This post may contain affiliate links.

How to Section Hike the Appalachian Trail: FAQ

Section Hike the Appalachian Trail FAQ

People who section hike the Appalachian Trail, hike it a segment at a time, on weekends or whenever it’s convenient for them to get away for a few days. There’s no need to quit your job or school. While it’s not as glamorous or social as a thru-hike, you can still relish in the joy of hiking the trail and face many of the same challenges that thru-hikers face.

Section Hiking has many advantages for those who have families they can’t abandon for the 6 months required to complete a thru-hike. You can hike the trail in whatever direction you want, mixing northbound and southbound sections as needed. You can day hike portions and backpack others. You can hike sections out of sequence or hike the trail during the times of year when its less crowded and the weather is better. The only requirement is that you complete hiking the 2000 miles of trail required by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (click for application) to be recognized as an AT finisher.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the best section of the Appalachian Trail to hike first?

The best section is the one that’s easiest for you to get to. If you’re still trying to decide whether section hiking the Appalachian Trail is a good idea or you’re a beginner backpacker, ease into it by planning a few short one or two night backpacking trips covering 10-15 miles to try it out and get used to using your camping gear before you tackle a big section hike. Planning a long trip to a distant but scenic section of the Appalachian Trail puts too much pressure on yourself. Plan a section hike you can drive to or that’s located near friends or extended family members, so you can bail out without financial ruin if things don’t go as planned.

How expensive is it to section hike the Appalachian Trail?

The biggest expense for section hikers are shuttle driver fees when you drop a car at one end of a section and take a shuttle to the other end so you can hike back. After that, hostel and motel fees will probably be your next biggest expense depending on how frequently you go to town for a shower and a clean bed.

How do you find shuttle drivers and how much do shuttles cost?

The best place to find the shuttle drivers and their phone numbers/email addresses is in David Miller’s AT Guide. Different drivers charge different fees so it’s best to ask how much the fare will be before you get in their vehicle. Some charge $1 a mile, some $2 a mile, but it varies.

Is it safe to park at Appalachian Trail Head parking lots?

It used to be safer. Your best bet is to stay with a hostel or B&B in town and ask them if you can leave your car there for a few days while you go hike your section. You might have to pay them for shuttles at both ends, but it’s one way to keep your car safe. You can also park in municipal lots and garages if towns have them or in Walmarts and grocery store lots, although it’s best to ask permission to avoid getting towed. Wherever you do park, don’t leave anything valuable in your car, and don’t make it obvious that you’re a hiker by plastering bumper stickers all over it.

How much advance planning is required to hike a section of the trail?

Some people take planning to an extreme and chart out a day by day itinerary when section hiking the trail. But the trail and the weather have a tendency to derail rigid schedules. Your best bet is to plan out your travel arrangements to and from the trail including shuttles and to make sure you know where and when you need to visit towns to resupply. Other than that you can largely wing it when hiking the trail and take it as it comes. (See also – Different Styles of Section Hiking.)

Can you day hike the Appalachian Trail?

Absolutely. You can day hike sections or mix and match, day hiking some and backpacking others.

Do you need maps to hike the Appalachian Trail?

Most thru-hikers and section hikers don’t carry maps on the Appalachian Trail anymore because the trail is so well blazed and signed. Navigating trail towns to find grocery stores, hostels, and restaurants that are hiker friendly is a different matter entirely.  Everyone carries pages torn from AWOL’s AT Guide with them (not the entire book), which lists all of the services, campsites, shelters, water sources and road crossings mile-by-mile on the trail. If you want to carry a map, your best bet is to use Guthook’s AT Guide which is a GPS cell phone app that runs on iPhone and Android phones.

Do you need a tent to hike the Appalachian Trail?

It’s a good idea to bring a tent, hammock, or tarp shelter when hiking the AT, just in case the shelters are full or they’re full of snoring obnoxious people you’d rather not sleep with. Bringing your own shelter also means you can stop when you want and set up camp without having to hike to the next shelter or when you’re tired and want to rest. The best shelter for the AT is probably a hammock because you can set it up just about anywhere, especially when all of the campsites at shelters are already taken. See What is the Best Tent for the Appalachian Trail for a discussion about the pros and cons of each tent and shelter type.

