at certain times of the year.
Although some portions of the trail will see you passing through towns and crossing rivers, the majority of the trail takes place in the wilderness.
Click here to view a map of the Appalachian Trail.
How Long Does it Take?
For most people it takes around 6 months to hike, although it can easily take anywhere between 5 to 7 months (depending on how fast you walk and how much you need to rest). This means you’ll be hiking around 12 miles a day, every single day.
A common question often asked when people are thinking of hiking the Appalachian Trail is “how much does it cost?”
You’ll spend very little money while you’re actually hiking (if any at all), so your biggest expenses will come when spending time in towns (which are ironically the “civilization” that a lot of hikers are trying to get away from).
Providing you buy your food (such as noodles and rice) ahead of time, you can eat for as little as $4-$6 per day. Over 6 months (providing you’re hiking the entire trail), this amounts to around $700 – $1000.
If you plan on eating in a restaurant every now and then and staying in the odd hotel, your total costs could easily exceed the $3000 mark (and could be as high as $4000).
How to Hike the Appalachian Trail
Hiking that Appalachian Trail (or even a segment or it) is a massive undertaking, so for beginner hikers planning your trip and what to take with you can be massively overwhelming and confusing.
Typical questions that people will ask when planning their trip are:
- Do I need to be a hiking/camping expert to hike the Appalachian Trail?
- Should I have any safety concerns regarding animals as I hike?
- What gear do I need to bring with me?
- What kinds of foods should I pack?
- Will I be able to pack my entire trip’s worth of food with me, or will I need to pick up some extra along the way?
Before hiking the Appalachian Trail, it is recommended that you already have multi-day hiking/camping experience (meaning you’ve spent multiple consecutive days hiking and camping out in the wilderness).
This experience is invaluable, as it’ll teach you the basics and allow you to familiarize yourself with how to use all of your equipment. It’s best to ‘iron out all of the kinks’ as it were BEFORE you leave for your big trip, so that you don’t risk endangering yourself unnecessarily.
Of course, while reading books is great, it will never replace experience. These books are best read before and after your practice hikes, so that you’ll be able to fully understand what they’re all about.
You might have heard that bears can be found along the Appalachian Trail (which are, of course, very dangerous), but providing you keep your food in bear boxes (so they can’t smell it) or hang it from high tree branches far away from your camp site (so they can’t reach it) at night times, you should be fine.
The ultimate reference on the Appalachian Trail right now is the ‘A.T. Guide’ by David Miller. This is a book I highly recommend anyone trekking the A.T. get, as it contains so much useful information and maps of most of the areas (as well as what can be found in those areas).
If you have David’s guide, you probably won’t need to bring a map with you (because the book is so good), although if you do want a map of the trail you can buy one from the ATC Trail Store.
You will need to bring with you a tent (or some kind of shelter), a sleeping bag and a sleeping mat (alternatively, you could sleep in a hammock).
As well as this, you’ll need all the regular camping equipment, such as hiking boots, spare clothes, cooking apparatus, etc.
Above all, take it slow and don’t rush into it. Hiking the Appalachian Trail is a huge task, and should not be taken lightly. Remember that hiking/backpacking is a skill, and that learning how to do it safely takes time.
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