View Full Version : Best Time to start hiking the AT?

08-05-2012, 18:36
There has been posts on this. When is the best time or earliest you want to start a thru hike of the AT; February or March??? How long would it take??? I am planning on doing no speed records.

Lone Wolf
08-05-2012, 19:13
NOBO april 15th
SOBO july 1st

08-05-2012, 20:56
most of march is too packed for my taste. there are still plenty of people on april 15th to make it a social scene, but after a couple of weeks it's quiet enough to find a few days of solice. i'm more of a winter hiker and i like throwing in a couple of 5-10 mile days every week just to soak it all in, so feb. 15th sounds fun to me. but i can see april being much more reasonable.

Spirit Walker
08-05-2012, 23:20
Mid-April gives you plenty of time to get to Katahdin. If you start in Feb., you have winter conditions for the first 2-3 months. No flowers, no leaves on the trees, no birds, long cold nights, and ice and snow storms. Not ideal hiking conditions.

08-06-2012, 09:00
As far as weather goes. If you start too early, a bad Winter can end your hike. Now this past Winter was very mild and did not cause early starting thruhikers much trouble. If you roll the dice and start in February it will take only 2 or 3 big snow storms to end it. You can't do long distance hiking in deep snow unless you are superman. If you are serious about making it to Maine I recommend starting after 15 March.

08-06-2012, 09:07
If I do it again, it'll be April 15.

bear bag hanger
08-06-2012, 10:03
If you really want an answer, it depends on your hiking speed. You only say you don't feel the need for breaking any records. That still leaves ten miles miles per day to eighteen miles per day. Plus, how often do you plan for zero days? Once a week, ten days, three days? If you have any experience on multi-day hiking, then you can get an idea of how many miles per week. Then you divide that into 2,180 and you have your approximate time. Then you'll need to decide when you want to finish. Then you'll have your answer. But, if your planning puts you at March 1st to March 15th or so, you're going to be in a crowd - probably in a party crowd. Is that what you want? You may miss the party crowd by starting early, if you can hike fast enough to stay ahead of everyone. If you're slow, then a April start may be better, but all the hostel owners may have grown a bit tired of the party crowd and be less considerate of your needs. Last bit of advice - like any military campaign, once you start, all your planning pretty much gets thrown out the window. Do a bit of planning, but not too much and don't think you'll make any of your goals the first week or four of your hike. The good news is that unlike a military campaign, you won't die if things don't go as planned!

max patch
08-06-2012, 10:50
If I have to pick one day then I'd say April 15.

But I wouldn't quibble with any thing between April 1-15.

Josh Calhoun
08-06-2012, 11:17
depends what you like. i like winter hiking. i also like to avoid the traffic so FEB 16th is when i am starting this coming year. better weather, better views and plenty of time.

08-06-2012, 11:23
I prefer to start in the Begining to mid Febuary. or even earlier mid January because i like hiking in winter and also there is no crowds at that time. it useally takes about 4.5 to 5 months. but if i was going to start in Maine i would start in July to mid August.

08-06-2012, 19:53
I keep reading about "crowds." I've heard shelters can be crowded but can some of you who have thru hiked and experienced the "crowds" can you please further explain what you mean. Does that mean no solitude while hiking or just at shelters? That shelters will have 50 tents popped up. Just give some of us newbies a better picture of what you all mean. BTW, I want to avoid "crowds." :)

08-06-2012, 22:11
The crowd moves like an accordian. From my journal:

Along Lance Creek, (the second night on the trail) April 17th: there are at least 25 thru-hikers camping here! (mind you, much of this is due to the bear canister rule now in effect).
In Hot Springs, NC: I'm at the Laughing Heart Hostel... I'm worried that I'm falling behind. I'm the only person in the hostel bunkroom...
The next night: Okay. I feel much better. I decided to take a zero and the entire hostel is booked. I heard Elmer's is just as full.
At the Fontana Hilton: there are easily two dozen hikers between the shelter, tents, and the people staying at the resort...
I took a zero there, the following morning's entry: Only six of us last night, and we were all asleep by dark. A full night's rest.
At Partnership Shelter, just outside Marion, VA: group of us decided the crowd wasn't worth it, so we just called a cab and got a ride into town. (There were somewhere around 20 people packed into the shelter, and too many tents and hammocks to count. Then there were a bunch of hikers in town too).
Taking a zero and watching people come and go really put things into perspective for me.

Josh Calhoun
08-08-2012, 13:52
this year i was doing a small section in NC and there were 24 at sassafras shelter. but like thinker said its hit and miss

Another Kevin
08-08-2012, 23:36
If the stories I've heard are any indication, the best time to start hiking the AT is after the divorce, the layoff, the retirement, the graduation, the kid moving away from home, or the release from jail. In other words, start at the transition time between one stage in your life and another. Oh yeah, and if your transition happens before mid-March, expect to be forced off trail at times by snowstorms, and to be slowed down enough by the weather that the crowd catches up with you anyway.

What's needed for winter hiking in Georgia and the Carolinas, anyway? In my part of the world, basic equipment for winter hiking would mean snowshoes, full crampons (and probably microspikes as well), poles, ice axe, Mickey Mouse boots, and full-on winter clothing (including vapor barrier undergarments, balaclava and goggles, puffy layer, the whole nine yards). I presume that the weather in the South is a bit friendlier than that?

(At this point in my life, I'm a three-season clueless weekender. I don't have the gear or the physical conditioning to handle more than day trips in the winter. When the snow gets more than boot deep, that's it for me until the thaw.)

08-09-2012, 17:33
Whenever you can.

08-09-2012, 18:12
Some of the truly fondest memories I have come from hiking thru winter on the AT. There's just something special about reflecting back to those long cold struggles in the dead of winter on the trail. Even the days that really sucked have become cherished. I think making room for a little cold and snow on a thru would be a wise choice. It could make for some great reflective hindsight once you're finished and back in the real world.

Don H
08-09-2012, 21:03
I started March 14th and managed to miss most of the summer heat in the mid-Atlantic states. Didn't mind hiking in some snow in the Smoky Mountains.
Crowds weren't too bad. Most people quit before they get out of NC/TN anyway.