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Backpacker Magazine – November 2008

American Classic: Hiking the Appalachian Trail

In this ultimate guide to the country's favorite footpath, you'll find our picks for the best hiking and camping, and a complete plan for thru-hikers. Plus, meet a man who has made it his job to help AT hikers.

by: Michael Lanza

Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area, VA (Jeff Zimmerman)
Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area, VA (Jeff Zimmerman)
Great Smoky Mountains (Kevin Adams)
Great Smoky Mountains (Kevin Adams)
Near Maine's Grafton Notch (Tim Seaver)
Near Maine's Grafton Notch (Tim Seaver)

Northbound vs. Southbound
The only significant navigation decision you'll make on the whole AT is whether to walk northbound (NOBO in thru-hiker slang) or southbound (SOBO). Here's what to consider:

NOBO
The chief reason to hike northward is simply tradition: It's the direction of travel chosen by some 90 percent of thru-hikers. NOBOs start between mid-March and mid-April and finish in the fall. This itinerary means wintry weather for the first several weeks or more; heat and bugs from the mid-Atlantic states to New England; and a crowd of fellow northbounders, which can be good or bad, depending on your perspective. Also, slow hikers risk missing the big finale on Katahdin: Baxter State Park closes October 15.

SOBO
Southbounders start later (Baxter opens June 1) and usually finish in November or even December. The downsides: You'll endure thick black flies and challenging stream crossings in Maine (start after July 1 to avoid the worst); hike during hunting season in the south; and walk into winter instead of out of it. Upsides, according to successful SOBO Francis Tapon: get Maine and New Hampshire–the AT's hardest section–over with first; enjoy more solitude; walk out of mosquito season instead of into it; pass through Virginia during prime-time fall colors; and hike with no time pressure, since Springer Mountain doesn't close for the winter.

Transportation

Getting there and away Private shuttles serve both Springer and Katahdin. Get a list of options at appalachiantrail.org/site/c.jkLXJ8MQKtH/b.806835/.

On the trail For resupply rides to town, hitchhiking is generally safe and easy, as locals are accustomed to picking up hikers. Or ask about shuttles or "trail angels" (people who freely help AT hikers) at hostels and shelters.




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Jeff
May 23, 2012

To ERICS post about baxter state park. ERIC, you need to check your facts. Baxter may be open, but most of the time, Katahdin trails are closed until around June 1st. The parks director makes the decision after hearing from the rangers. Some years it is earlier than others. Always call first before making plans. The fine for hiking closed Katahdin trails is $200 per person. Just thought you should know.

Larry Budd
May 18, 2012

Another place to plan an A.T. hike and read a 1989 Backpacker article on hiking the A.T., P.C.T and C.D.T is http://thetrailhead.ning.com. We got back on last summer in Pennsylvania. Port Clinton Hotel to Bear Mountain Summit. The trail is perfect for section hikes too!

Eric
May 18, 2012

WRONG INFORMATION:
This is a comment to the statement "Baxter Opens June 1". WRONG!
I don't even understand how you could make this mistake. Considering the reader following of Backpacker, many people just got really really bad information. Actually the park is open year round. However, they only allow overnight camping from May 15th to October 15th (for the summer season), and December 1st - March 31st (for the winter season), the other times you can get in and do what you want, but can't spend the night. If the author performed a simple Baxter State Park website check then the correct information would have been known.
Thanks,
Eric

Yukon Don
May 17, 2012

Which foods are the most recommended and how much per day?

Robbie
Apr 21, 2012

Section Hiker here. Don't have time yet to do a full thru hike but catch a week to a month every summer, while hiking locally on weekends. I agree with some of the comments on food. My sisters and I undertake a different section of the AT every summer. Our packs have lightened as we learned our needs and wants on the trail. We are down to 30# packs without restocking. We dehydrate veggies and shredded meat. Evening comes and we cook rice and add the veggies and meat and eat very well compared to the poptarts and protein bars and hiker meals we've seen. Dried fruit livens up the oatmeal without added sugar. When we come off the trail we are in awesome shape. I have lost 7 pant sizes since the first time we took to the trail and feel better than I ever have in my life. I am proof you don't have to be in tip top shape to hike as long as you enjoy your hike and stick to it for the time you have allotted. Measure your hike by pleasure gained, not miles. The trail is beautiful and the company is grand.

hhiker33
Apr 12, 2012

I thru hiked in 2009. I found this article very helpful. I even bought some of the gear recommended. It all held up well. Maine was my favorite state. The rocks in Pennsylvania suck, but it is only a relatively short area in the north. Don't worry about the bears, they are a treat to see, but carrying guns, pepper spray, or knives is the sign of a rookie, who is carrying extra weight for nothing.

