The Appalachian Trail (AT)

One of the "Big Three" trails that compromise the Triple Crown, the Appalachian Trail has continually grown in popularity due to many recording and publishing their trips on video services like Amazon Prime and on YouTube.

AT Quick Details

Date Started: 1925
Date Completed: 1937
Designed By: Benton MacKaye
Trail Length: 2189 Miles (3522 km)
States Crossed: 14
High Quality Map: Download

What is the Appalachian Trail?

The Appalachian Trail is a nearly 2200 mile continuous foot trail from Georgia to Maine taking you up some of the most amazing environments and outstanding views. It was started almost 100 years ago as a plan

For many a choice to take on the Appalachian Trail is a rebirth or re-orientation to life and is meant to remove oneself from the trappings of current society and be with people on a level ground while finding out who they are.

The A.T. is slowly becoming a cultural phenomenon for those looking to break out from normal life and to find themselves, typically started at a turning point in life.

Choosing to take the journey of the Appalachian Trail is a perfect way to push your limits and maybe break out of the funk of life, many of us feel unfulfilled at our lives and work and maybe what is needed is that time to reconnect with the world and humanity instead.

Lets take some time and uncover some more details about the Appalachian Trail that may help you to understand the journey you are looking to choose.

you should register your hike with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. It is not compulsory, however, all hikers should register. For more information from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, click here.

Appalachian Trail Data

Trail Length2189 miles
Managing Body
It is maintained by 31 different trail clubs and multiple partnerships, and managed by the National Park Service (NPS), United States Forest Service (USFS), along with the nonprofit Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC).
Southern TerminusSpringer Mountain in Georgia
Northern TerminusMount Katahdin in Maine
Lowest Point120' Above Sea Level at the Bear Den at the Zoo in NY
Highest Point6643' on Clingmans Dome
How ConceivedThe trail was conceived by Benton MacKaye, a forester who wrote his original plan that was called "An Appalachian Trail, A Project in Regional Planning".
When EstablishedThe AT became a National Scenic Trail in 1968
When Completed1937
Blazes (Marking)Entire trail is white blazed from start to finish in both directions, NOBO or SOBO.
Side BlazesMultiple Options Available
# of SheltersThe trail has more than 250 shelters and campsites located across the states that are available for hikers.
Horses On TrailNo
Bikes On TrailNo

Thru Hike Data For the Appalachian Trail

The data below is helpful for a thru hiker planning to leave and looking at planning their costs and the timeframe they can expect to be gone from their homes. This will help ensure you to make smart decisions based on your savings and estimations.

Overall MileageThe AT is roughly 2189 miles.
Average Duration5-6 months
TimeframeFebruary - October
Average Cost$5,000, or roughly $1000 per month of travel
Travel DirectionVast majority of thru hikers will choose to go NOBO
Permits Required?No permit needed for the main trail, multiple parks do have requirements for their sections (see questions below)
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Annual # of Thru HikersThe number of thru-hikes per year has increased steadily each year. In 2017, 3,377 started at Springer Mountain and 685 finished at Katahdin (19% finish rate); 497 started in Maine and 133 finished in Georgia (27% finish rate).

Appalachian Trail by State

The Appalachian Trail can be broken into very distinct sections based on the state. Each link below will take you to the corresponding section below on that section to help you go where you need quick and easy. So what states does the Appalachian Trail run through then?

Springer Mountain: The Southern Terminus

This is the start of most thru hikers journeys and a welcome site to the planning many have done for the past year or longer. 

Georgia

Trail Length: 75 miles (121 km)
Estimated Days
Highest Point: Blood Mountain - 4,461 feet (1,360 m)
Marking the traditional start to your Appalachian Trail journey, the approach trail and lead up is one of those things that signifies you're personal intent to walk 2000+ miles while testing your physical strength and mental resolve.
For most Appalachian Trail thru hikers the trail will start at Amicalola Falls lodge and head up the approach trail to get to the actual trail starting point at the Springer Mountain plaque.
In March and through early April the trail can be frigid and crowded. Campsites can be very crowded with thru-hikers starting their treks to Maine and students on spring break.
The typical start time for a northbound (NOBO) thru hiker will be between February to April, with a vast amount of people (the bubble) starting around March 1st to mid-April. Some will start in February to avoid this bubble but this can make for real cold days and nights.
The Appalachian Trail has no direct permit, but you must obtain permits for backcountry camping in two national parks along the A.T.
Georgia will be a test of your raw abilities as many will begin this without any previous experience nor built any trail legs prior to starting on their hike.
Georgia has some solid peaks that will require some long sore days that may test your overall willpower to complete your hike but if you have will and determination you will dominate.
You need to always be ready as you can encounter snow from November all the way until March or April. During cold snaps temperatures can dip to single digits and tax you and your gear fast and hard.

