How to Hike the Appalachian Trail in Sections
There’s no need to quit your job, take a sabbatical or sacrifice several months of your life to experience the incredible, breathtaking, unforgettable Appalachian Trail and scratch it off your bucket list.
Simply hike it in sections.
…You’ll still have a chance to enjoy the (almost) 2190 miles of trail as it passes through fourteen US states, six national parks, eight national forests and a vast array of differing landscapes.
…You’ll still get to completely unplug from tech, push your mind and body to meet a new challenge, embrace those wide-open skies, and rediscover more about yourself along the way.
And you’ll still get the certificate to prove you’ve hiked the required 2000 miles and can be considered an APT finisher.
Besides, when you hike the Appalachian Trail in sections, you can fit it into your lifestyle and commitments, not the other way around.
You can break the hiking experience into day trips, overnight trips, multi-day trips or whatever combination you fancy. You can start at whatever time of year you want. And you can be as flexible as you need to. It’s the perfect option for those of us with busy lives.
To help you get started, we’ve gathered the most important information on hiking the APT in sections.
We’ll ask you about everything including food, clothing, shelter, weather conditions, daily mileage and share tips to help you make the most of your trip. Enjoy!
#1: How many miles do you want to cover per day?
Before you get started, it’s important to think about how many miles you want to hike each day. First, consider the total distance you want to cover over your entire trip, then divide it between the days you want to hike.
Bear in mind that the terrain can vary greatly, depending on which section of the Appalachian Trail you intend to cover. So, keep your target mileage realistic and, if you’re covering several days, schedule plenty of time to rest too.
Remember, the Appalachian trail is tough, so you probably won’t cover as many miles as you think.
#2: Where will you start hiking?
It’s always a good idea to start easy, even if you’ve been training hard for the Appalachian Trail or you’re a seasoned hiker. We’d always recommend you start with around 10 miles total distance. Choose the easiest place for you to get to and plan to hike a small section to see how you get on and whether you enjoy the experience. If it lights a fire inside you and you’re desperate to do more, you can book a date in your diary to come back and do more.
Many hikers like to break the trail into two main parts. They first start halfway and hike north or south, then the return and hike in the opposite direction in order to complete the trail. Which of these you do is really a matter of personal taste.
#3: What are your transport options? How will you get around?
Whilst you can drop your car at the trailhead parking lot and hike for a few miles in each direction, we wouldn’t recommend that. It’s much better to leave your car somewhere safe and use a shuttle driver or taxi instead. Ask around for the best local options, look in one of the many Appalachian Trail guidebooks, give Uber a try or look for affordable local taxi service instead. Be sure to ask about the price before you get in to avoid any nasty surprises. Prices usually range from $1-$2 per mile.
#4: Do you have a map?
The Appalachian trail itself is well signposted with white blazes on trees, rocks, and posts so there’s not much danger of you getting lost along the way. Having said that, it’s always useful to have a map at hand just in case you want to find grocery stores, hostels, or restaurants. It’s also worth having a good map in order to check elevation. Most AT guidebooks have excellent maps, but you can also buy a separate map or download the useful Guthook’s Appalachian Trail app for your phone (Android / iPhone)
#5: Will you take food with you?
It’s always a good idea to carry some food and water with you at all times, especially if you’re planning to be hiking for a few days at a time. Yes, your pack will feel slightly heavier when you first set out, but you’ll appreciate the difference towards the end of your trip and you never need to worry about going hungry. You can also restock your supplies by heading to grocery stores every few days if you like. Again, check out your Appalachian Trail guidebook to find out where you can find those grocery stores.
Stuck for food ideas? You can find some great food suggestions on the Appalachian Trail website.
#6: Where will you get clean drinking water?
Another important consideration will be water. If you’re only hiking for a day, this needn’t be too much of a concern as you can usually carry all you need. But if you’re traveling for longer periods, you’ll need to know where to get water from as faucets (taps), pumps and spigots are rare.
Check your Appalachian trail guidebook to find out where the best, reliable natural drinking water sources are. You should also be aware that this can change from season to season. You’ll also need to come prepared to treat your water to make it safe. Consider whether you’ll boil your water, or use a filter, iodine, chlorine, chlorine dioxide or a combination of all.
#7: Where are you going to sleep?
If you’re planning to be on the Appalachian Trail overnight or for a few days at a time, you’ll also need to think about where you plan to sleep. Luckily, there’s a wide range of options. There are around a hundred campsites along the way where you can pitch your tent and know you have a natural water source nearby.
There are also around 250 wooden trail shelters where you can sleep on a first-come-first-served basis. If space has run out before you get there, you can usually turn to plan B and camp right beside the shelters. There are also certain wild camping spots along the trail, but please check regulations before you camp. As ever, check your Appalachian Trail guidebook for more information on where you can sleep.
#8: What will the weather be like?
The amount of daylight and the average minimum and maximum temperatures can really vary throughout the year, so make sure that you check the weather conditions for the time of year that you plan to hike the AP. This will help you prepare for the trip with greater ease. You’ll know what kind of clothing to pack in your gear bag, whether you need to include a torch and work out what other kinds of outdoor gear you might need. It’s also worth checking the forecast in the week before you go in case of any unseasonal changes.
#9: What will you pack in your gear bag?
Although a hiking section of the Appalachian Trail won’t be as intense as doing the entire thing in one trip, you’ll also need to think carefully about what to bring with you and make sure you have everything you need. Your AP backpack should be large enough to have room for the following:
- Food and snacks
- Water plus a safe water treatment method
- Warm clothing
- Wet weather gear including a pack cover
- A map and compass
- A tent or other shelter
- A sleeping pad
- Bedding such as a lightweight sleeping bag
- A stove with spare fuel
- Waterproof matches
- A lightweight cooking pot and utensils (including a sharp knife)
- A garbage bag
- Toilet paper and a trowel for burying human waste
- A first aid kit
- A whistle
- Sunglasses, sunscreen, and a hat
- A fluorescent jacket or hat if it’s hunting season
- 50 feet of cord to hang your food
Of course, this is just a bare minimum. If you have space, it can be nice to bring a good book with you or anything else to make you enjoy the experience even more.
So, we don’t want to hear any more excuses about not having enough time or money to hike to Appalachian Trail! Hike it in sections and you can enjoy the same incredible experience without any of the sacrifices. Follow our tips here to make it a trip you won’t forget!