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


So, you decided to hike the Appalachian Trail (AT) – great news! If you have decided to hike the AT, then you already know this is a 2,200-mile adventure over 14 states which takes most people around six months to complete.


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! 


 

Table of Contents:

 

These are some of the questions we had, but don’t worry, we are here to help ease some of the stress and anxiety. We know the AT trail is hard enough to hike. Hopefully, this blog post will make your journey smoother. Let’s get started!


When will you start your hike and from where?


Once you have decided to walk the AT, the first thing you need to do is decide which direction you are going and the timing of your trip. Here are some of the ways to hike the AT:

  • NOBO or northbound, where you start in Georgia and hike to Maine

  • SOBO or southbound, where you start in Maine and hike to Georgia

  • Flip/flop, where you strategically decide the areas you want to hike based on weather, bugs, and the number of people


As you can see, there are several ways you can hike the AT. The best way is to do the one that is right for you. However, for this post, we will focus on NOBO only since that is what we decided was best for us.



Planning Your Start Date


The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) has a voluntary thru-hiker registration online. While this isn’t mandatory to hike the AT, it helped with planning our start date. Looking at the website, check the dates and frequency when people are starting the hike. We know that more than 4,000 people start the AT, so planning when to go is critical, especially because there are limited resources both on and off the trail. When we researched the time to go, we picked the middle of April because it was at the tail end of the majority (bubble) of people who start from the northbound trailhead in spring.


We also used the data to calculate the end date to hike the entire AT. When planning the hike, shared knowledge is that it takes six months to hike the whole trail. Another way to look at it is the average hiking time is 15 miles per day. This seems to be the mode average, not the mean average, as it does not include zero days where you go into town to restock your food (and have a beer).


On the other side of the pillar is the end date of October 22nd when Mount Katahdin closes; however, the recommendation is that you complete the hike by October 15th, weather permitting.


Figuring out when to both start and end should include variables like weather (think cold) as well as bugs. While there is no way to avoid the cold or bugs on the trail, strategically picking your dates could have an impact.


Now that you know the date when you are going to start and end the AT, the next thing on the agenda is how will you get to the starting line.


How We Arrived in Atlanta, Georgia and How We Managed Our Luggage


If you are flying to GA, you will need to figure out how will you get all of your equipment onto the plane. Here is what we did. We broke down our luggage into three components: carry-on luggage, a carry-on bag that goes under the seat, and checked luggage.


Our hiking bags had the majority of our stuff and came with us on the plane. Our bags fit the requirements for carry-on size of 22x14x9 when not completely full. Since you are also allowed to bring an additional bag to put under your seat, we stuffed that bag, too. For this, we brought a reusable shopping bag that could be partially closed.


Next, we used an Amazon box which we duct taped to make it more secure, including duct taping the corners for extra support. We also added makeshift handles to manage it. When we checked the box in, we asked the counter agent to put a fragile sticker on top. Inside, we had filled the box with our hiking poles, tent stakes, razor, scissors, and then filled in the rest of the box with things that are replaceable. Our thinking was that we wanted to keep the big three with us (tent, sleeping bag, and backpack) where as everything we put into the box is replaceable at REI. While we would be unhappy, it wouldn’t ruin our hike. At baggage claim when we picked up the box, it was in the special section instead of on the luggage belt.


Box of hiking equipment for plane
Our DIY box of hiking equipment we couldn’t carry on plane

Now that you made it to Atlanta, you need to travel to the starting line. When booking your flight, you will need to factor in time to officially register at the Visitor Center at Amicalola Falls as well as travel to get there.


Traveling to the AT Starting Line


After you pick up your bags and get into your car, it takes approximately 90 minutes to get to the starting line at Amicalola Falls. We booked a shuttle in advance which cost between $120-$180. We were able to pay by credit card including the tip. When booking your trip, make sure that you tell the shuttle person to include two stops:


  • REI, which is on the way, to pick up fuel, etc. There isn’t any food or equipment at either the Visitor Center or Amicalola Lodge, so make sure that you get everything you need before arriving.

  • Register at the AT Visitor Center.

If you are staying at Amicalola Lodge, they can drive you there, too (more on this below).


There may be other ways to get to Amicalola Falls, but we thought this was the best way especially because of the stop at REI.


If you are staying at the lodge, you will want to take a picture at the arches first. Unfortunately, we didn’t take our pictures, so we decided to walk back down. There are 500 stairs over a half-mile that you need to walk up and down between the Lodge and the Visitor Center.


Hikers starting the appalachian trail in Georgia

What to Expect at the Visitor Center


This is where you will get your official tag and number as a thru hiker. You add it to your hiking bag as an official badge of honor for your hiking debut; this is also used to get discounts when in town. For fun, take your official picture to send home and let them know this is real now!


Finally, you will meet with a ranger/expert of the AT for Georgia. Listen carefully to their instructions – it’s sage advice! The message is about the first 5-7 days of hiking the trail. One key message is to take it slow so your body can adjust. These first days will get you to Neels Gap.


I can’t tell you how many people we met who didn’t listen to this advice. They powered through the hike, trying to get in as many miles as they could. Unfortunately, the hikers who didn’t listen were injured with blisters and sore knees, feet, and bodies. While you may still get some of the aforementioned injuries even if you follow the advice, it seems less likely for the more experienced. I repeat - take the first couple of days slow. You planned for this, so give your body the chance to acclimate to the mountains, miles, and weight of your pack.



Where to Stay the Night Before You Start the AT


We booked a room at Amicalola Lodge (we used a AAA discount) to let go of some of the last-minute jitters, get a good night’s sleep, and our last shower. We also wanted to take care of any items in our real life that needed to be addressed.


For food, they have a restaurant at the lodge which is buffet-style and costs about $20 per person per meal or more than $60 per person for three meals if you include tip, etc. per day. The food is pretty good, but in my opinion, it’s a little expensive. Since there are no hiking or food items at the lodge, only tourist things, the food was perfect.


If you don’t want to stay at the Lodge, the other option is to camp by the Visitor Center. There are several campsites there as well as a shelter.



How to get to the AT trailhead start line at Springer Mountain, GA?


If you stayed at Amicolola Lodge you have two options to get to the starting line. You can either hike the Approach Trail (approx 8.5miles), which is conveniently located next to the lodge or ask for a taxi/shuttle driver at the front desk to drive you to the parking lot at the base of Springer Mountain.


You are now ready to get started on your Appalachian Trail adventure. You will meet some great people along the way and feel a camaraderie as you pass each other on the trail. The first couple of days are tough – it's like a trial by fire where 20% of the people quit before they even get started. Remember to start off slow and enjoy yourself. You planned for this and this is for fun. You can do it!

If you want to know about the performance clothing I’m wearing on the AT, check out this post.


Here is the complete list of the Appalachian Trail guides:



 

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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.