How to Finish the Appalachian Trail Without Breaking a Sweat

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We completed our northbound thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail (AT) in 2022 and it was one of the most difficult and rewarding experiences of our lives. The difficulty is not only from the number of miles but also the terrain, obstacles, steep ups and downs – and the weather! We started the AT on April 13, 2022 and finished on October 6, 2022. We put this Appalachian Trail series together to get you from the start to the finish successfully.


 

Here is an overview of the series:

Appalachian Trail Hiking: The Ultimate Guide to Starting the Appalachian Trail

For more information on how to get to the AT and when to go.

Hiking the Appalachian Trail: 10 Logistical Ideas to Help You Plan

This article will provide insights on how to make your adventure easier.

Weather on the Appalachian Trail: 10 Things to Prepare You For Your Thru-Hike

This one is essential, especially when choosing when to summit.

The Most Essential Weather Gear to Wear on the Appalachian Trail

Your gear could be the difference between completing the trail and not!

Performance Gear Essentials for the Appalachian Trail

An overview of clothes to wear.

How to Finish the Appalachian Trail Without Breaking a Sweat

For help getting back home. We wish you the best of luck on your journey! 

 

You decided to start the Appalachian Trail and have read Appalachian Trail Hiking: The Ultimate Guide to Starting the Appalachian Trail. Now, you need to know how to finish. Consider bookmarking this page to have it available as you get closer to the finish line.

 

This post starts in Maine at the Wilderness 100. The Wilderness 100 is the last 100 miles before the Mount Katahdin summit. It gets its name because there are no towns, no Internet or phone service to make contact, and no resupply. In theory, this means you need to bring food and supplies for the entire 100 miles. However, that is not true.

 

Here is the way that we completed the last stretch of the trail along with additional pieces of information to help you make strategic decisions and ease some anxiety. You made it this far and the last thing you want is to stress. We want you to finish strong!

 

Table of Contents


1.   Check the Weather

2.   Stay at Shaw’s Hiker Hostel

3.   Plan a Food Drop

4.   Finish the Last 50 Miles of the Wilderness 100

5.   Plan Your Summit at Baxter State Park

6.   Get Ready to Summit and Take Your Picture!

7.   Pat Yourself on the Back


 

1.   Check the Weather

 

Know the weather forecast for the summit of Mt. Katahdin, Maine before heading out to do the Wilderness 100. This information will be used directionally, but it’s a good place to start. Based on the weather conditions, you will determine when to go and how fast. This will start putting your plan in motion.

 

2.   Stay at Shaw’s Hiker Hostel

 


Shaw’s Hiker Hostel is the last hostel and a great place to prepare. They have laundry, loaner clothes, and a good resupply including equipment at the hostel, but it’s not cheap. Instead, try to send a resupply box (they allow a mail drop) in advance to reduce costs. We sent ourselves an Amazon and Walmart box; however, only half our stuff arrived, so we were grateful for their resupplies. Additionally, there are a couple of restaurants located nearby including a general store with excellent sandwiches. Pack out a sandwich for the trail!

 

Before heading back to the trail, make sure to get cash for camping and firewood as credit cards are not accepted in Baxter State Park. Also, bring camp shoes to ford the rivers. You will be crossing several.

 

Get the breakfast at Shaw’s, but be prepared to leave after 9:00 am. There is a lot of hustle that goes into moving this many people. Shaw’s staff are nice and work hard, but there is a lot to do in the morning. Make sure you factor this in when you plan your miles.

 

Shuttle service options:

  • They have a shuttle that will bring you to the trail.

  • Shaw’s can accommodate slackpacking, too. Slackpacking is when someone drives you to a north or south point without your gear. You then hike back to the hostel (or a meeting point) and then leave the next day to begin again.

Food drop services:

 

Shaw’s also offers food drop services. We did take advantage of this, but we didn’t plan it correctly. We had more food than we needed, a bummer when every gram of weight counts.

 

3.   Plan a Food Drop

 

How fast will you hike the first 50 miles of the Wilderness 100? You want to plan this properly. When looking at the landscape on a map, the first part of the Wilderness 100 is the harder part. We did the first 45 miles in 3 days, exhausted from New Hampshire. We planned our food drop at mile 53 at noon on the 4th day at Johnson Pond Road (mile 53.3 on the Wilderness 100). We were met with a cold beer (or soda) along with our lunch and supplies.