How many days of food do you need to carry on the Appalachian Trail?

It varies, but most people carry three or four days max to keep their pack weight comfortable, popping into town more frequently to resupply. There are some longer sections like the 100 mile Wilderness where you have to pack more food, but the Appalachian Trail is close to many towns so you need to carry less food than you would for a true wilderness hike.

How prevalent is Lyme Disease on the Appalachian Trail?

Lyme-disease carrying ticks remain a serious concern on the Appalachian Trail so it’s best to take precautions. Spraying or soaking your clothing and sleep system gear with Permethrin, wearing gaiters, and rubbing DEET or Picaridin on your skin are good precautions to take.

Are dogs allowed on the Appalachian Trail?

Dogs are not allowed on the Appalachian Trail in three areas:

  • Baxter State Park, Maine
  • Bear Mountain State Park Trailside Museum and Wildlife Center, New York (an alternate road walk is available)
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina

Leashes are also required for dogs along 40% of the Appalachian Trail. See the Appalachian Trail Conservancy for more information.

Do you have to worry about bears and snakes on the Appalachian Trail?

Black bears are quite active on the trail and while human attacks are rare, it’s best to hang your food at night or store it in the bear boxes that many shelters have to prevent bears from stealing it. If a bear approaches you, wave your arms and scream at it and it should run away (See Eastern Black Bears and Safety.) There are poisonous snakes including copperheads and rattlesnakes on the trail from Georgia thru Massachusetts, but they’re shy and easily avoided if you stay away from their habitat. If you encounter a snake, don’t aggravate it or try to pick it up. This results in more snakebite incidents than any other cause.

Can you get a cell phone signal on the Appalachian Trail?

You can get a cell phone signal almost everywhere on the trail at this point, even in Maine’s 100 mile Wilderness. Verizon, by far, has the best network connectivity (See The Appalachian Trail Cell Phone Guide). People who carry cell phones keep them charged up by carrying battery rechargers.

Do you need a gun to hike the Appalachian Trail?

No. You don’t need to hunt animals to obtain food on the Appalachian Trail and there’s very little danger that wildlife will attack you. The people you meet are generally very friendly and you shouldn’t fear for your personal safety. If you’d still feel safer carrying a gun, be sure to check each state’s local gun laws in advance to make sure you’re properly licensed and permitted before carrying a weapon across state lines.

How crowded is the Appalachian Trail?

The trail can get crowded when the wave of northbound thru-hikers passes through an area or on weekends when local day hikers and backpackers share the resource, particularly in popular recreation areas. Other than that, you’re likely to see other hikers every day and at shelters, but they won’t be crowded.

Should you hike with a partner on the Appalachian Trail?

While hiking with a partner can make shuttle logistics easier, provided you both drive your own vehicles, it’s not strictly necessary. You’ll meet plenty of people on the trail and you may end up hiking with them informally for a few days. If you’re looking for a partner to hike the Appalachian Trail with, your best bet is to meet them on local trail club hikes or backpacking trips where you can assess your backpacking partner compatibility in less trying circumstances.

SectionHiker is reader-supported. We only make money if you purchase a product through our affiliate links. Help us continue to test and write unsponsored and independent gear reviews, beginner FAQs, and free hiking guides.


  1. “How expensive is it to section hike the Appalachian Trail?”

    I will add airline flights to the list. I live in the southeast, my remaining section(s) are in the northeast, flying is my best option based on travel time and less expensive than driving and hotels. I will still need to hire a shuttle from airport to trailhead.

    • If you come north in the spring or summer, maybe you can get on one of the local MeetUp sites, I use New England over 40, or Random Group of Hikers, all NH, maine and Mass based hiking groups. you may be able to communicate with someone who is heading up the Whites, or Baxter SP and get in on Katahdin, or the Mahoosucs. We get a lot of carpools going on weekends for Overnight backpack trips and such. The Boston based AMC is a good site to jump on too. Join cheap, and get a news letter, and plan accordingly. You may be able to get a pick up and drop off at Logan? A lot of hikers in the Boston area are really good about carpools and ride shares. Just a thought.

