Frequently Asked Questions

Where can I get maps?

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy and its member clubs publish the official guidebooks and maps for the Appalachian Trail, available for purchase online at the Ultimate A.T. Store, by phone at 1-888-AT STORE and at the ATC visitor centers.

Do I need a permit?

The Appalachian Trail is open for all to enjoy. No fees, memberships, or paid permits are required for walking on the Trail. However, the A.T. passes through numerous state and national parks, forests and public lands, a few of which require permits, fees, or reservations to stay overnight in shelters or campsites.

Where can I camp?

More than 250 backcountry shelters are located along the Appalachian Trail at varying intervals, as a service to all A.T. users. A typical shelter, sometimes called a “lean-to,” has a shingled or metal roof, a wooden floor and three walls and is open to the elements on one side. Most are near a creek or spring, and many have a privy nearby. Hikers occupy them on a first-come, first-served basis until the shelter is full. They are intended for individual hikers, not big groups. If you're planning a group hike, plan to camp out or to yield space to individual hikers who may not have the resources you do. Many shelters are near good campsites for tenting.

Where are the restrooms?

Few and far between. Many A.T. shelters have privies, but often you will need to "go in the woods." Proper disposal of human (and pet) waste is not only a courtesy to other hikers, but is a vital Leave No Trace practice for maintaining healthy water supplies in the backcountry and an enjoyable hiking experience for others.

Can I bring my dog?

Dogs are permitted along most of the Trail, but they impose additional responsibilities on hikers who bring them along. If you want to hike with your dog, be considerate of others (and your dog) by planning carefully, educating yourself about local regulations, and keeping your dog controlled at all times. Dogs are not allowed in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina, Baxter State Park in Maine, and the Trailside Museum and Wildlife Center in Bear Mountain State Park, New York. Dogs are required to be on a leash on all National Park Service-administered lands—or more than 40 percent of the entire A.T.

Can I ride a bike or horse on the A.T.?

Generally, no. The Appalachian Trail is designed, built, and maintained by hikers for foot travel.

Are bears and snakes a problem?

The problem with snakes and bears is that you won't see them often. Sometimes you only see signs of them, such as tracks or a shed snakeskin. That's because snakes and bears, and most other animals, shy away from humans. If you do see a snake or a bear, don't try to touch or feed them. Animals along the Trail are wild and should be left alone.

Can I carry a gun?

ATC strongly discourages hikers from carrying firearms: Most experienced A.T. hikers consider them impractical and unnecessary, and encountering an armed stranger makes many people uncomfortable. To legally carry a firearm on the Trail, you must meet the permitting standards of the state and locality in which you are hiking. On national-park lands, discharging a firearm is illegal, even if you have a legal permit to carry it. Extra efforts may be required to secure weapons in towns to abide by local ordinances and private-property owners' rules. (Firearm rules vary by land ownership. The Trail crosses 14 states and more than 90 state, federal, or local agency lands, with each having its own rules and regulations; you are responsible for knowing and following those rules.) In areas of the Trail corridor where hunting is legal, hikers may see hunters carrying firearms. Hunters must abide by their own set of firearm rules, somewhat separate from firearm-carry rules but also varying by state and county.

How safe is it?

Hiking the A.T. is no more dangerous than many other popular outdoor activities, but, although the Trail is part of the national park system, it is not the proverbial "walk in the park." Preparation is the key for a safe and healthy trip. Choose clothing and equipment carefully, and make sure you have adequate food, water, and shelter available.

In an emergency, how do I get help?

Cell phone reception on the A.T. is unreliable.  Reception is sometimes poor or non-existent in gaps, hollows, and valleys and shelters are often located in such areas of poor reception.

If you have a phone and can get a signal, call 911 or another local emergency number (A.T. maps and guidebooks often list other numbers). Tell the dispatcher you are an Appalachian Trail hiker, and provide your location (include name and approximate distance of nearest town and nearest road if possible).

If you don't have a phone or can't get a signal, the standard call for distress consists of three short calls, audible or visible, repeated at regular intervals. A whistle is particularly good for audible signals. Visible signals may include, in daytime, light flashed with a mirror or smoke puffs, and, at night, a flashlight or three small bright fires. Anyone recognizing such a signal should acknowledge with two calls—if possible by the same method—then go to the distressed person to determine the nature of the emergency. Arrange for additional aid, if necessary.

Don't panic. Most of the A.T. is well-enough traveled that, if you are injured, you can expect to be found. However, if an area is remote and the weather is bad, fewer hikers will be on the Trail, especially after dark. As a rule, keep your pack with you, and, even in an emergency, don't leave marked trails and try to "bushwhack" out—you will be harder to find and are more likely to encounter dangerous terrain. If you must leave the Trail, study the guidebook or map carefully for the nearest place where people are likely to be and attempt to move in that direction. If it is necessary to leave a heavy pack behind, be sure to take essentials, in case your rescue is delayed.

Afterwards, when everyone is safe and accounted for, follow up by filing an incident report with the ATC.

How long does it take to thru-hike?

From five to seven months, depending on how fast you hike. The average is slightly under six months.

What is trail magic?

The term “trail magic” was coined by long-distance hikers to describe an unexpected occurrence that lifts a hiker’s spirits and inspires awe or gratitude. “Trail magic” may be as simple as being offered a candy bar by a passing hiker or spotting an elusive species of wildlife. The work of A.T. volunteers, who devote hundreds of thousands of hours to the A.T. every year to maintain and protect it, is sometimes considered the “ultimate trail magic.” If you are considering providing trail magic, please click here to review these suggestions.