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Khaul
08-19-2018, 14:43
As the title says, how busy is it?

I'm aware that anything up to 50 people can start a day so I'm expecting crowds at hostels/shelters the first few weeks but does this thin out after that? I really want to do it with my partner hopefully 2019 maybe 2020 but wondering whether to do the CDT/PCT instead if it's crowded all the way along. Hostels fully booked up all the way along or shelter camp sites over flowing doesn't sound overly appealing. 10 or 15 people fine but 40+ each day every day is not. Just looking for a nice mix of peace and quiet some days and other days being social with people. I do understand that weekends and/or holidays like 4th July bring out the crowds more so.

Venchka
08-19-2018, 14:50
Starting when?
January-February no crowds. Until the late March-April crowd passes Yall.
The answer: It depends.
An early PCT start in a low snow year could be uncrowded.
Optimum start time on the CDT varies annually to weekly.
Wayne

Lone Wolf
08-19-2018, 15:37
go SOBO starting july 1st

DownYonder
08-19-2018, 16:18
https://www.wherearethehikers.com/heatmap/

Lauriep
08-19-2018, 17:20
Thinning out of northbounders takes place rather slowly. Almost 50% make it to Harpers Ferry, a thousand miles north of Springer Mountain, Georgia. In June, more than 30 thru-hikers a day on average come through Harpers Ferry in the month of June. That doesn't mean 30 thru-hikers are at every shelter, because there there are two or three shelters a day's hike apart in most areas. On the other hand, there are lots of other backpackers out on the Trail, especially in summer.

Some thru-hikers have found the amount of hikers is just right if you start mid-Trail and head north in late April or May (but do some research regarding location and timing: http://appalachiantrail.org/home/explore-the-trail/thru-hiking/flipflop). The second half of the hike on the southern end of the Trail is more solitary, but it only takes two other hikers to make a "tramily." On the second half of flip flop thru-hike you potentially have both other flip floppers as well as southbounders to hike with, but the combined numbers are much fewer than the nobos even on the north end of the Trail.

Khaul
08-19-2018, 18:24
Thinking of starting early March and we both would rather nobo it due to finishing in Maine rather than starting it.

How are hostels after a few weeks? Would I need to phone ahead or can we just turn up? We aren't on a budget and plan to zero maybe every 10 days at a hostel or best western or something. Planning to enjoy the trail rather than smash it out in 3-4 months. More likely 5 months for us.

I did the Camino last year and I hated the crowds and fully booked hostels constantly. There wasn't much in the way of peace and quiet to think. With all the AT films/books that have been coming out and hearing that the trail is getting busier each year, I'm just a little cautious.

Venchka
08-19-2018, 18:43
Start after the bubble but in time to get to Baxter about October 1ish. Thats 5 months from May 1.
Wayne

Patrickjd9
08-19-2018, 18:45
I did the Camino last year and I hated the crowds and fully booked hostels constantly. There wasn't much in the way of peace and quiet to think. With all the AT films/books that have been coming out and hearing that the trail is getting busier each year, I'm just a little cautious.

You might be a candidate for a flip-flop. Perhaps start north of the Smokies or at Damascus, VA in March, and head north. You'd stay ahead of the big crowds, and be through the mid-Atlantic before the summer heat kicks in.

MtDoraDave
08-19-2018, 19:47
Start after the bubble but in time to get to Baxter about October 1ish. Thats 5 months from May 1.
Wayne

Yup, either that or start February 1st, ahead of the big crowds. You'll have a good bit of snow and ice this way, but you'll finish before summer.
Hot and light, or cold and heavier.

BuckeyeBill
08-19-2018, 20:06
Khaul,

I'm still planning my AT hike, but have done several sections. If this year was an indicator or a fluke, March and April were snow piled and drifted so bad that I would had my snow shoes shipped to me. I have never had any problems with over crowding at hostels, but I didn't stay at one longer than 24 hours. Show up at 1pm or 2pm, shower, laundry, restock supplies, get a night's rest and back on the trail before 1-2pm. I have prescriptions filled by a nationwide pharmacy so I don't need any shipped to me. I do switch out winter gear for summer gear by a UPS to a hostel or motel that accepts them.