  2. I recently used UBER instead of a shuttle to get back to my car during a recent section hike. Worked like a charm.

  3. Hi Phil just got home from an overnight section north of DWG, 12.4 in 12.4 out. Even though it is the same trail you get a different prospective. One comment I have and unfortunately don’t follow do some training before embarking on your hike. Thanks

  4. Section hiked nearly 1,000 miles of AT with my spouse doing the drop off and pick up. Sections got longer the greater the distance from home. Hiked Damascus, VA to mid- NJ in sections, and enjoyed every bit of it. At 70, I am slowing way down on the distance to travel to sections I have have not done. It is still a wish to complete the entire trail before I can’t hike. I have studied your hike from NJ to Conn several times and just have not done it, yet.

  5. Started section hiking the AT in 2013. Made it to Damascus last year, six trips. Twisted my ankle six weeks before my trip this year and had to canx. Getting older and recovery time ain’t what it use to be. I leave my car at my planned destination and shuttle to my starting. This way I don’t have to worry about arriving at a certain time or wait for a ride when my hikes complete. Just put away the gear and hit the road. By the way, Cracker Barrell double bacon cheesed burger is a great road trip meal after a long hike.

    • Learned the hard way in Damascus. Hike to your car. Scheduled shuttle did not show and had to pay $100 for a ride from Damascus to Groseclose, VA.

  6. Hi Philip,

    I see a lot of Permethrin mentioning on your blog when it comes to bugs. Unfortunately I am allergic to that stuff (the substance is also used in headlice shampoo), are there any alternatives?

  7. I was fortunate enough to be able to get the time off and thru hike the trail a few years ago. There are a few things that make thru hiking better. First off, after a few weeks you get super fit, and can do big miles every day, if you so desire. If you are section hiking, by the time you approach that level of fitness, you are probably headed back to work or school. Second, thru hiking, you get to know about 50 people, that you get to see for weeks. Many of them become life long friends. Some times when you hit a new town, your friends that you haven’t seen lately will be in town and yell your name when you are walking down the sidewalk. If it was a decent sized town, sometimes we would call everybody and all go out to dinner together. Lastly all the scheduling and arrangeing rides, and meeting people at x trailhead are all avoided. You don’t have a car, you don’t need a car, you just keep heading north (or south sometimes).

    • Better for you perhaps.
      I’d feel completely smothered by hiking in a group like that. Too high school for me.
      I’m out there to pay attention to the world, the outdoors, and myself. Not a social soap opera. HYOH.

      • I agree. Last year I hiked a section with the “bubble” and it was a party scene. I prefer nature to Natural Lite.

  8. Philip,
    I enjoy your website and look forward to your weekly updates.
    I am in the midst of hiking the AT in 3 long sections.
    I hiked Springer Approach to Damascus in 2016.
    I hiked Damascus to Pawling this year, and will hike Pawling to Katahdin next year, late April to early July. I am so looking forward to hiking the final third of the trail. I’m looking forward to seeing New England, and am looking forward to the physical challenge. Mark Turner…trail name Bubblehead, Port Orange, Fl.

    • Mark, I just saw your comment. I’d love to hike the AT but for logistical reasons I’d have to split it into 3 sections of about 1.5 to 2 months each, over 3 years. (I’m 63 and solo thru hiked the Colorado Trail this summer, and loved it.) If you had it to do over again would you use those 3 sections? Would it be feasible for me to fly to near Damascus and Pawling? Thanks so much for any suggestions, and congratulations!

      • Rolf, there is a Metro North train station on the trail about 2miles north of Pawlling. The train stoped there on weekends, and stops at Pawlling 7 days a week. So you could fly into one of the New York airports and get there with public transportation. You’d pick up the Metro North line in Grand Central.

        Damascus is more remote. Closest large airports, Asheville and Knoxville, are on the order of three hours away. You might be able to find something in Bristol or Kingsport TN.