When we received our food, we checked the weather again. We didn’t have Internet services; however, the driver did. This is when we solidified our plan to summit Mt. Katahdin.

 

We then hiked the additional 16 miles to get to Antlers Campsite, which is a beautiful place to see an amazing sunrise.

 


4.   Finish the Last 50 Miles of the Wilderness 100

 

We hiked the next three days at 18 miles per day to make sure that we finished on our planned date. Our plan worked perfectly, especially because we knew a storm was coming. This is not to pressure you unnecessarily, but to underscore the importance of planning.

 

5.   Plan Your Summit at Baxter State Park

 

We recommend using the Baxter State Park website as it provides you with the necessary information and requirements for getting through this last leg of the AT. This is a must-read!

 

Mount Katahdin from Abol Bridge
View of Mount Katahdin from Abol Bridge

Here are the options that were provided to us:

  1. Be one of the first 12 people to sign up for a campsite at The Birches at Katahdin Stream Campground (KSC) and pay the $10/person fee (cash only).

  2. If you are not one of the first 12 people, a ranger will help you find a place to stay that night. This location may not be near the beginning and could require hiking additional miles.

  3. Pay for a campsite at KSC or Abol Bridge Campground and Cabins; however, you need to know when you are planning to summit weeks in advance to book it. If you know this information, this option is pretty good. It is simple and paying the money for a campsite solves the problem of where to sleep that night. If you can find at least four others to share the site, it is cheaper and easier than Option 1, plus it takes some of the stress out of it.

  4. Stay at the Appalachian Trail Hostel and Outfitters (formerly known as Appalachian Trail Lodge) instead of dealing with the hustle of the campsites. Pay them for a shuttle service to their hostel, which is 45 minutes away, and to drop you off the next morning for the summit. This is the most expensive option, but it gets you a shower, restaurant eating, a bed, and no stress. According to the hostel, you should call/text from Rainbow Ledges or Nesuntabunt Mountain to reserve a spot on the shuttle and make a reservation.


6.   Get Ready to Summit and Take Your Picture!

 

First, register with a ranger to receive your AT hiker permit card at the Katahdin Stream Campground. There is a limit to the number of permit cards, but when we finished, they weren’t close to the limit. If the limit is reached, there are ways to still complete your hike. Don’t worry!

 

You’ll need to decide which route to take back. There are multiple choices and none of them are easy. It’s a decision between more miles and easier terrain, fewer miles and difficult terrain, or more miles and hard terrain. The Baxter State Park website can help you decide.

 

You need to know that Mount Katahdin has exposures above the tree line, so bring appropriate gear, food, and supplies, and plan on being on the hike for at least 8-10 hours. You can leave some of your gear at a lean-to that is mostly watched by the rangers. This is not an easy hike and has a great deal of bouldering, so leaving gear behind is a good idea.

 

How to leave Baxter State Park

You will want to go ahead and book your shuttle from the trail to the Appalachian Trail Hostel and Outfitters, which leaves around 4 pm (or find another place to stay that offers a shuttle). You can also hitchhike into the town of Millinocket and find a hotel. There are several hotel options available.


Hikers completed the Appalachian Trail
We did it! 10/06/2022

7.   Pat Yourself on the Back

 

Congratulations, you did it!! Now, you need to figure out how you are going to leave Maine. Upon finishing the trail, we spent the night celebrating over pizza and brew, glowing over our accomplishment!

 

The next day, we paid for the Appalachian Trail Hostel shuttle to take us to the transit station (gas station) where we purchased tickets to get onto another bus. This is also the place to purchase your bus ticket to Portland or Boston in advance. This second bus, the Medway shuttle, brings you to the Concord Trailways transit station to connect with planes, buses, and automobiles. Here are some options:

  • Bangor International Airport, a mile walk, to fly out

  • Bangor International Airport to rent a car

  • A Concord Trailways bus to Portland or Boston

  • The Greyhound bus station with more options, located across town 

This was an amazing adventure for us. This series of articles we wrote covers the topics we wished we had known to prepare us. Get ready to be challenged and inspired by beautiful Mother Nature. We wish you the best of luck on your journey there and back!


Here is the complete list of the Appalachian Trail guides:



 

Follow us on Instagram: @onthemovewithlizaandstephen to see where we are and come along on our adventure. Consider subscribing to our blog. If you have questions, try reviewing our other posts or sending us an email.

If you are interested, we wrote a financial series to learn how to become financially independent or retire early. You may also enjoy our car camping series.