I use a hammock which allows me to setup a nice distance from the shelter so noise, farting, snoring and mice doesn't bother me. I have already done the PCT and CDT but was in better shape then. The AT is a totally different trail than those two as you can hit a resupply point every few days. The PCT and CDT require larger amount of supplies and at times you need someone to cache some water for you. Also there aren't as many Trail Angels either.

The ATC recommends not starting March 1st or 15th or April 1st. You can voluntarily register your hike start date here (http://www.appalachiantrail.org/home/explore-the-trail/thru-hiking/voluntary-thru-hiker-registration). It helps to show how many others that registered are leaving that date.

Emerson Bigills
08-19-2018, 21:45
I started Feb 20 a couple years ago and never had crowd issues. Only one time did I not get into a shelter I wanted because it was full (Wayah Bald shelter in NC). If you wait until early March, there will be considerably more people on the trail, competing for shelter, campsite and hostel spots. Some like the increased social aspects, some don't. I developed plenty of great hiker relationships and credit those folks with getting me through the tough days.

I finished in 140 days, so while some of the faster hikers from the bubble caught and passed me, the bulk of the crowds never overcame the buffer of a week or so that I had at the start. Yep, there will be some snow, but if that sends you home for good, you probably would have found another reason to leave anyway.

Honestly, the most people I experienced on the trail was just after Harpers Ferry in the first week of May, when the flip floppers were starting out and mixing in with the NOBO's. It took about three weeks, but we outran them and it was pretty much just NOBO's for a while. Things get crowded on the Long Trail in VT and then in ME, when the SOBO's are coming at you, but by then, you really don't care. You are on auto pilot.

colorado_rob
08-20-2018, 01:37
I think you'll be put off by the crowds starting a traditional NOBO thru in March, Khaul. I hiked the trail some years ago (2013), starting in early April (probably not much different than March) and found the "crowds" to be slightly annoying, but acceptable. Then last year I started a repeat for my wife's benefit in March. What a difference 4 years made. It was basically very crowded, everywhere. Hostels were fully booked, shelters were always full, etc, etc.

I was really surprised it had gotten so much busier. We still enjoyed ourselves, but I wouldn't consider ever starting a Springer NOBO that time of year again. And I'm a social person for the most part.

The alternatives are sweeter, meaning basically a flip-flop, as Lauriep already discussed, I'd do the Harpers (or some other place near half way)->north, then Harpers->south thing, but lots of other options are possible, like if you want to finish on Katahdin, go Harpers->south then Harpers->north. If you do the latter, you will run into the bubble on your Harpers->south, but since you're going against the main flow, it won't last too long.

I personally would avoid a later start as that will make it that much hotter in the south. Some can deal with those conditions, I basically have a hard time with heat and humidity. You being from the UK might not be used to the SE USA summer heat either.

Khaul
08-20-2018, 02:59
Thanks guys, this is some great info.

So a mid feb start might be better. I'm trying to avoid a flip flop if possible.

I'm planning on tenting it where possible. I know some sections require you to use the shelters if they aren't full. Planning to use a zpacks triplex tent for our tent. 3 man tent will reduce arguements and smell! Is the tents footprint likely to be an issue around shelters? I'd give a hammock a go but my partner isn't keen on it.

peakbagger
08-20-2018, 05:17
Unless you have experience with sustained winter hiking and camping, a mid February start is going to add considerable challenge to a thru hike. Gear weight goes way up, daily mileage can go down, unplanned zero days are going to happen. Its highly dependent on what sort of winter there is in the southern whites, some years folks get good conditions, other years not so good. Weather patterns are getting more chaotic and that adds challenge.

Slo-go'en
08-20-2018, 08:27
I left Harpers Ferry SOBO on April 21th this spring. My first week on the trail, I meet 2-3 NOBO hikers who had started in late Jan or early Feb. I don't know how many started that early, but I do know that less then a handful were still on the trail.

It wasn't until I was nearly out of the SNP that I started to meet NOBO's on a more regular bases. These were the ones who started in early March and there still wasn't a whole lot of them.