      • Rolf,
        TriCities (TRI) is the closest airport to Damascus. Johnson City, Kingsport and Bristol all in TN are the TriCities. The airport is located in Blountville (Exit 63 on I-81 in TN). Driving time is about 50 minutes between Damascus and TriCities airport. Delta, American and Allegiant provide service there.

      • I can relate to your posts, Mark and Rolf, thanks very much. I live in Australia. I will be cycling for a week in Ireland in June 2024, 18 days Lands’ End to John O’Groats in 2025 and then hiking Springer to Damascus in May 2026.

        I will be 59 in 2026, but train reasonably hard 6 times a week and that to me is the key. Don’t want to take too much time away from family but if 2026 goes well it would be fantastic to hike the AT in 3 non-consecutive years (John Muir or Colorado lined up for 2027).

        I am blessed with lots of long service leave.

  9. In 1986ish I read an article in National Geo. about the AT and well, I fell in love with it. The trail that is not on paper. Oh, how I long to be on it. Like the saying goes ” If it ain’t one thing it’s another “. Always something getting in the way. Well, now I’m 74 and STILL in fairly good health and I still long to hike IT!! Thank you so much for this info. Looks like I will be there somewhere? Perhaps Tenn or Georgia in April or May to section hike. I’m geared up and ready. It’s gonna be a leisure stroll – hope it doesn’t rain but if it does – it does. ” If you’re too busy to hike. Then you’re too busy.” – DALLAS, TX

  10. I’ve been section hiking the past several years here in Ga & NC. I agree completely with your advice. Hiking to your car has always been a far more comfortable trek. Shuttlers are great folks, but the best of scheduling can go awry, either by the shuttler, or the hiker. Hiking solo allows a benefit of quietly coming up on wildlife that you might otherwise miss. Be alert, but I’ve never found reason to be fearful.

  11. Hello All

    Transplant from CO to SC and trying to get into hiking with the new climate. Want to start the AT end of June/first week July, either from GA or N.C. thru TN, depending on advice with the weather! Any and all suggestions would be truly appreciated.

  12. Elle and Nicholas June 17, 2018 at 6:36 pm
    My son and I just hiked from Pinkham Notch up Mt Washington Monday, June 11th. It was a gorgeous sunny day with very little wind. The Cog railroad engineer was taking a break looking out from the observation deck. He told us it was the best day he’d seen in years. It took us 6 hours to summit, although my son could have easily done it in 4 as he’s 22 and I’m 63. I must confess that we took the hiker shuttle back down as I didn’t want to be on the trail down in the dark. We’d like to go back and do the entire Presidental range. Since it took me 6 hours to climb MT Washington, I think it will take me more than the 2-3 days you suggest for the entire range. Once we are up on the ridges, is it easier to continue the hike because there isn’t the intense climbing over rock fields? We paln to do it in 3-4 days weather permitting. Thank you for any advice and/or encouragement.

  13. Jeffery Fernandez

    The Appalachian Trail has had many books written about it but they can never give you the true experience. This is life changing!

    Stretching 2184.5 miles I have never struggled and experienced so much in 6 months that has changed my very way of thinking about life, the universe and everything in it. This is tough not only on your body – I lost 20kilos in weight and went from a waist of 39″ to 34″ – but on your endurance, your determination, your stamina.

    You are going to feel things you never expected, see things that other people will not believe, and there is an 80% chance you will fail!

    And your life will be changed forever. When the hike is finished you will go home and nothing will be the same.

  14. Would like to do a 3 week section hike. What section would you suggest?

    • Whatever is easiest for you to get to.

    • I’m also thinking of doing 3 week sections! Hmu. Nobo

    • Melissa, I think, in addition to proximity, you may want to consider if you want to hike with the bubble, and weather conditions based on time of year.

      If you are hiking in the early spring or later in the fall, you may want to consider sections towards the south, or a section at lower elevation. A couple of years ago I did a hike in the Whites in May, and it was still winter above tree line.

      If you are hiking in the middle of summer, you may want to consider looking at a section up north, or a section at higher elevation where you should find cooler temperatures.