Points of Interest

  • AT Approach Trail - Many will stay at Amicalola Falls Lodge the night prior to leaving to start their hike, since the lodge is right there for the easy start on the approach.

North Carolina

Trail Length: 95.7 miles (154.0 km)
Estimated Days
Highest Point: 5498'

The North Carolina section of the A.T. rises to spectacular summits — including the 6,643-foot Clingmans Dome, the highest mountain on the A.T. — and drops into the dark and steep walls of the Nantahala River Gorge.

There are only 95.7 miles of the AT in North Carolina, but the Trail runs along the Tennessee/North Carolina border for many additional miles. As the AT ascends to the High Country of the state line, hikers traverse the highest mountains along the Trail, including several above 6,000 feet.

North Carolina brings along the Great Smoky Mountains which you’ll need an advance permit to enter but can be filled out in advance online. There is a cost of $20.00 per permit. The cost of the permit is non-refundable.

You may obtain an AT Thru-Hiker Permit up to 30 days in advance of the date you anticipate arriving in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. You MUST have a paper copy on you.

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Points of Interest:

  • Fontana Dam - Entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
  • Clingmans Dome

Tennessee

Trail Length: 71 miles (114 km)
Estimated Days:
Highest Point: Section that runs just below the summit of Clingmans Dome - 6,643 feet (2,025 m)

Tennessee’s stretch of the A.T., with its sun-dappled forests, broad unobstructed balds and high elevation summits carpeted in native grasses, helped inspire the Trail’s congressional designation as a National Scenic Trail.

There are 94 miles of the A.T. in Tennessee, but the Trail runs along the Tennessee/North Carolina border for 160 additional miles.

As the A.T. ascends to the High Country of the state line, hikers traverse the highest mountains along the Trail, including several above 6,000 feet.

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Points of Interest:

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Virginia

Trail Length: 550.3 miles (885.6 km)
Estimated Days
Highest Point:

Virginia has the distinction of having more miles of the A.T. than any other state—nearly a quarter of the Trail’s entire length. The Trail also travels through the history-filled, rolling mountains of Shenandoah National Park.

More of the A.T. passes through Virginia than any other state, and views from overlooks reveal pastoral scenes that are a mix of forest and farmland.

In Shenandoah National Park, you can cross the A.T. more than 30 times without getting out of your car.

Shenandoah National Park, with 104 miles of well-maintained Trail and climbs rarely exceeding 500 or 1,000 feet, is great for beginners. Remember, though, that backcountry permits are required when camping in the park.

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Points of Interest:

  • Damascus (Trail Days)

West Virginia

Trail Length: 4 miles (6.4 km)
Estimated Days: 1-2 hours
Highest Point:

West Virginia’s section of the A.T. is short but one of the best known. A.T. hikers stop here to visit the headquarters of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, where they have their photos taken and log their travels.

The West Virginia section of the A.T. passes through the heart of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, the site of John Brown’s Raid and notable Civil War battles.

Harpers Ferry is home to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Headquarters and Visitor Center, known as the “psychological halfway point” of the Appalachian Trail.

The path connecting the A.T. to the ATC passes through the campus of the former Storer College, created to provide education for freed enslaved people after the Civil War.

There is no camping in the town of Harpers Ferry or Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. However, there are a number of commercial campgrounds nearby, and there are a variety of places to stay in town, ranging from B&Bs, hostels, motels and an inn.

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Points of Interest:

  • Harpers Ferry

Maryland

Trail Length: 41 miles (66 km)
Estimated Days:
Highest Point:

You can begin or end your hike at hundreds of places between the Appalachian Trail’s northern and southern ends. Here’s what to expect in Maryland.

The Appalachian Trail in Maryland passes several historic sites, offers some of the Trail’s gentlest terrain, and features several lovely vistas.

The southernmost three miles follow the historic Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Towpath along the Potomac River–the flattest three miles of the entire AT.

The whole state can be hiked in three to five days. Considered relatively easy by A.T. standards, Maryland is a good place to find out if you’re ready for more rugged parts of the Trail.

