The Appalachian Trail Conservancy is asking hikers planning to walk the entire 2,185 miles of the trail to consider alternatives to traditional itineraries as a way of reducing overcrowding on southern stretches of the trail.
Last year, some 2,500 hikers started their treks between March 1 and April 15. With as many as 100 people sometimes setting off the same day from the southern start of the trail in Georgia, heading to the northern terminus of the trail in Maine, crowding at times led to unsustainable conditions. Those conditions included trampled vegetation, sanitation issues and overcrowded campsites, according to the conservancy.
Even more people are expected on the trail this year, the conservancy says. The increased popularity of the trip is partly due to publicity from the book and movie “Wild,” which told the story of a through-hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, and partly due to “A Walk in the Woods,” a movie due out later this year starring Robert Redford about two middle-aged buddies hiking the Appalachian Trail.
The conservancy is asking through-hikers to set out midweek rather than on weekends, and to consider starting between April 15 and the first week of May rather than in March and early April.
Another way to help ease congestion on the southern stretches in March is to consider starting through-hikes elsewhere. Hikers can start in the middle of the trail, around Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, head north, and then return to Harper’s Ferry to do the southern stretch.
While it’s possible to start at the northern end of the trail and head south, the conservancy warns of challenges. Hikers must wait until June to start in Maine due to the weather, and even in June, conditions include swarms of black flies and muddy trails. Starting from Maine in June and heading south also makes it likely that hikers will encounter snow by the time they reach the Blue Ridge Mountains months in mid- to late fall.
The conservancy offers details on these alternative itineraries at https://www.appalachiantrail.org/hiking/thru-section-hiking/when-where-to-start . The organization has also launched a new voluntary registration system to help hikers avoid the most crowded days, available at http://www.appalachiantrail.org/thruhikeregistration.