  15. What is considered an average miles per day pace. I’m thinking about weekly increments. One to three per year.



  16. Looking to do a hike from Neels Gap to Standing Indian the first week of this December. What is the weather like then?

  17. I have a goal of section hiking a portion of the AT with my 8 yr old son this spring/summer. It will be the first time on the AT for either of us. Can you recommend a section that’s more suited to younger kids? He and I have hiked a few miles at a time (3-5 max), but no overnighters. Also, what steps can I take now to ensure we’re physically prepared for the demands of the trail?

    • Buy the AT Guide. Find a trailhead near your home that’s easy to get to and start hiking. It’s not any harder than that. To prepare, go on day hikes and practice setting up your tent and using your stove. You only have to hike as much as you want per day when you start a section and you can stop to camp between shelters although it’s best if you do so out of sight from the trail for purposes of leave no trace.

  18. I would like to hike the trail-a few days to a week-are there tours for that-or groups who go-in December-I live in Southwest PA and was wondering the best starting point closest to me also

  19. My husband, son and I have decided we want to hike a section of the AT summer of 2022. It’s always been a dream and we’ve realized that upon my husband’s military retirement we may just be able to sneak in the chance before he begins a new career. We will have approximately 4-6 weeks from end of June to early August. My son will be 11. We do hike a lot but have never carried gear or even done an overnight. Is there a particular section you would recommend? A good place to start?

  20. My partner and I plan to hike the 100 mile wilderness late this summer, looking forward to it immensely. We’re older folks, so spending the time between now and then studying which of our gear to replace with ultralight so we can have fun and enjoy the hike. I’m a bit worried about the weight of carrying food for the whole stretch but I don’t see any convenient re-supply. Am I missing something?

    • If you get the AT Guide, which is now available as an App for iPhone (not sure about Android) there are a few camps that you can stop at for resupply. But the last time I did it, it just took 6 days. That’s 9 lbs of food. I wouldn’t sweat it or even bother replacing gear unless you planned to anyway. You’ll eat that load down pretty quickly. Personally, I’d just hike through and enjoy it rather than get all nervous about errands and transportation and such. Have fun.

    • Shaws hostel or Phil at 100 MW Adventures can drop off resupplies for you in the 100mw. They shuttle as well. Check them out..

  21. I just finished section hiking the whole thing. Took me 2.5 years. From Maryland to Connecticut, my girlfriend shuttled me until she got sick if it. I used a car/bike combo until New Hampshire before that combo burnt me out. Hiking and biking all day is tough. Then I got the bright idea to buy a motorcycle and tow it. Did that for the remainder of the trail and it was the best decision I’ve made. Maybe ever. The car/motorcycle combo is truly awesome and gives you maximum options. You are your own shuttle. I.even section hiked the 100 MW this way and it was so much fun. I outfitted my car with a narrow twin mattress and would often hike to my car for a super comfortable night’s sleep. Driving and sleeping in the car cut down on hotel and hostel bills as well. I could go on and on regarding the benefits of this approach. Give it a try. Totally worth it.

  22. I live in Colorado, am 63 and retired, thru hiked the Colorado Trail this summer, and would love to hike the AT within the next 5 years or so, but I just can’t leave my wife alone with the dog, bills, and 2 kids in college for 5 to 6 months. I think I could swing 3 years of 1.5 to 2 months though. If so, could you recommend 3 logical segments for me to fly in and out of? Springer Mountain to X? Y to Katahdin? And X to Y? (My wife can’t hike due to injury and my dog doesn’t have the temperament for it.)

  23. Me and my brother are planning to do our first 3 day hike in late March, do you have a suggested area? Thinking of planning slow trips until we get a grasp of things so is 8 to 10 miles a day a good pace at first?

    • Really, the easiest place you can get to. Take that difficulty out of the equation. But you might want to check weather and temperature conditions where you plan to start. It can still get plenty cold on AT in late March, even down south. Up north, forget about late March. Just hike when it’s a little warmer. It’s good to socialize with other hikers on the trail, but if it’s 20-30 degrees or less, no one will want to hang out, much less if there is still snow on the ground. That’s a fine pace. My 2 cents.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *