What a question! Do you still need maps to hike a Triple Crown Trail? But an honest one, since the Appalachian Trail is so well blazed, signed, and heavily traveled that you can often just follow the groove eroded in the ground, the white blazes or other hikers headed your way.
But despite advances in technology such as Guthook’s Cell Phone App of the Appalachian Trail and much better off-trail documentation, like David Miller’s fabulous AT Guide, you DO still need to carry maps, preferably waterproof maps, on the Appalachian Trail to navigate:
- To find and follow local blue-blazed trails that connect the AT to towns and road crossings
- Places where the trail is deliberately less blazed, within Wilderness Areas
- Along existing trail systems that the AT follows. For example, the White Mountains in New Hampshire.
- To navigate to water sources if you run out between marked springs or shelters
- To identify possible campsites, based on topographic features
- To hike side trails and nearby scenic locations that the AT passes but are not on the trail.
- To figure out what your compass declination should be in the region you are hiking since it varies so much up and down the trail.
Which Maps are Best?
The best maps of the AT are published by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy because they’re waterproof the most up to date and your purchase helps to support the organization that oversees the trail. The ATC’s maps are broken out by state, and in some cases by region within a state, They come packed with a guidebook, which you can leave at home, although it provides much historic information not found in other sources that are more portable.[quote]Shoe Creek Gap: The area was famous for moon shine. In one 1928 raid, officers found 11 stills, 9100 gallons of mash, 1155 gallons of whiskey, huge copper kettles with a capacity of 1750 gallons, and 258 fermenters. They “poured their contents into Shoe Creek, making it appear like hog slop,” according to a source quoted in an earlier edition of this guidebook.[/quote]
You can also buy the complete set at once, although it is pricey. If you’re a section hiker, I’d recommend buying them as you need them, instead of all at once since, they’ll probably be updated before you get there.
Other Map Sources
There are other places to source Appalachian Maps as well. K. Scott Parks has published the Appalachian Trail Pocket Map series, which is bound in book form rather than maps, making them less useful for trail use. Delorme Gazetteers are another option, also paper based, with an excellent amount of fine detail, although they’re probably best used to find remote trail heads and parking lots on the AT in more rural locations.
Local maps of specific regions can also be useful to obtain when following the AT is confusing, as in New Hampshire. There, I’d recommend buying the White Mountain Waterproof Trail Map, since most hikers there have no idea where the AT is and but ate intimate with the local 1500 mile trail system which the AT follows. If you’re thru-hiking, you can drop this map into a mail drop before you enter New Hampshire, and then sell it to a SOBO somewhere in Maine.
If you’re tempted to print out your own maps using freely available trail data from a source like Caltopo.com, I’d advise against it. The USGS maps that it uses are quite out of date (on the order of 50 years) and many sections don’t even show the route of the Appalachian Trail, depending on the area. If up-to-date information is a priority, I’d recommend you stick with a commercial waterproof map instead.
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