How Long Does It Take To Hike the Appalachian Trail: Beginners Guide

Appalachian trail beginners guide

Sharing is caring!

Most outdoor enthusiasts wonder about how long does it take to hike the Appalachian Trail. The Appalachian Trail is known to be the longest hiking-only route in the world. 

The whole route comprises of many elevations and slopes that are equally easy and difficult. Most of the trail requires climbing high elevations since the hike follows the ridgeline of the Appalachian Mountains. 

Completing this long road comes with many risks and expenses. Studies suggest that only 20% of the people who start the trail actually complete it successfully. However, this trail attracts thousands of hikers across the globe every year. Before you decide on taking the plunge, here is a beginner’s guide on how long does it take to hike the AT.

A Brief on How Long to Hike The Appalachian Trail

The time required to complete the AT depends on the hiker’s physical abilities. However, the average time to hike the Appalachian Trail is between 5-7 months. This hike will take almost half a year even with good-hiking speed. 

This is the reason why you need to calculate how much does it cost to hike the Appalachian Trail before you decide to do it.

In the case of experienced hikers, it may take less than 50 days even. There are many variables to consider, such as the number of people, experience, physical fitness, and so on. At present, the record for the shortest Appalachian Trail hiking time is held by Joe “Stringbean” McConaughey. He completed the route in just 45 days, 12 hours, and 15 minutes.

On average, a hiker covers approximately 3 miles an hour. If you wish to cover the AT distance in 7 months, your average trail coverage should be about 10-14 miles per day.

What is The Appalachian Trail Length?

The Appalachian Trail Length infographic

Since now you know how long does the Appalachian Trail take, you can guess how long the Appalachian Trail distance is. Spanning a length of 2,168 miles, the Appalachian Trail covers a total of 14 states of the United States of America. 

Before you begin the route, you need to take numerous permits, pay fees to pass by national parks and forests. You should also make reservations for hotels or shelter homes for your short-stay during the trail.

There are different systems of reservations in case of long-distance hikers. Like, for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you need to first acquire a backcountry permit before arriving. The AT hiking time and length are so long that you need to plan very carefully before starting.

From Where Does The Appalachian Trail Start?

The Appalachian Trail distance starts from Georgia till Maine. Some hikers prefer to start from Georgia around late April or May and then jump to the northern terminus. However, there is an increasing trend of most hikers, starting from Harpers Ferry in West Virginia. Some even start the AT somewhere from the middle.

How Much Does It Cost To Hike The AT?

The long Appalachian Trail distance and time demand its hikers to save enough money beforehand. The different kinds of expenses can be broadly categorized into:

  • Before the trip

The biggest expenditure before the trip incurs because of the hiking gear. The expenditure can be lesser in case of experienced hikers who are equipped with all the necessary gear. It becomes expensive, especially for beginners, since you have to buy the complete gear.

A good idea is to look for gear online while on sale. This can save you a lot of money.

Before the trip, you also need to take into consideration your health insurance fees, transportation costs, or any form of monthly payments you need to make. 

Some hikers prefer to make reservations and pay for the accommodations beforehand; however, this won’t be a good step if you are not sure of completing the AT.

  • During the trip

On an average, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy recommends approximately $1000 per month. With a total of a minimum of 5 months of traveling, you need a lot of money in hand. However, this may defer depending on the kind of hiker. 

An experienced hiker may spend lesser (for example, by creating a lot of DIY gear like alcohol stoves), while some hikers who wish to indulge in entertainment or other activities may spend more. Since the Appalachian Trail hike time is long, you will need to replace your gear frequently during the trip.

Your shoes, socks, or other accessories may wear out. You may even need to buy new clothes mid-way. Most expenses will be on food and drinks.  

Most thru-hikers prefer to spend the night outdoors. It is best to experience being one with nature during the AT by sleeping in tents. For those under a limited budget, this is also a good option to save some dollars.

It is advisable to cut down on your other expenses such as mobile data plans or unsubscribe from Netflix or others in order to save up enough for the trail. 

Pay due attention to rationalizing the cost hiking Appalachian Trail if you are a beginner.

How To Choose The Right Gear?

The Appalachian Trail length will surprise you with both rocky and smooth terrains. Being equipped with the best gear is one of the most important things you need to consider before starting the trail. You need to choose clothes and shoes that are light and perform best. 

Do not carry any cotton clothes, since cotton will become heavy when it is wet. Your aim is to carry the lightest backpack possible. Your shoes will feel most of the brunt; hence go for the best quality hiking boots. This will ensure a lesser number of replacements during the trail.

How Difficult Is It To Hike The Appalachian Trail Length?

Hiking the Appalachian requires a lot of determination, mental well-being, and physical fitness. This trail is not for the weak-hearted. The whole trail will have a mountainous terrain with the tread way filled with mud, roots, and rocks. 

At some places, you may even need to cross streams which can be dangerous during heavy showers. The Appalachian Trail has been hiked by hikers as young as 5 years up to hikers who were 86 years old. 

Can I Hike The Appalachian Trail Alone?

For a beginner, hiking the Appalachian Trail can be dangerous. Though some hikers have confessed to a better hiking experience when alone, this may not be the case always.

There can be many situations and difficulties on the route, and it will be helpful if you have known people around you. The long Appalachian Trail hiking time can even make a person lonely and bored. 

While for people who desperately wish to hike alone, you may not always be alone, literally. Since the route has many hikers all year round, you are bound to come across fellow-hikers. It can be a good way to make new friends, interact, and get new ideas.

Should I Carry Maps?

For a beginner, yes. Even though the whole trail is well-marked, it is always better to be prepared for the worst. The Pennsylvania region will give you one of the most difficult as well as the easiest hiking experience.

Carrying an Appalachian Trail map PA in such areas will be utterly helpful.

Most experienced thru-hikers can complete the trail without maps, but it is easier to locate yourself if you are lost with the help of a map.

Here, you can find the full and official map of the Appalachian Trail – download it, print and use:

Also, you can use the interactive map of the AT available at this link.

How Should I Prepare Myself Before The Hike?

In order to prepare yourself and know if you are ready to hike, start off by taking hikes that need you to sleep overnight. You can begin with one night at first and gradually increase the number of nights. This way, you can evaluate your physical and mental fitness. 

Condition your body by eating rich protein diets and regularly stretch your body with effective exercises.

Despite the extensive Appalachian Trail distance, all hikers feel thrilled and accomplished on completing the route. As a beginner, you need to make an elaborate plan, taking the minute details into consideration before covering the long Appalachian Trail hike time and check out the official thru-hike preparation guide. Even though the average time to hike Appalachian Trail is 5-7 few months, you may take a longer time if you start without prepping.

Hiking the AT: Expert Advice

I’ve asked the question about hiking the Appalachian Trail at the Reddit community of the thru-hikers. And here is the answer which may give you more than ANY other guides, recommendations and/or advice.

As said speckofSTARDUST,

My advice would be to not set too many “rules” for your trip and focus on the adventure and the experience. I almost went home because I was so worried about walking every mile and doing a perfect “thru-hike” and I was devastated when it didn’t go as planned. I wasted like a whole week being upset about til I realized how silly it was to be so focused on that when I’m really lucky to have even been able to get out there. I spent the last half just bouncing around and just exploring things on and off the AT and had a lot of fun that I would have missed for no reason. I don’t want to take away from anyone who has done a thru, it’s an awesome accomplishment, but it’s not the only way to enjoy the AT or be a part of the AT family

And what do you think about how long does it take to hike the Appalachian Trail? Share your opinion!