Regulations and Permits

The A.T. passes through fourteen states, eight national forests, six national park units and numerous state park, forest, and game lands. Additional lands between those public lands have been acquired by the National Park Service and make up the Trail corridor. As a unit of the National Park system, the Trail is administered by the NPS - Appalachian Trail Park Office in Harpers Ferry, WV, which works cooperatively with the ATC and other federal, state, and local partners. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy and local Trail clubs may make policy and influence actions affecting the Trail but have no law-enforcement authority.

The following information provides an overview of rules and regulations applicable to most of the A.T. It is the responsibility of the individual user to learn the rules and regulations that govern the section of Trail that they will be traveling. Keep in mind that not all Trail behavior is codified into legal regulations.

National Park Service Rules and Regulations

Listed below is a summary of rules and regulations set and enforced by the National Park Service for the NPS-acquired A.T. corridor. This is not a comprehensive list.
  • Overnight stays at camping and/or shelter sites shall be limited to the maximum number of nights specified by local authorities (typically 2–3) or to two nights where no local policies have been adopted.
  • Camping shall follow policies established by local authorities or shall be limited to established overnight shelters and tenting areas.
  • Dead wood may be collected for use in campfires at designated campsites or shelters. Campfires are prohibited except at those locations specifically designated by local authorities.
  • All fires shall be completely extinguished and cold to the touch prior to abandonment.
  • Disposal of human bodily waste shall be accomplished only at sanitary facilities or must be buried four to six inches deep in an area not frequented by the public, not visible from trails, campsites or developed areas, and at least 100 feet from any water source.
  • Motorized vehicles are not permitted.
  • Bicycles, mountain bikes, and wheeled conveyances are not permitted on the Trail or the Trail corridor.
  • Pack animals, including horses, mules, burros, goats, and llamas are not allowed.
  • All edible berries, fruits, and nuts found along the A.T. footpath may be gathered by hand for personal consumption.
  • Any noise level from a radio, tape deck, compact disc, or other mechanical device that is more audible than a conversational voice at a distance of 50 feet from the source is prohibited.
  • Scattering of human ashes (memorialization) on NPS lands is prohibited without a special permit from the NPS director.
  • The installation of any monument, memorial, tablet, structure or other commemorative along the A.T. or in the A.T. corridor is prohibited without authorization by the NPS.
  • Permits are required for certain activities, including specimen collection, special events, public assemblies, sale/distribution of printed matter, agricultural grazing, memorialization, business operations, and commercial photography.
  • All incidents resulting in injury to persons or damage to property in excess of $300 must be reported by persons involved to the superintendent (park manager or his/her rep) as soon as possible.
  • Visit the National Park Service Web site for more information on the national parks that the Trail passes through—Blue Ridge Parkway, C&O Canal National Historical Park, Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, and Shenandoah National Park

United States Forest Service Rules and Regulations

Here are the major rules and regulations that apply to the A.T. where it passes through national forests in New Hampshire, Vermont, Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia:
  • Dispersed camping is allowed at least 200 feet from any water source and 100 feet from any trail. Fires are allowed except where specifically prohibited. Some national forests have additional regulations.
  • Visit the USDA Forest Service web site for more information.

 

State and Local Laws

Every state, town, and municipality crossed or bordered by the A.T. has a vested interest in the activities of persons using the Trail. Sometimes, the state plays a primary role—for example, in Maryland the A.T. is mostly on state-owned land. Listed below are the most common prohibitions on the activities of A.T. hikers:
  • Littering or defacing of any public property is not allowed. Creating graffiti on rocks or other natural or manmade objects is not allowed.
  • Trespassing on private property along the Trail is not allowed. Camping or building fires on private property is not allowed without the permission of the landowner.
  • Removing, damaging, or disturbing of vegetation, rocks, or other natural objects or artifacts is not allowed.
  • If you cause a fire, you are legally responsible for all costs of fire suppression and property damage, including any timber value.

Are there fees to hike the Appalachian Trail?

The Appalachian Trail is free 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. Rules and regulations along the A.T. are set and enforced by two major federal agencies—the National Park Service (NPS) and the USDA Forest Service (USFS)—and state and local agencies as appropriate.

Detailed information about permits, fees and other rules and regulations can be found in the official Trail guidebooks. Current information on permits and fees trail wide is available in the A.T. Thru-Hikers' Companion.

Where are permits required and fees charged?

Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Tennessee/North Carolina) -   As of February 13, 2013, a backcountry permit must be obtained for overnight stays before entering the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and a $4 per person fee is required for each night in the backcountry. Backcountry permits can be obtained up to 30 days in advance. Hikers who meet the definition of an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker (those who begin and end their hike at least 50 miles outside the park and only travel on the A.T. in the park) are eligible for a thru-hiker permit of $20 (valid for 38 days from the date issued for an up to 8 day hike through the Park). Permits are available at www.smokiespermits.nps.gov.  A permit may also be obtained in person at the park’s Backcountry Office (at the Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg) or over the phone; with permits issued by fax, mail or email. Hikers staying overnight in the backcountry are required to have a printed copy of the permit.

