Southbound Hikers typically start from Katahdin June through August and begin to reach Springer in October through early December. There is no hard wall for reaching Springer as there is for Katahdin.
However, the bulk of Southbound Hikers arrive mid November through early December, and portions of the Trail (particularly in the Smokies) can become impassible at high altitudes as early as November in some years -- and not at all in others.
FINDING YOUR WAY: The pathway of the Appalachian Trail is marked by 2 x 6 inch white blazes. These typically appear on trees but can appear on telephone poles, rocks, fenceposts, guardrails and -- at the Kennebeck River near Caratunk, ME -- on the bottom of a canoe.
Topographical maps are interesting but less than practical on a marked trail under heavy canopy. Profiles, map details showing elevation cross sections typically over 20-30 miles, on the other hand, are extremely useful for evaluating the difficulty of an approaching section as well as estimating position.
Guidebooks are an essential tool for long distance AT hikers. The ATC's Annual Databooks are thorough, inexspensive ($5.95) and provide the minimal detail necessary to a successful hike.
Dan Bruce's Thru Hiker's Handbook includes additional, useful anecdotal details and is generally 6-8 months more current than the official volume.
BACKPACK & GEAR:
The AT Hiker's watch phrase is "Leave it Home" Lighter is simply better. With a pack under 35 pounds you will hike farther and feel better at the end of the day. With a pack under 25 lbs. you can make some truly big miles while saving your body a world of hurt.
There are limitless lightweight backpacking techniques available to help cut pack weight. More tips and links to resources can be found Here, but here are some quick pointers to get you started on planning your trip.
WHAT TO TAKE: The first step to a light pack is establishing a light baseload, this includes the Big Three: Pack, Bag, and Tent (tarp). These three items typically make up 1/3 to 1/2 of the hiker's kit and often add up to 15 lbs.
BACKPACK (1-3 lbs.): The first rule is that your backpack should never weigh more than its contents. The second is that smaller is better. 3500-4000 cubic in. is big enough to hold a properly designed load. If it's not: you are taking too much!
SLEEPING BAG (2-2.5 lbs.): You can't get much lighter than down, but there are also many summer-weight (40°) synthetic options under $100, around 2 lbs., and adequate to conditions 8 out of 12 months of the year.
SHELTER (2-3 lbs.): Wether you carry a tarp or a light-weight tent your portable shelter should never exceed 2.5 lbs. per occupant. There are any number of, not inexpensive, ultralight solo tent options (think sil-nylon), but a cheap, lightweight tarp and a pair of hiking poles will take you through at least the summer months.
Note that in addition to your portable shelter, the Appalachian Trail includes 384 lean-to/shelters and fixed sites (see, below).
THINGS YOU ONLY THINK YOU NEED:
We've talked about what to take, now here's a brief list of things you are better off leaving home:
- Anything made of cotton
- A water filter
- A coffee cup/mug
- A chair and/or converter for for your Thermarest
- Your 1 3/4" thick Thermarest
- A second pair of anything not called: socks
- A 1 lbs. white gas stove
And here are some things you might try instead:
- Lightweight, fast drying synthetics
- Iodine or Chlorine Dioxide
- Your dinner bowl or water bottle
- A log
- A full length closed cell foam (or 3/4" thick self-inlating pad)
- What you're wearing
- An MSR Superfly and Canister or a 6 oz. Alcohol Burner-stove
SUPPLIES & RESUPPLIES:
Hikers typically resupply (by whatever method) about every 75 to 100 miles, or about once every 4-5 days. Hikers are frequently able to carry less in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast where town crossings were somewhat more frequent.
There are three basic methods of resupply: Drop Boxes, Bump Boxes and Trail Resupply. Each is set out in greater detail below.
Drop Box: A package mailed from the hiker's "home" base, a drop box typically contains the bulk of a hiker's food supply for the coming leg of the hike. A drop box may also contain maps or alternative equipment. Hikers frequently assemble their dropped supplies prior to departing. The boxes are then mailed (and sometimes supplemented) by a person supporting the hiker.
- Pros: Hikers are provided with a secure, reliable supply source · Supplies can generally be acquired at a substantial savings in bulk, at the hiker's home base as compared to Trail sources · Resupply can include speciality items (e.g. organic and natural foods) difficult to find on the trail.
- Cons: Requires a reliable and constant support person · Requires timing arrival in towns on weekdays and/or prior to noon on Saturday · Frequently locks in inappropriate quanities of resupply items (typically on the high side) · Postage will add $100 - 200 to the cost of the trip (although some of this can be made up in lower food cost).
At least limited use of supply drops and are recommended for the following towns:
Fontana Dam, NC · Newfound Gap, NC · Hot Springs, NC · Big Island/Glasgow VA · Harper's Ferry WV · Glencliff NH · Monson ME
A list of 88 Trail accessible Post Offices and more information about preparing, addressing, and mailing resupply boxes can be found Here.
Bump Box: A package mailed from point to point by a hiker, a bump box typically contains extra and/or alternative equipment, maps and town items. A bump box can also be used to forward supplies from a town with good services to a subsequent stop with limited resupply opportunities.
- Pros: Allows the hiker to trade out equipment, maps and guidebook pages without requiring a permanent support person. Allows the hiker some comfort items (clean clothes, toiletries) for town. Allows an unsupported hiker to resupply in tough spots such as e.g Fontana Dam, NC where town service are minimal to non-existent.
- Cons: Requires timing arrival and depatures around Post Office hours. Box may get at least temporarilly mis-directed (with all your vital maps). Adds $100 - 200 to the cost of the trip.
Trail Resupply: Supplies acquired on or near the Trail, trail resupplies generally consist of the hiker's food supplies for the coming leg of the hike (although extra and/or alternative equipment is frequently acquired along the Trail). The quality of resupply opportunities vary greatly from town to town.
- Pros: Buying as you go allows maximum flexibility in your planning. You never have to plan hitting a town by a certain day and rarely by a certain hour. Moreover you are likely to have the best idea of your supply needs in real time.
- Cons: Supplies along the Trail, often in convenience stores, can be expensive and unreliable. Not only will you pay $1 for a package of Ramen noodles, you will find only one last package when you desperately need at least three.
PLANNING ACCESS: GETTING THERE:
The Trail's southern terminus (Springer Mt, GA) is located in Amicalola Falls State Park about 2 hours northwest of Atlanta. The northern terminus (Mt Katahdin, ME) is in Baxter State Park located about 2 hours north of Bangor, ME.
In addition, the Appalachian Trail passes within 100 miles of pretty much every major metropolitan area on the East Coast (within 30 miles of NYC).
THRU HIKE ACCESS:
For more information about access to Springer, visit Amicalola's Homepage. Hikers leaving from Springer are advised to avoid the uncredited approach trail from the Amicola visitor's center and instead to seek access from the upper forest road parking lot .9 south of the Springer summit (directions available on Amicola's site). Additional resources, including shuttle services for thru hikers, can be found on the ATC's Homepage.
For more information about access to Katahdin, as well as important imformation concerning park regulations visit Baxter's Homepage. Additional resources can be found on the ATC's Homepage
SECTION HIKE ACCESS:
The Appalachian Trail is accessible from hundreds of road-trail heads strung from Georgia to Maine. An overview of the Trail and surroundings is avaialable in this Big Map (1.2 Meg PDF).
General maps and information concerning regional access can be found on the state and national park and forest sites below. Additional details, including regional maps and guides as well a current trail conditions can be found via the list of local maintaining clubs that follows. Information concerning regional shuttle services can be found in this list of AT Hostels & Service Providers.
PARKS AND FORESTS