The Appalachian Trail is about 2,190 miles of hiking-only footpath that traverses 14 U.S. states. It takes about 6 months and 5,000,000 steps to walk through the entire trail on a thru-hike. But you can enjoy the scenic trail on day hikes and multi-day hikes. The following shows you how to prepare to hike the Appalachian Trail whether you want to hike in sections or all at once.
Day hiking allows you to walk on different sections of the Appalachian trail without setting up a camp to stay overnight. It is preferred by beginners and casual hikers who might be concerned about the safety of the trail at night. Day hiking allows you to take a light backpack since you don’t have to carry tents and sleeping bags. However you still need to prepare adequately because you will be walking at high altitude in the heat of the sun, so you need to prevent dehydration, eye damage and sun burn.
To prevent sun burn, apply sunscreen regularly during the walk and put on lightweight sweatshirts and long sleeved shirts. A pair of sun glasses and a billed cap will help you to reduce the effect of glare from sunlight. Take frequent breaks to have a drink from your water bottle. You should also pack a fleece sweater and a rain jacket to provide insulation. Take a first aid kit to take care of minor injuries. Some energy bars, dried fruit, nuts and sandwiches should provide sufficient nutrition while two 70 or 100 oz water bottles will give you enough hydration for the hike. Take a tiny box of wooden matches and cotton balls coated with vaseline to light a fire when necessary.
If you can easily gain access to the southern end of the A.T. in Georgia, you will have a rewarding hike and enjoy scenic views of the North Georgia forest with the following day hikes:
* Three Forks valley to the Long Creek Waterfall (1.9 miles)
* Hiking to Springer Mountain summit (2 miles)
* Climb from Tesnatee Gap to the Cowrock Mountain (2.25 miles)
* Byron Reece Trail to Blood Mountain (4.3 miles)
* Powell Mountain from Dicks Creek Gap (4.6 miles)
* Trey Mountain from Indian Grave Gap (5.25 miles)
Multi-day hiking (also called section hiking) is a great option for hikers who do not have the time or fitness to do a thru-hike. Most section hikes take anything from two days to several weeks. With well planned multi-day hiking, you can experience the amazing sights and splendour of the Appalachian Trail in manageable chunks and complete the 2,190-mile stretch within a few years.
Just like day hiking, you need to get a good map of the section you want to explore a few weeks ahead. Find out as much as you can about it and obtain a good estimate of the length of the section and the time it will take if you walk at a steady pace. You should know all the lodging available for hikers and their reputation. Remember that you will need to pack sleeping gear and cooking utensils with more food and a bigger safety and first aid kit.
Multi-day hikes offer you many benefits over a thru-hike. You can walk at your pace and do more sight-seeing along the Appalachian countryside. You will be able to choose the best time to enjoy every section, see the wild flowers come out in spring, and avoid very high or low temperatures. Expenses can also be managed and you don’t need to stay away from work to complete the exploration of the entire trail.
If you are planning to start exploring the AT through multi-day hikes, you should consider the following well-known short hiking routes:
* Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee (4 days)
* Shenandoah National Park in Virginia (10 days, 100 miles)
* Blue Mountains in Pennsylvania (4 days, 40 miles)
* Delaware River in New Jersey (15.9 miles, 2 days)
If you are just starting out on the A.T., it is better to start from the southern states in the spring. Avoid starting with Maine or New Hampshire because they pose a greater challenge with higher altitudes and rugged terrain, which may increase the risk of developing a knee injury.
Thru-hiking is taking a continuous walk across the entire 2,190 miles of the Appalachian Trail from either Georgia or Maine to the other end without abandoning the trail for another activity. Over 14,000 hikers have successfully done a thru-hike including some people with disabilities, like the blind and amputees. However a thru-hike requires a strong body and a resolute mind to overcome the challenges of the rugged terrain, harsh weather and physical exhaustion from trekking for many miles daily.
Prior to the start of your thru-hike, do as much cross training as possible and form a regular exercise habit. Partake in some overnight training hikes on a rugged mountainous terrain so your body can get prepared for what it will be going through for six months. Practice the art of carrying a backpack. Beginning with an empty backpack, start adding weight gradually till you can easily carry all the items you will need for the entire hike.
Do a fitness test before you start your hike so you can know whether you are in peak condition or not. At the beginning, focus on an achievable goal of walking about 8 to 10 miles per day. Then increase the distance gradually until your body is accustomed to bearing the weight of a backpack for a whole day as you climb up mountains. You should give yourself many weeks to attain peak condition and also include several zero mileage days when you will not walk but simply rest and regain your strength.
Ensure that you study all the regulations that control camping along the A.T. The most popular starting point for a thru-hike on the A.T. is the Springer Mountain in Georgia between early March and April. However, you may also choose to start somewhere in between to avoid overcrowding. Once you have chosen your take off point and hiking direction (either southbound or northbound), ensure that you register with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC).
The A.T. is one of the best trails to learn and master the art of hiking from short day hikes to a 2,000+ thru-hike. Before you start, ensure that you study all the regulations that control camping along the A.T.