Learn the Basics

Hiking even just a portion of the Appalachian Trail is the adventure of 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 same 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 diseases. 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.


Weather Hazards

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


Hunting is allowed along or near many parts of the Trail.
Learn hunting season dates and regulations before you go and
plan to wear fluorescent orange.

Black Bear


Bears, spiders, snakes and even some poisonous plants call the Appalachian Trail home. Though rarely a threat, learn what to look out for and how to stay safe.

Report an incident

While the Appalachian Trail is a relatively safe place to visit, that does not mean that there are not potential dangers while you are hiking or camping. If you see something, say something — this will help us keep the A.T. as safe as possible for our visitors.


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 most often on trees, occasionally on posts and rocks.

Piled rocks called "cairns" are also used to identify the route above treeline. Side trails and shelter trails use blue blazes. Distance between blazes varies, but if you have gone a few hundred yards 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.

In the 25 federally designated wilderness areas the A.T. passes through, blazing is intentionally much less frequent and signage is minimal to retain the wilderness character of the land. Blazes may be 1/4 mile apart. Side trails may not be marked. Carrying a map and compass are especially important in these areas, found in Georgia through Virginia, and Vermont and New Hampshire.



​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 campsites 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.



Plan your troop's next Appalachian Trail adventure using our planning tools and preparation guides.