How to Hike the Appalachian Trail? 11 Things (2024) You Need to Know

Hiking the Appalachian Trail is one of the United State’s most famous and difficult treks.

It spans multiple states, up mountains, across rivers, and through thick forests.

Every year, thousands of hikers gear up and attempt to complete the trail, but only a small percentage actually make it.

The trail presents just as many mental challenges as it does physical challenges.

In addition to packing the right equipment, those who take it on have to make sure their minds are up for the task.

So, are you wondering how to hike the Appalachian Trail?

Well, you’re in luck because this article is going to cover everything you could ever need to know about conquering the long dirt path.

Grab your hiking shoes, and let’s head out!

1. What is the Appalachian Trail?

The Appalachian Trail is a hiking path that runs for about 2,200 miles.

Yes, the one trail is that long.

Its starting and end points (depending on which way you’re coming from) are in Springer Mountain, Georgia, and Katahdin, Maine.

The trail was first proposed by Benton MacKaye in October of 1921.

MacKaye originally imagined an extensive trail that brought hikers into a utopian world; there would be clusters of homes, farm camps, agriculture settlements, and art studios.

The Appalachian Trail would have been a string of resource-based communities accessible to anyone at any time.

Well, Mackaye’s vision may not have exactly come to fruition, but he’s still responsible for inspiring one of the most ambitious recreational projects in the United States. 

The trail was finally linked between Georgia and Maine in 1937.

As the decades passed by, it became more and more popular for adventurous spirits to thru-hike the entire trail in one shot.

Today, the trail hosts various small shelters for hikers to hunker down at for a night, and about 3,000 people a year attempt to hike the whole thing.

2. How Long Does It Take to Hike the Appalachian Trail on Average?

Everyone hikes at their own pace.

On average, it takes hikers five to seven months.

That’s a long time, right?

For 150 to 210 days, you’re required to put in miles and miles of serious hiking in order to stay on track.

It’s a big commitment that puts everything about your life off the trail on hold.

But hey, spending a few months submerged in a forest, not worrying about anything other than how many miles you’re going to walk that day has its perks.

If you had to guess, what do you think the record of the fastest time to complete the Appalachian Trail is?

In 2018, Karel Sabbe finished the trail in 41 days.

Before you start making plans to break that record, just know that Sabbe is a veteran ultrarunner who was very methodical about the feat.

Experienced hikers could complete the trail in three months, which would come out to just less than 25 miles of hiking a day–a serious task.

Even if you plan to finish the trail in five months, you’d still be looking at about 15 miles of hiking per day.

So, no matter how fast or slow you choose to do it, you need to be in great shape–although you’ll undoubtedly be in tremendous shape by the time you finish.

3. Can A Beginner Hike the Appalachian Trail?

Anyone who wants to hike the Appalachian Trail is allowed to do so.

By no means do you need to be an expert hiker to take on the task.

However, it is important to be realistic with yourself.

Inexperienced hikers have a lower chance of completing the entire thing and could face more challenges.

It would be a smart idea to prepare for at least six months.

That should give you enough time to build up your endurance and get an idea of what it would take.

Thinking you could just wake up one day, pack a bag, and complete a 5-month hike would be a big mistake.

If you want to get an idea of what hiking the trail as a beginner is like, read the book A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson.

Spoiler, he didn’t finish the hike.

But the nice part about the trail is that you can get off at any time.

As remote as the experience is, you’re never too far from a town or city, and there’s no shame in calling it quits.

4. When is the Best Time to Hike the Appalachian Trail?

One of the most important parts of hiking the Appalachian Trail is timing.

Start too soon or too late, and you can experience some nasty or uncomfortable temperatures.

If you start from Georgia, it’s recommended to begin between the middle of April to the first week of May (some hikers recommended starting a bit earlier in March).

Leaving in the spring means you’ll miss out on winter conditions–the last thing you want to happen is getting snowed in with minimal supplies.

That does mean you’ll have to bear summer temperatures, but luckily, most of the trail is shaded by trees.

If you start in Maine, it’s recommended to begin in June or the first of July.

Coming southbound can be a bit trickier in regard to conditions.

In June, Maine is swarming with black flies, but the longer you postpone your start date, the more likely you are to experience winter conditions near Georgia.

But, the reality is both routes are going to pose challenges.

So, pick the one that works best for your schedule and preferences, and go for it!

5. What Do You Need to Take on the Appalachian Trail Hike?

Preparing for a multi-month hike means you’ll need to bring a lot of gear.

The hard part is bringing everything you need while keeping your backpack as light as possible.

The heavier the load, the slower the pace.

Let’s go over everything you need to pack and talk about a few tips.

bulletTent

bulletSleeping bag

bulletSleeping pad

bulletClothing

bulletHiking footwear

bulletWater purifier

bulletCompact stove

bulletWater bottle

bulletFirst aid

bulletKnife

bulletHeadlamp

bulletElectronics (cords, batteries, etc.)

That list may seem long (more could be added), but if you’re going to be in the wild for five to seven months, you need to fit your entire life in your backpack.

A great tip is to send yourself food or equipment throughout the hike.

Instead of bringing two pairs of hiking shoes, bring one, and have another shipped to a town you’ll be passing through during the middle of the hike.

There is also a ton of ultra-lightweight gear made specifically for thru-hikers; these products can get a bit expensive, but every pound off your back is worth it.

If you’re hiking with a buddy, you could share a tent and spread out the weight of all the supplies between two people.

Some hikers choose to use a hammock instead of a tent to keep weight down, but you’ll have to be okay with feeling exposed each night.

When you’re packing your bag, it’s better to be overprepared than underprepared.

You can always shed items as the hike goes on.

