Thru & Section Hiking

Completing the entire estimated 2,180 miles of the Appalachian Trail in one trip is a mammoth undertaking. Each year, thousands of hikers attempt a thru-hike; only about one in four make it all the way. Careful planning can help make your hike a successful one.

Thru Hiking

A thru-hiker is a hiker or backpacker who has completed or is attempting to walk the entire Appalachian Trail in one uninterrupted journey. Completing the entire estimated 2,180 miles of the Appalachian Trail in one trip is a mammoth undertaking. Each year, thousands of hikers attempt a thru-hike; only about one in four make it all the way.

Section Hiking

A section-hiker completes the A.T. in multiple trips over a period of years. Responsibilities at work or at home can make a thru-hike unfeasible for many people, but section hiking provides an alternative way to enjoy everything the Appalachian Trail has to offer, and it can have other advantages as well.

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

  • A section-hiker can set a pace of their choosing.
  • A section-hiker will see more of the Appalachian countryside during their travels to and from the A.T.
  • A section-hiker can choose when to hike specific sections of the A.T. (this allows the hiker to enjoy the A.T. during their favorite season or to avoid insects, crowds, and extreme temperatures).
  • A section-hiker does not need to spend six consecutive months on the Trail.
  • Expenses associated with hiking the entire A.T. can be spread out over time.

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 typically develop knee trouble over time.

Disadvantages of a section-hike

  • The hiker may need to get back in backpacking shape for each hike.
  • Traveling to and from the A.T. to complete multiple hikes costs time and money.
  • 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. 

 Hiker kissing Katahdin Sign