Learn the Basics

Hiking even just a portion of the Appalachian Trail is the adventure of the a lifetime, but you'll enjoy that adventure even more if you're prepared. Brush up on the basics below.

Hiker near Maine to Georgia Sign on the Appalachian Trail

how do people experience the appalachian trail?

The Appalachian Trail (A.T.) is almost 2,​190 miles long, passes through 14 states, eight different national forests, six national park units and numerous state parks, forests, and game lands. But you don't have to hike ​every mile of the Trail to experience its beauty (and toils). People enjoy the A.T. in a variety of ways! Here's ​some common lingo.

  • Day hiking: Taking an hour-long amble or all day rigorous hike, but returning home the say day.
  • Multi-day Hiking: From backpacking on a one-night overnight trip to section-hiking large portions of the A.T. and becoming a “2,000-miler,” multi-day hikers tackle any stretch of the A.T. short of thru-hiking.
  • Thru-hiking:  Hiking the entire A.T. within a single year, often times within 5 ½ to 7 months; another avenue to become a “2000-miler.”

health on the trail

Privy on the A.T. 


Although you will get dirty backpacking, it shouldn’t be an unsanitary experience.  Flush toilets and showers don’t exist on the A.T., but you can still prevent the spread of Norovirus, a highly contagious illness, and you can treat things like blisters to prevent infection.

Lyme Disease Sign 


Some critters on the A.T. are capable of transmitting disease. Learn about these diseases and how to minimize your risk before setting off on your hike.

Hiking Safety

Girl Looking at Map


Keeping your phone fully charged, carrying a map, and keeping a cool head will help you in emergency situations.


​Environmental Considerations

Sudden weather changes, river crossings and lightning on the
A.T. introduce environmental risks to hikers.
Take sensible precautions.

Hiking Safety on the Appalachian Trail

​Safety Tips and Crime Prevention

Although the A.T. is generally known for being a friendly place and one where acts of kindness are common, it is not immune from crime. Continue reading for tips to help minimize your risk.

Orange Hunting Hat


Hikers (and hunters) should be aware that hunting
regulations vary widely along the A.T. Be prepared by knowing those regulations before you set out on your trek.

Black Bear

Flora & Fauna

The Appalachian Mountains are home to many plants and animals, and some have the potential to harm you. The best way to avoid a bad encounter is to respect the wild animals and plants from a distance.

Food, Water & Gear

Equipment Gear Icon Grey


The equipment, clothing and footwear you will need depends on the season and the length and location of your hike.



You should carry some kind of food and water on even the shortest A.T. hike, but anything longer than a short jaunt presents special considerations.

Water Icon Grey


Hikers will encounter springs, streams and, occasionally, faucets, pumps and spigots on the A.T. Water from any of these sources should be treated prior to consumption.

How is the A.T. marked?

The A.T. is marked for daylight travel in both directions using a system of white "blazes," or a rectangle of white paint 2 inches wide and 6 inches high. Blazes are found on trees, posts and rocks. Posts and rocks called "cairns" are also used to identify the route in some places. Side trails and shelter trails use blue blazes, and blazes of other colors and shapes mark other intersecting trails. 

Distance between blazes varies. If you have gone as much as a quarter-mile without seeing a blaze, stop. Retrace your steps until you locate a blaze. Then, check to make sure you haven't missed a turn. When your map or guidebook indicates one route, and the blazes show another, follow the blazes.


​Single White Blazes

White blazes mark the A.T. and may be located on trees, rocks, posts or guardrails, among other places.


​Double White Blazes

Two white blazes, one above the other, signal an obscure turn, route changes, an incoming side trail or other situation that requires you to be especially alert to changes in direction. Sometimes the two blazes will be offset in the direction of the turn.


​Rock Cairns

These rock piles identify the route above treeline and where snow and fog may obscure paints blazes.

groups, ​families & pets

ATC_RP3257_Family Hiking Day Photo-scr

Family Hiking

Planning a family hike requires a different approach than planning a hike for adults. Even experienced hikers may not be prepared for the needs of children.

Hiking Group on the AT

Large Groups

Groups are welcome on the ​A.T., but bear in mind that the Trail is narrow and campsite are small. Please follow the group guidelines as you plan your outings.



Dogs are permitted along most of the ​A.T., but they impose additional responsibilities on the hikers who bring them along.