For more information, visit  www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/backcountry-camping.htm or call 865-436-1297.

Shelter Policy – Great Smoky Mountains National Park regulations require that you stay in a shelter. While other backpackers must make reservations to use backcountry shelters, thru-hikers are exempt. From Mar. 15 to June 15, four spaces at each A.T. shelter are reserved for thru-hikers. If the shelter is full, thru-hikers can tent close by. Only thru-hikers are allowed to tent next to shelters, so they are responsible for making room for those who have reservations in the shelters. 

Shenandoah National Park (Virginia) - While there is no charge for permits, they are required of all backcountry travelers. The permit can be obtained at visitor contact stations during business hours. Permits for Appalachian Trail long-distance hikers are available by self-registration on the Trail at the park's north and south entry points. If you are planning your visit well in advance (allow two full weeks), permits are also available by mail from Park Headquarters. For more information, visit www.nps.gov/shen/planyourvisit/campbc_permit.htm

Backcountry Accommodations – Two types of structures are near the A.T. – day-use (“shelters”) and overnight-use (“huts”). Camping at or near day-use shelters is prohibited. Huts are available to long-distance hikers (those spending at least three consecutive nights in SNP) as space is available. Tenting at huts is permitted in designated campsites; all huts within the park have campsites available.

Green Mountain National Forest/Green Mountain Club (Vermont).
The Green Mountain Club (GMC) maintains the A.T. from the Vermont/Massachusetts state line to Vt. 12. Fees are collected at some high-use campsites in this area to help defray field-program costs and support shelter and Trail maintenance along the A.T. in Vermont. A GMC caretaker may be present at other sites, but a fee is not charged. No permits or reservations are required.

White Mountain National Forest/Appalachian Mountain Club (New Hampshire). Campsites: Overnight fees are charged at some Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC)-maintained campsites in the White Mountain National Forest, though all are available on a first-come, first-served basis. A work-for-stay option may be available to thru-hikers at the tentsites and shelter sites that have caretakers. Huts: Reservations are required for the AMC-run huts. Contact AMC to verify the huts' season-opening and closing dates as well as rates. Thru-hikers can sometimes make a reservation "on-the-fly" by having a caretaker radio ahead. A work exchange at the huts is sometimes possible. For more details, visit the Appalachian Mountain Club's thru-hiker page.

Baxter State Park (Maine). All persons entering Baxter State Park, by car or on foot, must register at one of the three entry gates or at the nearest campground. There is a camping fee for all visitors staying overnight in the park. Overnight space is limited; reservations are recommended.

Can people ride or drive the Trail?

No, with a few exceptions. The Appalachian Trail is designed, built, and maintained by hikers for foot travel. Motor vehicles are illegal on all off-road sections of the Appalachian Trail. Bicycles and mountain bikes are not permitted except where the A.T. is co-aligned with the C&O Canal towpath in Maryland and the Virginia Creeper Trail in Virginia. Pack animals, including horses, mules, donkeys, goats, and llamas, are not allowed on the A.T. (whether they are packing anything or not), except that horses are permitted along the C&O Canal towpath in Maryland and in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (where, by law, about 50 percent of the A.T. in the park is open for horses as a historical use).

Can I bring my dog?

Dogs are allowed everywhere on the Trail except in three areas:
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina
  • Trailside Museum and Wildlife Center in Bear Mountain State Park, New York
  • Baxter State Park, Maine

Dogs must be leashed on the forty percent of the Trail that uses National Park Service-administered lands. (Actually, we recommend that you keep your dog leashed at all times.)

Are groups allowed to hike on the A.T.?

Groups are welcome on the Trail, but they do have some special considerations. 

Is hunting permitted on the A.T.?

Hunting is allowed—as long as the hunter observes state laws and regulations—along more than half of the Appalachian Trail's length, including some part of all fourteen Trail states. During hunting season, make sure you can be seen and heard. Wear a blaze-orange cap and vest and/or backpack cover at all times, including in and around camp.

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.

Is commercial filming allowed on the A.T.?

Permits are required for commercial filming on almost all of the A.T. The Trail passes through many jurisdictions, each requiring a separate permit, and commercial filming is generally not allowed in the 26 federally designated wilderness areas along the A.T. Those contemplating filming in multiple areas along the A.T. should first complete a filming permit for the Appalachian Trail Park Office. Permits require a processing fee; a daily location fee may also be required, as well as numerous additional permits from other jurisdictions. If you have questions about the permit process, contact the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, Park Service Office at 304-535-6278.