Thru & Section Hiking

2,000-Milers

Hikers who complete the entire Appalachian Trail are called 2,000-milers. Those who hike the Trail in less than one year are called "thru-hikers," those who hike the A.T. in sections over a period of years are called "section-hikers." Statistics on 2,000-milers, as well as a year-by-year listing and photos taken at ATC in Harpers Ferry of 2,000-milers-in-progress can be found in the "About the Trail" section of our website here. A 2,000-miler application can be found in that section, too.

Thru Hiking

A thru-hiker is a hiker or backpacker who has completed or is attempting to walk the entire Appalachian Trail in a 12-month period (not necessarily a calendar year).

Completing the entire 2,185 miles of the Appalachian Trail in one trip is a mammoth undertaking. It requires great determination and commitment, but can potentially be accomplished by anyone with the ability to walk. That's not to say hiking it is easy. The footpath of the A.T. is far more rugged than most anticipate, given the soft and gentle profiles of the mountains and relatively low elevations.

Each year, thousands of hikers attempt a thru-hike; only about one in four makes it all the way. A thru-hike is the better-known way to complete the entire A.T., but it has become so popular that hikers starting a northbound thru-hike in Georgia or the first half of April will find campsites and shelters (and hostels in nearby towns) overcrowded or full on the southern end of the Trail. ATC encourages hikers to consider alternative starting dates and locations to help alleviate the impacts of so many hikers concentrated in certain areas of the Trail. More information on thru-hike intineraries can be found in the When & Where to Start page of this section.


Section Hiking

A section-hiker completes the A.T. in multiple trips over a period of years. This method allows hikers to enjoy all the Appalachian Trail has to offer, without making some of the sacrifices required for a thru-hike. 

There are pros and cons to every method for completing the entire Appalachian Trail. The information below breaks down the advantages and disadvantages of a section-hike.

Advantages of a section-hike

  • Chose your own pace and mileage
  • See more of the Appalachian countryside and small towns during your travels to and from the A.T.
  • Choose your favorite time to enjoy each section, catching spring wildflowers or fall colors, and avoiding crowds, insects, and extreme temperatures
  • No need to quit your job to find the time
  • Spread out expenses over time; no need to save up a big bundle


ATC Tip: You may tackle the A.T. in any order you wish, but we advise not starting with New Hampshire and Maine, nor ending with them if your section-hike will span decades. The two northern states are much more challenging than other parts of the Trail, and can be difficult for both beginners and veteran hikers, who may develop knee trouble over time.



Disadvantages of a section-hike

  • If you backpack short sections, you'll find you're just getting in good shape as it's time to go home, and you have to break in each time anew
  • Traveling to and from the A.T. from home multiple times adds to overall expenses
  • Public transportation can be scarce along the A.T. (bus stations and airports can be many miles away from where the hiker begins or ends a trip).

RESOURCES – THRU AND SECTION HIKING


Leave No Trace Principles - With the number of people who enjoy this place each year, the chances are great that any of us may inadvertently damage the natural environment along the Trail and mar the experience for others. These negative effects can be minimized by adopting sound hiking and camping techniques which, while simple to learn, require some committed effort.

Appalachian Trail Parking - A website dedicated to providing directions and information on parking lots along the A.T. from Georgia to Maine. It was created and is maintained by the Rohlands.

Parking, Shuttles and Transportation– Includes a shuttle list as well as information on public transportation near the Trail.

Whiteblaze.net – A forum for hikers and A.T. enthusiasts. Includes information and opinions on gear, food, hostels and lodging, etc.

TrailJournals.com – Read A.T. hikers’ trail journals and get valuable firsthand accounts on hiking the A.T. 

AppalachianTrials.com -- Blogs of individual thru-hikers from recent years, and blog posts on a wide variety of topics, including psychological aspects of long-distance hiking.

Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association (ALDHA) - An off-trail family of hikers, dreamers and friends of the trail working to preserve, protect and promote the long-distance hiking community.

 Hiker kissing Katahdin Sign