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Camping is allowed only in designated overnight sites. The best times for hiking in Maryland are mid-April through mid-May (Memorial Day weekend is usually crowded) or late September through early November. Summer heat and humidity can occasionally be oppressive.

Points of Interest:

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Pennsylvania

Trail Length: 229.6 miles (369.5 km)
Estimated Days:
Highest Point:

The A.T. in Pennsylvania plays an important role in showcasing America’s heritage and the state’s sweeping landscapes, passing historic landmarks and ascending to scenic heights along Kittatinny Ridge.

Pennsylvania’s nickname is “Rocksylvania,” but it’s not all rocks. The A.T. in Pennsylvania is famed for its rocky terrain, especially on the long, flat ridges north of the Susquehanna River.

Flat, rocky ridges broken by steep descents to rivers and gaps characterize the A.T. north of the Susquehanna.

Only thru-hikers (defined as those “walking the Appalachian Trail from point of beginning to an exit, which is not the place of beginning) may camp on Pennsylvania Game Commission lands, and these hikers must camp within 200 ft of A.T., at least 500 ft from a stream or spring.

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Points of Interest:

  • Pine Grove State Park Ice Cream Challenge

New Jersey

Trail Length: 72.2 miles (116.2 km)
Estimated Days:
Highest Point:

The A.T is in close proximity to New Jersey’s major cities, offering a quick escape for millions to enjoy gorgeous Appalachian scenery. The Trail travels through the Wallkill National Wildlife Reserve, where hikers will frequently see the state bird, the eastern goldfinch.

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Points of Interest:

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New York

Trail Length: 88.4 miles (142.3 km)
Estimated Days:
Highest Point:
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Points of Interest:

  • Trailside Zoo

Connecticut

Trail Length: 52 miles (84 km)
Estimated Days:
Highest Point:
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Points of Interest:

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Massachusetts

Trail Length: 90 miles (140 km)
Estimated Days:
Highest Point:
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Points of Interest:

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Vermont

Trail Length: 150 miles (240 km)
Estimated Days:
Highest Point:
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Points of Interest:

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New Hampshire

Trail Length: 161 miles (259 km)
Estimated Days:
Highest Point
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Points of Interest:

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Maine

Trail Length: 281 miles (452 km)
Estimated Days:
Highest Point:
Here is the home stretch of the trail, where your will is pushed to its absolute limit along with stress around actually completing your journey and life changing experience.
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Points of Interest:

  • Mahoosuc Notch - The longest mile on the AT by pure difficulty in terrain. [ Wikipedia ]
  • 100 Mile Wilderness

Mt Katahdin: The Northern Terminus

As with the southern terminus this point is something beyond words when you see it for the first time. It signifies completion or beginning of a thru hike and a commitment to fulfilling a dream.

AT Frequently Asked Questions

While it may come as a surprise to no one there is a great many questions asked about the Appalachian Trail. We have worked to organize the answers here when they are covered simply and when not we have them covered below in the posts about the AppalachianTrail.

What Airport Should I Fly Into?

NOBO: ATL - Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport
SOBO: BGR - Bangor Airport

Is the AT Well Signed and Marked?

The AT is well marked with white blazes on the trail, this is maintained by a large vast supporting crew of trail maintainers.

Should I Bring A GPS Monitor?

To me, I would say this is yes as you never know if you will need to be found. They also provide peace of mind to family and friends as you can reach out even where you don't have cell service. My personal device of choice barely adds any weight to my pack.

Do You Need to a permit?

Designated sections of the trail such as the Great Smokey National Park, Shenandoah National Park, White Mountains and Baxter State Park require permits. They are easily obtained as the hiker gets closer the the entrance to the National Parks. The Appalachian Trail permit cost varies depending on the park.

Where Is a Bear Container Required?

There is no need to have a bear container on any specific section of the trail, depending on what you are most comfortable with hikers may use bear bags, Ursacks, or Bear Vault/Containers).

Does The AT Close During Winter?

While the trail itself doesn't close you can hit a snag at Mt Katahdin as it does close for winter months which means you must reach it in time or think about switching before it closes to a flip flop.

Can I Use Marijuana on the Appalachian Trail?

Currently it is illegal via federal law and since you are on federal land for a vast majority of the trail this could lead to getting in legal trouble should the authorities catch you.

Next Stop: Proper Gear For The Appalachian Trail

Now that you have a broad understanding on the Appalachian Trail we can dive into the gear that will be necessary for you to properly hike and complete the entire trail. 
Continue to AT Suggested Gear
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