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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.

Choosing a Partner

  • It’s not critical to find a partner pre-trip. Hiking NOBO on the AT, you’ll meet people compatible with your pace and temperament. Women: Many female hikers safely go solo on the AT each year, but start with a companion if that’s more comfortable.
  • Agree on what to do if your partnership fails.
  • Be flexible; you don’t have to walk together every day or stay together every night.
  • Friends from home may want to join you for a few days. Just remember that once you have your trail legs it might be tough to slow your pace.

Resources

Books The Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s pocket-size Appalachian Trail Data Book ($6) lists distances between key points like shelters, water sources, and town services; The Thru-Hiker’s Companion ($14) is larger with more details about trail facilities and towns. Get them both at appalachiantrail.org. Websites

  • The Appalachian Trail Conservancy manages the AT and is a good source of AT-specific info (304-535-6331, appalachiantrail.org).
  • Find mileages between two points on the AT with this online calculator (ragtag.org/dbatdist.html).

  • Also check thru-hiker-centric whiteblaze.net.
  • Permits No permit is necessary for the AT, but some parks–including Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah–require free registration, shelter fees, or reservations.

Break the Rules Purists might balk, but these alternative itineraries allow more flexibility and optimum trail conditions. Section hiking: Tackle the trail in vacation-size stages over many years. Flip-flopping: Start at Springer in spring and hike to Harpers Ferry, then flip to Katahdin and hike south (or vice versa). Leapfrogging: Divide the trail into thirds, hiking first the southernmost, then northernmost, then middle. Head-starting: Begin at Damascus in April and hike north, then return in the fall and hike to Springer Mountain.

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