Distance: 2181 miles (3510 km)
Avg. Time: 5 – 6 months
Start / Finish:
- Northern Terminus: Mt. Katahdin, Baxter State Park, ME
- Southern Terminus: Springer Mountain, GA
- Regular hiking season for northbounders runs from March through to mid-October. For southbounders, most folks start out in June or July and finish up by November.
Maps / Info:
- The Appalachian Trail is the most famous long distance pathway in the United States. In 2014, upwards of 3,000 people attempted to thru-hike the trail with around 800 achieving their goal.
- The A.T. Guide – Better known as AWOL’s Guide | I used the electronic version during my 2012 AT thru hike | Includes trail data, elevation profiles, town & resupply information | Basic overview maps of the trail also available on the A.T.Guide website | Recommended.
- AT Data Book – Information on distances, water sources and other hiking related landmarks.
- AT Companion Guide – Useful resupply, transport and town information. | Joint effort from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) and the Appalachian Long Distance Hiker’s Association (ALDHA).
- ATC Guide books/Maps – Detailed topographic maps aren’t really necessary for this extremely well marked trail. As of 2015, the combo package of guide books + maps will set you back more than $300!
- Pmags Quick & Dirty Guide – An excellent online planning source for the Appalachian Trail. Lots of useful links combined with helpful information for first-time thru hikers.
Route / Conditions:
- The Appalachian Trail passes through 14 states and has more than 250 “lean-to” or three sided shelters along its course.
- Well marked with white blazes from start to finish. Side trails are marked with blue blazes.
- The northernmost section in New Hampshire and Maine is the toughest. The easiest miles can be found in Maryland, Connecticut and West Virginia.
- Hiking in the Fall?: Personally speaking, autumn is the most beautiful time to be hiking in the Appalachian mountains. In 2012, I began my AT southbound hike in mid-October. The first 7 or 8 days of the journey were spent walking amongst a kaleidoscope of reds, yellows, oranges and browns. Great memories. For those that are like-minded, consider the following itinerary suggestions:
– Northbound hikers: Try to finish your hike in mid- October. With any luck you’ll arrive in New Hampshire and Maine just as the colours are reaching their peak.
– Southbound hikers: For fit and experienced southbounders, consider delaying the beginning of your journey until early September. By doing so, you will likely arrive in Vermont/Massachusetts when the autumnal colours are at their meridian. Note that as a result of starting relatively late, your hiking window will be considerably smaller. However, if you are in shape from the outset and carrying a light pack, I believe that a 100 – 115 day hike (i.e. average of 21.8 – 19 miles per day) is well within the range of most experienced hikers.
Due to my relatively late start & finish dates (see above), my Appalachian Trail experience was different to most other folks. Not many people, no bugs, no heat, not even the famed “green tunnel” for much of the way!
For me, it was the perfect time to hike the trail. I’ve never been a fan of crowds and I enjoy cold weather. That being said, I would only recommend a similar itinerary to very experienced hikers accustomed to spending extended periods in such conditions.
Listed below are some of the things I liked about hiking the AT in the autumn & early winter:
- Solitude. I had the trail to myself more than 90% of the time.
- Fall colours in the north.
- Once the leaves had fallen, the views (particularly at sunrise & sunset) from some of the ridges were sublime.
- The dearth of other hikers meant that I was pretty much always guaranteed to have shelters to myself. Handy for drying out gear during stormy weather.
- During overnight town stops, I had the opportunity to speak one-on-one to some of the folks that run hiker hostels/B & B’s. Throughout peak season, they are usually full to the brim and don’t have too much time on their hands. It was great to hear some of their stories. Favourite stops included: Appalachian Trail Lodge (Millinocket, ME); Wood’s Hole Hostel (VA); Kincora Hostel (TN), and; the Sunnybank Inn (Hot Springs, NC).