As I got farther south, the number of NOBO I meet in a day slowly picked up. First I'd meet one or two early in the morning who had somehow found a place to camp between shelters. Then around noon I'd start to meet the ones who were at the shelter south of me the night before. Then I'd meet the ones who came into that nights shelter.

It wasn't until I was almost to Daleville the middle of May that the numbers really started to increase. I was starting to meet upwards of 50 a day by that time. This was the combined number I'd pass during the day and the number I'd meet that night. These were mid March starters.

I decided to go home at Daleville, mostly due the fact all the thunderstorms and heavy rain was starting to crank up and it was getting hot and humid. Plus Trail Days was about to finish up and I know once that happened, the trail in VA would suddenly get really busy. There would be groups of 20-30 dropped off at every trail head in the state Monday morning and I didn't want to run into that.

colorado_rob
08-20-2018, 09:13
Unless you have experience with sustained winter hiking and camping, a mid February start is going to add considerable challenge to a thru hike. Gear weight goes way up, daily mileage can go down, unplanned zero days are going to happen. Its highly dependent on what sort of winter there is in the southern whites, some years folks get good conditions, other years not so good. Weather patterns are getting more chaotic and that adds challenge. Yep, might be kinda rough out there.... On the other hand, our dear OP is from the UK, tough folks over there (we froze our butts hiking in the UK in May....). One mitigating factor is the close proximity to towns and warm-up places early on the trail (for most of the trail, for that matter). Get a good weather app and plan well.

Perhaps start in very late February? There seems to be a spike in starts on March 1 (and March 15, April 1, etc).

swisscross
08-20-2018, 09:16
Yup, either that or start February 1st, ahead of the big crowds. You'll have a good bit of snow and ice this way, but you'll finish before summer.
Hot and light, or cold and heavier.

It was busy February this year. Almost 20 tents and a full shelters on my section hike. Deep gap to NOC. Started Feb 3rd...meaning most started a week earlier. It was cold, wet, snowing.

tdoczi
08-20-2018, 09:33
last week of may and 1st week of june in the vicinity of pearisburg was swamped with thrus. probably the most i have ever seen, and i for better or worse seem to have a tendency to end up often hiking in crowds of them. i wasnt expecting it this time. what was even more interesting was most professed to be march starters. by contrast, in 2012 on a trip in SNP at around the same time (about a week later) i was surrounded by people who had started in april. i really cant explain this. lot of slow hikers this year all bunched up post trail days? overall huge surge in numbers across the board? dont know. i really figured theyd all be a couple weeks out of damascus by then and i'd be in behind them, but that turned out to be a major fail. it was to the points where towns/hostels/hotels etc couldnt handle the quantities. first time i had ever seen that.

Venchka
08-20-2018, 10:13
At the risk of ruining some of my favorite places on earth, there are other places to hike in the USA for 2 to 5 months.
CDT: Pick a 2-3 month chunk. SOBO from Canada to Jackson Hole Airport, WY? Wyoming and Colorado section? Endless possibilities.
Think outside the herd.
Wayne

sadlowskiadam
08-20-2018, 10:22
As the title says, how busy is it?

I'm aware that anything up to 50 people can start a day so I'm expecting crowds at hostels/shelters the first few weeks but does this thin out after that? I really want to do it with my partner hopefully 2019 maybe 2020 but wondering whether to do the CDT/PCT instead if it's crowded all the way along. Hostels fully booked up all the way along or shelter camp sites over flowing doesn't sound overly appealing. 10 or 15 people fine but 40+ each day every day is not. Just looking for a nice mix of peace and quiet some days and other days being social with people. I do understand that weekends and/or holidays like 4th July bring out the crowds more so.
You should consider starting NOBO after April 15. You will still have a full 6 months complete your thru hike, you will have missed much of the bad winter/early spring weather, and the hiker bubble will be in front of you. You still will meet a good amount of late starting thru hikers, but you won't have to worry about overcrowded shelters, hostels, etc. Good luck.

colorado_rob
08-20-2018, 10:55
You should consider starting NOBO after April 15. You will still have a full 6 months complete your thru hike, you will have missed much of the bad winter/early spring weather, and the hiker bubble will be in front of you. You still will meet a good amount of late starting thru hikers, but you won't have to worry about overcrowded shelters, hostels, etc. Good luck.I'm starting to think this might be your best plan. I do think though that even starting this late, you will have a lot of crowds in shelters/hotels/hotels, but a heck of a lot better than with a March start.