6. What is the Best Direction to Hike the Appalachian Trail?

As a hiker, you have to choose between starting in the north or the south.

The first thru-hiker started in Georgia and ended in Maine, and that has become the most common route for today’s hikers.

Part of the reason is due to the fact that the final push in Maine is considered to be the hardest. If you start with it, you might lose your motivation and energy quicker than you’d like.

The nice part about starting in the south and heading north is that you’ll be around more hikers–adding a layer of safety to the experience.

If you’re coming from the south, you’ll still see other hikers, but they’ll likely be coming from the other direction.

Once fall begins rolling in, there will be fewer and fewer people.

But at the end of the day, there’s no right answer.

Choose the route that feels best to you.

7. Where Do You Sleep on the Appalachian Trail?

If you’re wondering how to hike the Appalachian Trail, then we need to talk about sleeping arrangements.

Thru-hiking the trail means you’ll be sleeping in tents or hammocks in the wilderness.

Along the hike, there are shelters spaced out every 5 to 15 miles for thru-hikers to stay at for a night or two.

These shelters are by no means luxurious.

In fact, most of them just have three walls, but after months of hiking, they’ll slowly start to look like five-star resorts.

Along the trail, you’ll pass through dozens of small towns and a handful of bigger ones.

Many hikers choose to stop off in civilization for a few nights, rent a hotel room, do laundry, and lick their wounds.

But, for the vast majority of the experience, you will be sleeping in or near the various shelters on the trail.

So, making sure you have a high-quality tent and sleeping pad is crucial for maintaining your mental and physical health.

8. Do Cell Phones Work on the Appalachian Trail?

When you’re packing up for your journey along the Appalachian Trail, your cell phone should definitely be included.

But that doesn’t mean it will work.

Cell phone reception is very sporadic on the trail.

Sometimes it’s great; sometimes it’s nonexistent.

A rule of thumb, the farther away you get from civilization, the less likely you’ll be able to use your cell phone.

If you don’t like the idea of being cut off from the rest of the world, consider getting a satellite phone.

These devices will allow you to send messages or make calls from extremely remote locations.

In the case of an emergency, you’ll always be able to contact help.

A good way to see how often your cell phone will work on the Appalachian Trail is to check your phone company’s coverage map.

Although they’re not totally accurate, knowing when you might be without cell reception will help you mentally prepare.

9. How Much Money Do You Need to Hike the Appalachian Trail?

Do you want to know how to hike the Appalachian Trail?

Well then, you need to know how much money to have.

Hiking the trail is free, but you need enough money to survive for five to seven months if you want to complete the trail.

On average, hikers spend about $1,200-$1,400 per month on the trail. That comes out to an average of about $6,000 to $7,000 dollars for the entire trip.

Of course, you could spend a lot less or a lot more than that average, depending on your financial situation.

The money you spend will go to things like campsites, hotels/hostels, transportation (sometimes you have to get rides into town), gear replacement, doctor visits, and food–lots and lots of food.

There are a few ways to keep your journey as cheap as possible.

When you’re choosing gear, always go with the most durable and reputable products.

Buying off-brand shoes might save you money in the short term, but chances are they won’t last.

Going into town is where most hikers spend the majority of their money.

It can be enticing to book a few nights at a cozy hotel and chow down at the local restaurants.

So, when you do need to go into town, be strategic and quick.

Instead of getting a room at a hotel or motel, choose an affordable hostel, and always ask for hiker discounts!

10. Are There Dangerous Animals on the trail?

Compared to other long trails in the United States, the Appalachian Trail is home to only a few dangerous animals.

Along the trail, there are black bears.

Black bears are smaller and less aggressive than brown bears, but they are still dangerous.

Hikers have to be cautious about leaving food near campsites to decrease the chance of a bear snooping around for a midnight snack.

There are two types of venomous snakes found on the tail: copperheads and rattlesnakes.

Both of these species are master camouflage artists, and one bite could put your life in danger.

Luckily, bites are rare, and as long as you watch your step, you won’t have any problems.

There will be yellow jackets, mosquitoes, and dangerous spiders like the brown recluse around. Always think twice about where you put your hand or choose to sit down.

Lastly, the Appalachian Trail has ticks that carry Lyme Disease, which is probably the most threatening aspect of the trail.

It’s very common for hikers to find ticks on them, so bring tick spray and thoroughly check your body each night.

11. Can You Carry a Gun While Hiking?

Carrying a gun on the Appalachian Trail is a bit complicated.

It is now legal to carry firearms through national parks, but the Appalachian Trail Conservancy discourages it.

You have to be very aware of each state’s laws to prevent running into trouble.

Other hikers might not be as open to spending time with you–no one is excited to meet a stranger in the woods with a weapon, right?

Crime on the trail is very low, so a gun isn’t necessary for safety.

Your main troubles will be fatigue, animals, and motivation, not other humans.

Also, guns are heavy.

Do you really want to lug that extra weight around for five months?

Final Thoughts

Do you feel like you know how to hike the Appalachian Trail?

Conquering the entire trek is an incredible accomplishment but a task that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

If you’re interested in hiking the trail, start with a few short thru-hikes to see how you like it.

There’s also no pressure to do the Appalachian Trail in one shot.

Millions of people just hike short sections of the trail without any intention of finishing it all.

But if you do decide to take on the challenge, I wish you luck and a safe trip!

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Erika Gokce Capital

Disclaimer: we are not lawyers, accountants or financial advisors and the information in this article is for informational purposes only. This article is based on our own research and experience and we do our best to keep it accurate and up-to-date, but it may contain errors. Please be sure to consult a legal or financial professional before making any investment decisions.

Erika

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