Regulations and Permits

There are hundreds of places to access the Appalachian Trail, and in most of these areas there are no fees or permits for day-hiking. 

Regulations for backcountry camping and fires (but also for other activities, such as hunting) do vary considerably from place to place.

Why? First off, the A.T. is almost 2,200 miles long and passes through 14 states. Second, the A.T. also passes through dozens of separate entities including eight different national forests, six national park units and numerous state park, forest, and game lands, each managed for different purposes. Third, the A.T. passes through smaller areas as diverse as working farmlands, municipal watersheds, small towns, and even a zoo!

In between all those various entities are corridors of land (on average 1,000 feet wide) acquired by the National Park Service specifically for creating a continuously connected greenway to protect the Appalachian National Scenic Trail from Maine to Georgia.

Answers to some frequently asked questions are below.

Are there fees to hike the Appalachian Trail?

No fees or paid permits are required to access the Appalachian Trail for simply walking. In two of the national parks that the A.T. passes through, permits are required for backcountry camping. One requires a fee. The majority of campsites and shelter sites are free. Some campsites, especially in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, may have fees, particularly in heavily used areas or ecologically sensitive ones. At these sites, caretakers educate the public on Leave No Trace practices and special regulations required to protect sensitive areas. In these areas caretakers typically also manage composting privies.

Do I need a permit to thru-hike?

A permit is not required to begin a thru-hike of the entire A.T., but a free, voluntary thru-hiker registration is available that is designed to reduce overcrowding caused by clumping. The system helps thru-hikers select a start date that is less crowded. This feature is especially useful for northbound thru-hikers, because crowded conditions prevail in Georgia during the peak of the season in March and early April, but it has benefits for thru-hikers starting in all locations. The online registration can be found at www.appalachiantrail.org/thruhikeregistration.

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 here.  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, 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. throughout the state of Vermont. 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). 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 system of eight full-service huts offers meals and lodging; reservations are strongly recommended during peak season. More information is available at outdoors.org/appalachiantrail.


Baxter State Park (Maine). 
To access Baxter State Park by vehicle for a day-hike, a day use parking reservation is strongly recommended, as there are finite number of parking spots. Once all parking spots are full, you cannot enter the park. To camp overnight, a reservation is required and a fee is charged. Those hiking the A.T. and walking more than 100 miles continuously on foot before entering the park do not need an advance reservation and are eligible to stay at The Birches site, but must still pay a camping fee. If the site is full, hikers must wait for space to become available. For more information and to make parking or camping reservations, visit baxterstateparkauthority.com.

Can I hold an event on the Appalachian Trail?

Regulations govern group use, public events, and commercial use. Most group use with more than 25 people during the day or 10 people overnight use (or 10 in wilderness areas) is not allowed or requires a special use permit. Commercial use is not allowed in many places, and if it is, a permit will be required. In some areas, the local land-managing agency will issue the permit, in others, the central Appalachian Trail National Park Service Office. If you are not sure which agency oversees the area where you are planning your activity, visit the Appalachian Trail Conservancy locations page at www.appalachiantrail.org/locations to contact the regional office.

Are bicycles allowed?

Bicycles and other wheeled vehicles are not allowed on the Appalachian Trail, except in a few places where the A.T. coincides for a short distance with a road, highway, or other multiple-use trail. The A.T. was conceived and designed as a wilderness footpath where the hiker travels by his "own unaided effort." Also, the A.T. has been built by hand by volunteers and continues to be maintained by volunteers. In most places it is very narrow and rugged. Bicycle use would not be sustainable on the primitive, relatively fragile trails of the A.T., nor would it be safe for hikers and cyclists to share the same trail.

Can I ride my horse?

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).

Are there any parts I can drive?

You can't actually drive along the A.T. (except where the A.T. passes through a few towns for a mile or two, such as Hot Springs, NC, Damascus, Virginia, and Hanover, NH). However, the A.T. closely parallels and frequently crosses the 100-mile scenic Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia.

Are there any notable places I can visit by car?

There are many famous landmarks or vistas on or within a short distance of the A.T. that are accessible by car on paved roads. These include Neel Gap, GA; Wayah Bald, NC; Clingmans Dome, TN; Roan Mountain, TN; Grayson Highlands, VA; Harpers Ferry, WV; Washington Monument, MD; PenMar, MD; Boiling Springs and the ATC mid-Atlantic Regional Office, PA; Pine Grove Furnace State Park and the A.T. Museum, PA; Pochuck Swamp boardwalk near Vernon, NJ; Bear Mountain, NY: the Great Swamp boardwalk and A.T. train stop near Pawling, NY; Mt. Greylock, MA; and Mt. Washington, NH. Many of the access roads are closed in winter. A network of more than 30 officially designated A.T. Communities are also located on or close to the A.T. and welcome hikers and tourists alike.

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?

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

Is hunting permitted?

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?

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.