How Long Does it Take to Hike the Appalachian Trail

By Meg Jernigan

What is the schedule like for the world's longest hiking trail?

How Long Does it Take to Hike the Appalachian Trail

The Appalachian Trail winds about 2,168 miles from Georgia to Maine. "Thru-hikers" – those adventurous folks who hike the trail from end to end – take months to make the trek. Parts of the hike are level and easy, but since the trail closely follows the ridgeline of the Appalachian Mountains, most of it requires some climbing. However, the terrain is the least of some hiker’s problems: Undertaking a months-long walk in the woods calls for planning.

How long does it take?

A thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail typically takes between five and seven months, although speedsters have done it in less than 50 days. The average hiker’s pace is about three miles an hour. This pace may be slower at the beginning of the trail, and become faster as hikers gain muscle strength and confidence. Most hikers begin at Springer Mountain in Georgia in the spring and head north to the trail’s terminus at Mount Katahdin in Maine because the northern mountain is frequently snowy and cold well into the spring. Hikers who can’t traverse the trail in one uninterrupted trip but want to hike its entire length, are called section hikers. It can take years to complete the entire trail with a series of multi-day hikes.

Plan carefully and leave no trace

Do plan carefully. While the trail crosses roads and even through the downtowns of cities and towns, prepare for eventualities like getting lost or stuck in a snowstorm. Get ready for the long walk by taking practice hikes of increasing length carrying a loaded backpack. Select clothing you can layer for cool mornings and warm afternoons, but leave the cotton at home. It gets wet and heavy in inclement weather.

Have resupply packages mailed to general delivery in trail towns ahead on your route, and when you pick them up, mail back anything you don’t need or want to carry any longer. Follow leave-no-trace practices on the trail. Minimize your impact, respect wildlife, and leave what you find, unless it’s someone else’s trash.

Don't over pack

Author Bill Bryson in his book “A Walk in the Woods" tells very funny tales of his hiking companion’s struggles while carrying too much stuff onto the trail. Think of the creature comforts of home, and discard any notion of carrying them on your hike. Thru-hikers need shelter, water, food and a change of clothes. The more than 250 lean-tos along the trail provide shelter, but they frequently fill up and can be more than 30 miles apart. Don’t depend on finding shelter at them. Natural water sources like springs and streams are marked on official Appalachian Trail maps, but don’t assume they’re uncontaminated. Carry a water treatment system or boil water for at least a minute. Don’t pack fresh foods – they’re heavy and they spoil. Depend on dried foods and stops in trail towns to resupply.

About the Author

Meg Jernigan has been writing for more than 30 years. She specializes in travel, cooking and interior decorating. Her offline credits include copy editing full-length books and creating marketing copy for nonprofit organizations. Jernigan attended George Washington University, majoring in speech and drama.