Venchka
08-20-2018, 11:02
I dont get no respect.
Wayne

colorado_rob
08-20-2018, 11:14
I dont get no respect.
Wayne??? Sure ya do buddy. But really, this is an AT forum and this pal from across the pond wants to hike the AT, and I think (respectfully!) that one's first big hike in the USA should be the AT, so I endorse his/her choice. PLUS, think of all the cool monuments and historical places he/she gets to see about where we kicked their butt over 200 years ago!

Venchka
08-20-2018, 11:24
May 1 to October 1. 5 months.
Several posts back up the list.
Yall missed it.
Truth be known, the AT isnt worth putting up with what it has become during the Bubble.
Unfortunately, if everyone figures that out then the PCT & CDT will become the new AT in short order.
End of rant.
Have fun Yall!
Wayne

Slo-go'en
08-20-2018, 11:27
Last year I did Georgia starting April 29th. There were still lots of people starting a thru hike and lots of section hikers like me. It also happened to rain most of that week which filled up shelters and hostels. Just finding a decent tent site was difficult.

There no longer seems to be a time when you can avoid large numbers of hikers. Your just going to be part of the problem.

It's probably better to just pick a time when you'll have better weather then trying to avoid crowds. Although finding better weather is getting hard too. This year the early starters got hammered by some real cold weather and a couple of big snow storms in March. Late starters got hammered by all the rain, the heat and the humidity. I have a feeling the number of complete thru hikes this year will be way down.

colorado_rob
08-20-2018, 11:53
May 1 to October 1. 5 months.
Several posts back up the list.
Yall missed it.
Truth be known, the AT isnt worth putting up with what it has become during the Bubble.
Unfortunately, if everyone figures that out then the PCT & CDT will become the new AT in short order.
End of rant.
Have fun Yall!
WayneI saw it, didn't comment because I think May 1 is a bit late, whereas April 15 is a bit better. And a flip-flop is the best yet, but the OP made it clear he/she wants to go traditional, and that's cool. And again, this is an AT thread, not PCT or otherwise, and really, the AT is an outstanding trail, one just has to deal with the popularity. It ain't that bad out there, even in the bubble. AND, I definitely hear ya on those other trails!

Hikingjim
08-20-2018, 12:19
I agree that Feb or May are best if you're experienced hikers at all, and I think with a May start you get more of the best of the AT (eg: new england near fall, vermont AFTER bug season, nice flowers in the south in June, etc). If you start May and you get behind, you could flip to katahdin and do the rest sobo (ie... eliminate katahdin and the whites faster, and clear vermont).
Some risk that you wouldn't finish, especially if injury, but so much better with less people and more near-fall or fall hiking

swisscross
08-20-2018, 12:50
Is SOBO an option?

Crushed Grapes
08-20-2018, 12:57
You should consider starting NOBO after April 15..

This seems like it would be really.....hot :(

BobTheBuilder
08-20-2018, 12:58
https://www.wherearethehikers.com/heatmap/

Wow - very cool site! Thanks for the link.

Venchka
08-20-2018, 13:11
This seems like it would be really.....hot :(
Hot is relative. The OP is from the UK. Folks from the UK travel world wide looking for places to live and work where its WARM!
Wayne

lonehiker
08-20-2018, 14:34
Thanks guys, this is some great info.

So a mid feb start might be better. I'm trying to avoid a flip flop if possible.

I'm planning on tenting it where possible. I know some sections require you to use the shelters if they aren't full. Planning to use a zpacks triplex tent for our tent. 3 man tent will reduce arguements and smell! Is the tents footprint likely to be an issue around shelters? I'd give a hammock a go but my partner isn't keen on it.

If you are planning on tenting it, then tent away from the shelters and you will have more privacy than you think. There are almost always good tent sites just past the shelters. Use the privy, maybe the picnic table for dinner, then simply move on.