TRUST ME!!!!
May 06, 2011

I know few people will likely see this comment, so I am going to put this in all caps. NO MATTER HOW ULTRA-LIGHT YOU WANT TO BE, IF YOU HAVE ANY KIND OF BOWEL PROBLEMS YOU'RE GOING TO WISH YOU HAD MORE TOILET PAPER. I pulled out the cardboard tube and just took a portion of a roll. I was stupid. Fortunately, I came upon a park-maintained visitor center with a facility from which I took a small portion of toilet paper. Had this not been available, I would have had some of the worst rear-end problems. On a similar note, chaffing is oftentimes helped by applying neosporin. Just a few tips from a section hiker.

Lauren Ryan
Feb 11, 2011

I don't fear the bears getting at my food as much as I do the mice. I bought a Grubpack mouse proof food bag specifically for my treks on the Appalachian Trail. It's a lightweight, rodent proof backpacking food container. I hang it like a usual food bag. It's not a bear bag, but mice and squirrels can't chew through it. They are sold online. A yahoo/google search will find it.

Rick a.k.a. Woollyworm
Jan 08, 2011

Hey Eric, don't think so much about bears. My experience has been the only way I see them is if they didn't see me first. Hang your food bag though. I use two pieces of kernmantle 3mm line 30 feet long and hang the food bag between two trees. Nothing has ever gotten it. I eat a lot of Mountain House, Ramen Noodles, Nutrigrain bars, some GORP. Get to a trail town and it's burgers, pizza, anything. Cook on an Etowah Outfitters alcohol stove with Heet in the yellow bottle as fuel. My pack with one to two weeks worth of food will weigh 30 to 35 pounds. I could get it down even lower than that because there are some wants in there along with the needs.

c29368
May 09, 2010

@Old Dog Dave
Hey I grew up hiking the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, and am also a weekend warrior myself. The area has a lot to offer in terms of trails, and other places of interest. 7 miles south is Kirkridge shelter, super nice and clean. Heading north you will go through Delaware Water Gap. Stop by Edge of the Woods Outfitters if you need any supplies or information, they are located in town. The AT will cross the Delaware River via Rt. 80. From the Dunfield Creek parking area you can take the red trail hiking up the relatively steep Indian Head. That will loop back to the trailhead and the AT. Water Gap to Culvers Gap is a nice weekend hike, about 30 miles. North of Water Gap is Worthington State Forest. They have a designated backpackers site about 3 miles north of the trailhead @ Dunfield Creek, plenty of grassy tent sites, bear boxes, and an outhouse. Head north and you will see a sign for Mohican Outdoor Center which is run by the AMC, they offer a lodge and rooms to stay. The next shelter is Brink Road shelter about 24 miles north of Water Gap. New Jersey is full of Black Bears so watch your food. I also believe open fires are prohibited along the AT in New Jersey.

c29368
May 09, 2010

@Old Dog Dave
Hey I grew up hiking the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, and am also a weekend warrior myself. The area has a lot to offer in terms of trails, and other places of interest. 7 miles south is Kirkridge shelter, super nice and clean. Heading north you will go through Delaware Water Gap. Stop by Edge of the Woods Outfitters if you need any supplies or information, they are located in town. The AT will cross the Delaware River via Rt. 80. From the Dunfield Creek parking area you can take the red trail hiking up the relatively steep Indian Head. That will loop back to the trailhead and the AT. Water Gap to Culvers Gap is a nice weekend hike, about 30 miles. North of Water Gap is Worthington State Forest. They have a designated backpackers site about 3 miles north of the trailhead @ Dunfield Creek, plenty of grassy tent sites, bear boxes, and an outhouse. Head north and you will see a sign for Mohican Outdoor Center which is run by the AMC, they offer a lodge and rooms to stay. The next shelter is Brink Road shelter about 24 miles north of Water Gap. New Jersey is full of Black Bears so watch your food. I also believe open fires are prohibited along the AT in New Jersey.

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