What to Expect When Hiking on the Appalachian Trail?

Hikers on the Appalachian Trail have many unique experiences; some are pleasant while others are best forgotten. If you are planning a thru-hike or multi-day hike on the A.T., you should set your mind to face challenges like sudden thunderstorms and exciting experiences such as making new friends and losing many unwanted pounds within a few weeks. Here are some highlights of what to expect on the A.T.

Trail Markings
The Appalachian Trail is the best marked long distance hiking trail in the world. Each year, as many as 6,000 volunteers grouped into 31 trail management clubs invest hundreds of thousands of hours to maintain the white trail blazes placed on trees at an average distance of 70 feet apart. These blazes are 2 by 6 inch vertically placed rectangles. However, there are some other coloured blazes on the trail. For instance, the blue blazes indicate an alternate route or side trail. Usually they lead to a spectacular view, water source, campground or vista.

Supportive Hikers
Most thru-hikers are very supportive and helpful to fresh and less experienced hikers.You can easily tell a thru-hiker from a day hiker by their long hair, thick legs, fast pace, and light backpack. They offer advice, support and vital information that will help you to avoid injuries, bear encounters, hunger and dehydration. Hikers are also kind enough to share their food and tools at campsites. However, you should observe basic rules of hygiene when sharing anything with a fellow hiker.

The Appalachian Trail has over 250 shelters spread across the entire length of the trail. These three-walled shelters are usually about 8 miles apart. Most experienced thru-hikers take advantage of these shelters, which are available on a first come first serve basis. But due to the ever increasing number of people (now about 2,700) that set out to thru-hike the A.T. from Georgia to Maine annually, there is no guarantee that you will find a space when you arrive at a designated shelter. So do yourself a favour and take a waterproof tent or hammock.

Weight Loss and Fitness
Virtually every hiker on the A.T. will lose weight after a few days of hiking. The rate of weight loss could vary from one hiker to another. If you want to get in shape, a multi-day hike will provide a more efficient and effective form of exercise than a gym. This means that you should be prepared to wear a small sized bra as a female and be ready to wear pants with an adjustable waist line as male hiker. However, you must monitor your level of fitness on the trail. Do not start at a very fast pace trying to cover more than 8 miles per day. Your body will eventually adjust to the daily “punishment” and you will be able to cover more miles, especially when you set out before dawn and the weather is conducive for fast paced walking.

Changing Weather
A thru-hiker will experience a wide variation in climate on the A.T., from the temperate weather in the rainforests in Georgia to the windy and cold alpine climate in northern Maine. Most thru-hikers set out at Spring Mountain in Georgia before April 1st so they can arrive at Mount Kalahdin by early October. However, late starters or those who are slowed down by blisters, pain or injury may arrive at Maine in winter. Lightning is a major weather hazard on the A.T. and wind and rain storms can occur suddenly on high elevations due to rapid condensation. It is essential to have rain gear with you always.

Climbing Rugged Terrain
A large part of the A.T. is strewn rocks of various sizes. You will climb over rocks and some could cause you to trip. Some are so irregular, they require you to use your leg and foot muscles to keep your balance with every step you take. Be aware that you may fall a couple of times especially when you are descending a steep cliff. So it is wise to keep your smartphone on the top of your pack so it does not break if you fall on your back. When you are trekking downhill, it is very important to use a hiking pole to improve your balance and protect your knees from damage.

Surely, hiking on the A.T. involves enduring pain and overcoming many challenges. But you can have a successful and rewarding hike if you focus your mind on completing it against all odds.

Other Activities for Travellers Near Famous Sections of the Appalachian Trail

As you hike on the 2,189-mile long Appalachian Trail, from Georgia to Maine, you may focus entirely on reaching on your destination at Mount Katahdin within six months. But what makes hiking on the A.T. more interesting and fulfilling are the many opportunities to take a side trail to a scenic pool for a swim, visit a museum, and join other hikers in a food contest at a famous restaurant. The following activities will add a lot of excitement to your hike and help you to forget about the pain you experience from trekking for so many miles daily.

Participate in a food competition
The Appalachian Trail Café in Millinocket is arguably one of the best along the entire trail. Located very close to the end of the trail, this cafe has served thousands of successful but terribly hungry thru-hikers. Trail victors are permitted to sign on the ceiling tiles so other hikers can honour them for their accomplishment.

But the extremely friendly Millinocket café staff will allow you to be part of their ice cream competition called the Summit Sundae Challenge. Starting with one banana, you are supposed to consume 14 scoops of ice cream (one to represent each state that is traversed by the A.T.), plus the café’s doughnut, garnished with cherries, whipped cream and chocolate syrup. If you can eat it all by yourself, you get rewarded with a place on their pole of fame, a T-shirt, and a bumper sticker. The faster you finish this delicious ice-cream, the higher up the pole your name appears.

Explore the ATC headquarters
The headquarters of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy at 799 Washington Street, Harpers Ferry in West Virginia is one of the most popular spots on the A.T. Here all hikers and visitors enjoy the benefits of the guiding philosophy of the A.T., which is: the spirit of cooperation. The ATC headquarters is commonly used to resupply, check email, check weather forecasts, eat and drink at the snack bar.

Here, you can also see the pictures of hikers who completed the trail, known as 2000+ milers. Looking at the board containing pictures of successful thru-hikers can be very inspiring. It motivates you to complete the hike so you can become a source of inspiration to other thru-hikers. Before you leave, you can go to the hikers’ swap boxes and leave something you will like to share with other hikers. You should buy at least one souvenir or book at the ATC store.