Khaul
08-20-2018, 14:48
Loving the continuing flow of info.

I'm an experienced hiker (ex-Royal Marines) but not a thru hiker. I don't mind either the heat/humidity (aslong as it's not 90+F and 100%) and the cold doesn't bother me either really. My girl friend is a pretty resilient girl once she faces facts and she needs to walk through a blizzard to get off a mountain for example. She's done 2 Caminos already and one was in January where she had 3 blizzards in 10 days and came out fine (with a bit of moaning but us Brits love to moan). My uncle lives 5 miles off the trail in NY so I can just mail ahead cold weather gear after the smokies.

Funny enough, the AT doesn't daunt either one of us. We know we can do it. The Feb start sounds the safest but the late April start does sound appealing to catch New England in the fall but a bad injury would suck if Baxter closes. I know I would feel a bit cheated if I had to buss ahead 200 miles to get there before it closes.

I am actually weighing up CDT or PCT but while I know my partner can do it, it might be easier to break her in with the AT due to more frequent water and resupplies (less weight). Even though after 1 month on the AT, you could plop her down on either of the other two and she wouldn't care about the extra weight. Baby steps! The goal is to do the triple crown within 10 years. There's also the fact that the AT is annually getting busier and doing it in say 8-10 years time could be carnage.

Lone Wolf
08-20-2018, 15:13
Baxter doesn't close. just the campgrounds do

Slo-go'en
08-20-2018, 16:48
Baxter doesn't close. just the campgrounds do

Eventually it effectively does. Once there is significant snow you need the special winter climber permits.

This summer has had lots of 90+ and 60% to 100% humidity days. Weeks and weeks of them. And it looks like it's just going to get worse. It may get to the point that summers are so oppressive that a winter/spring hike will be the only way to do a AT thru hike. That point may not be far off if this summer is any indication. Those who started in late February and suffered through the cold and snow in March were the smart ones this season.

D2maine
08-20-2018, 17:55
Baxter doesn't close. just the campgrounds do

but to be clear the trails on katahdin can and do close in the shoulder seasons and in winter depending on weather and on trail conditions. Katahdin is most definitely not open for hiking 365 days a year.

colorado_rob
08-20-2018, 18:25
but to be clear the trails on katahdin can and do close in the shoulder seasons and in winter depending on weather and on trail conditions. Katahdin is most definitely not open for hiking 365 days a year.

But it IS open all year, just closed some days. Nothing magic about early October except that's when the some-days-it's-closed season typically begins.

Venchka
08-20-2018, 19:14
But it IS open all year, just closed some days. Nothing magic about early October except that's when the some-days-it's-closed season typically begins.
You can bet that Im a Thru Hiker. I need to climb Katahdin. wont get you a Winter Climbing Permit.
Wayne

colorado_rob
08-20-2018, 19:16
You can bet that Im a Thru Hiker. I need to climb Katahdin. wont get you a Winter Climbing Permit.
Wayne Winter climbing permits are more applicable in December and on, and are in fact not that difficult to get anyway. You're in a fiesty mood today....

Here's all you need, not that this is applicable to AT thru hikers that get there a bit "late" (again, this is for true winter ascents, which could occur in October)

https://www.baxterstatepark.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/WinterDayUseTreeline.pdf

Venchka
08-20-2018, 19:20
From Map Man:

Traditionally Baxter State Park closes to overnight camping on October 15, but in 2014 and 2015 they are experimenting with making a few camping spots available for a few days after the 15th. See their web site for details. Park officials, due to weather, can close trails, including the Hunt Trail, to the top of Katahdin any day of the year. But the frequency with which they have to do this increases as October goes along and varies from year to year. Some years there are several days after the 15th when the Hunt Trail is open and some years the trail is closed for many days even in early October. (And during the winter season climbing Katahdin is only allowed to expereinced mountaineers by special permit.)