Take some history lessons
Various historic monuments are available on the A.T. One of the ones you’d love to visit is the Byron Herbert Reece Farm and Heritage Centre – a truly fascinating treasure-house located on Route 129 in Northern Georgia, not far from the Vogel State Park. The Centre was set up in honour of a respected farmer, novelist and poet – Byron Reece who was a prolific writer between 1938 and 1955.

Recently, the custodians of the centre improved the seating in the pavilion and enhanced the literary and agricultural exhibits in the barns to showcase the life of Reece. You can also find handcrafted and homemade items including books, written by Reece and others on the Appalachian region, in the gift shop.

Visit a pristine nature conservation park
The A.T. was created to allow city dwellers to explore the wilderness and see nature in an unpolluted and well preserved form. That is why it passes through many national and state owned parks. Vogel State Park is a perfect example of a magnificent pristine environment.

Hikers can branch at this park, maintained by very friendly folks, take a shower, and sit down, eat, drink and relax right in front of the scenic Lake Trahlyta, at the base of the Blood Mountains in Georgia. If you have sufficient energy to have more fun, you can visit the museum, go fishing, hike in the park and play on their miniature golf course.

Enjoy a refreshing swim
As the climate gets warmer in summer, in the northern part of the trail, you will appreciate the opportunity to swim in some of the beautiful pools on your way to Maine. In fact, you will come across so many places where you can have a warm dip in the sun that you may end up swimming every other day.

Sage’s Ravine on the Connecticut/Massachusetts border is a beautiful place to swim in a natural pool. At the Fahnestock State Park, in Putnam Valley, NY, you should go off the A.T. for 0.2 miles to see this spectacular body of water with a clean sandy beach. You can enjoy free showers and eat at the snack bar. If you are interested, you can even rent rowboats.

Anytime you hike the Appalachian Trail, don’t focus only on completing the 2000+ miles at a stretch. Spend a little time off the trail. The activities discussed here will refresh your mind and body.

Finding accommodation along the Appalachian trail

The Appalachian Trail is not the kind of place you visit hurriedly and leave. Hiking the longest footpath in North America and one of the longest in the world is incredibly pleasurable even for savvy hikers. Thru-hiking the 2200-mile trail takes you through 14 states and often takes around six months to complete. The rugged backcountry footpath passes through magnificent mountains and ridges, making it breathtakingly scenic. Strenuous climbs, occasional rocky footing, and walking in the woods characterize the hiking experience. The Appalachian Trail experience is a perfect immersion into natural adventure and the countryside lifestyle.

If you love hiking and are planning to retreat from the terrific hassles of modern-day life through a hike on the Appalachian Trail, planning for your accommodation well in advance will enable you to have the best hiking experience. There are a variety of great motels, inns, and hostels near the world famous foot trail. The choice of accommodation depends on your preferences for there’s a place for everyone.

Some of the great inns and hostels along the Appalachian Trail include:

1. Hiker Hostel

Hikers, cyclists, mountain bikers and eco-tourists who want to get away to the Northern Mountains of Georgia find Hiker Hostel a suitable accommodation option. It is located in Damascus, Virginia and the Appalachian Trail follows a sidewalk just in front of the hostel. The hostel has private rooms, container cabins and bunks that offer clean, comfortable and affordable temporary accommodation. You can access local shops and restaurants easily since they are a walk distance away from the hostel.

2. Standing Bear Farm

Standing Bear Farm is located inside the Smoky Mountains, two hundred yards from the Appalachian Trail and 3 miles north of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A bunkhouse and cabin sit on the property and that’s where hikers get comfortable after long days of hiking and exploring the Appalachian Trail. Standing Bear Farm is a perfect place to live the old times when rural Appalachia life was the “good life”. It has a simplistic setting which features a farm house, the original homestead, barns and outbuildings. It is the outbuildings that have been converted to a cabin and bunkhouse. You are offered hot outdoor shower and laundry facilities, a phone, free internet, shuttle service, a microwave, gas grill and fire pits. In the company of farm animals that keep running around Standing Bear Farm, you are bound to experience a real step back from the hectic lifestyle of American civilization.

3. Shamrock Village Inn

Located in Dalton, MA, Shamrock Village Inn welcomes you with a warm shower so that you can relax after your epic Appalachian Trail exploration. The motel is just off the trail and is, therefore, very convenient for hikers. Most hikers who’ve stayed at Shamrock Village Inn compliment the staff as being warm and exceptionally friendly. They keep the place clean and make every effort to make it as comfortable as possible. The inn is family owned, a factor that can explain the staff attitude. In addition to clean rooms, customers are provided with laundry service, a computer and printer, and free and fast Wi-Fi.

4. White Wolf Inn

This restaurant has a unique character. It is set in a two-story building with wolf-themed décor and other peculiar details. In addition to being one of the few prominent businesses in Stratton, hikers locate it easily. It is also located at a convenient place, just a few minutes from the Appalachian Trail. From The White Wolf Inn, you can hike to the Cranberry Peak, Mt. Abram, The Bigelow Range, Sugarloaf, and up to 100 other spectacular mountains. Hikers enjoy the company of hunters and snowmobilers as they grab a piece of peanut butter pie, a cup of coffee or have homemade dinner together. They also get a chance to know the Stratton area better by interacting with old-time locals who have weekend breakfasts or night outs and gatherings in the restaurant. White Wolf Inn is a comfortable place to stay and is very hiker-friendly.

Remember that you will need to make arrangements for food as you hike. Pack food and supplies for at least 5 days or use mail drops to get food and supplies while on the trail. When you have a mail drop, you can have items sent to small towns along the trail so that you can pick them when you pass there. Some hostels and restaurants along the Appalachian Trail offer mail drop services. You could consider this factor when considering accommodation in the inns and hostels along the Appalachian Trail.