There is one common misconception. The Hunt Trail does not automatically close when overnight camping stops within the park. Hikers who want to hike the AT within Baxter State Park can be dropped by vehicle within the park and hike (as long as trails have not been closed) as long as they leave the park later in the day. People can get shuttled by vehicle in and out of the park as long as roads remain open, as I understand it. Maybe Teej can correct me if any of this is wrong.
Wayne

Venchka
08-20-2018, 19:23
Winter climbing permits are more applicable in December and on, and are in fact not that difficult to get anyway. You're in a fiesty mood today....
Just the facts, Maam.
Ive had a stabbing pain in my hip since before I drove all over Colorado and New Mexico. Finally saw my doctor today and had x-rays done. Waiting for a plan.
Ill go back in my cave now.
Wayne

Venchka
08-20-2018, 19:27
But seriously Rob.
Read my post again. No dates mentioned.
Do you think that the BSP Rangers would grant a Winter Permit on the grounds that I gave?
Wayne

colorado_rob
08-20-2018, 19:38
But seriously Rob.
Read my post again. No dates mentioned.
Do you think that the BSP Rangers would grant a Winter Permit on the grounds that I gave?
WayneOf course not, but all you DO need to do is to fill out that application and pretend to have the experience if your desperate and it is after December 1. It's not like they will test you or anything. All this comes from a pal of mine who grew up in Millinocket and has climbed K dozens of times, all year 'round. I'm NOT saying one should do this (lie on the application), and in fact, almost assuredly one would not have to. I wonder if any of our BSP folks on here have any idea how often in October Katahdin is "closed" more than a day or two at a time? Or even in November?

This is just a pet peave of mine, that silly notion that AT thru hikers have to get to Katahdin by early October, or they are screwed. It gets perpetuated on here over and over and over and over and over and over and over... blah blah blah....

Slo-go'en
08-20-2018, 19:49
But it IS open all year, just closed some days. Nothing magic about early October except that's when the some-days-it's-closed season typically begins.

Not quite. The park is closed from March 1st until May 15th for mud season. Some trails may not open until June depending on conditions.

Showing up past Oct 15th is really pushing your luck in terms of weather and once into November you might as well just go home.

Venchka
08-20-2018, 20:29
Of course not, but all you DO need to do is to fill out that application and pretend to have the experience if your desperate and it is after December 1. It's not like they will test you or anything. All this comes from a pal of mine who grew up in Millinocket and has climbed K dozens of times, all year 'round. I'm NOT saying one should do this (lie on the application), and in fact, almost assuredly one would not have to. I wonder if any of our BSP folks on here have any idea how often in October Katahdin is "closed" more than a day or two at a time? Or even in November?

This is just a pet peave of mine, that silly notion that AT thru hikers have to get to Katahdin by early October, or they are screwed. It gets perpetuated on here over and over and over and over and over and over and over... blah blah blah....
Thank you so much! Crushing internet myths and legends is a nobel pursuit!
Another one down. Many more to go!
At least NPS Rangers inspect gear if you want to go into the backcountry in the off seasons.
Cheers!
Wayne

RockDoc
08-20-2018, 21:05
You won't necessarily notice all the people when you are hiking in synch with them.

You notice them when you are going the other way, and pass them all, one after another, for hours. One day going southbound in VA in May I think we counted about 80, but that was exceptional, usually 30-60. This was in 2014.

Khaul
08-21-2018, 16:24
This went off topic pretty fast!

fastfoxengineering
08-21-2018, 21:10
I started April 4th. Lots of people but the trail never felt truly crowded.

Stay ahead of the trail days bubble and your fine.

It was insanely hot and humid in northern PA for me.

I dont think I'll thru hike the AT again. Its extremely taxing terrain on the body. If I did, I would go sobo. But that's after going traditionally nobo first.

Dont underestimate the AT. Many capable hikers quit cause the hiking was simply too hard on their body.



Sent from my SM-J737V using Tapatalk

Zed
08-22-2018, 14:12
I started April 14 and finished October 7. The first night, Stover Creek Shelter was overflowing. I camped by myself about a mile further.

I know I was a bit late for the larger bubbles of March and early April, but there were still dozens of hikers around me according to the shelter logs. It only occasionally felt crowded though, and that was at the expected popular spots. Stealth camping and choosing to hike alone worked to give me the solitude I wanted. There were many days where I didn't see another hiker. The hike is what you make of it.