Hiking Accident Prevention Series: Appalachian Trail Safety Tips

Hiking Advice From the Appalachian Trail Conservancy

 The Appalachian Trail is approximately 2,190 miles long. It crosses 14 states, 6 national parks, and 8 national forests. The trail begins at Springer Mountain, Georgia, and ends at Mount Katahdin, Maine.  

H I K I N G  S A F E T Y  T I P S

Don’t hike alone. You are safest with a group; neither a single partner nor a dog is a guarantee of safety. Be creative.  If in doubt, move on.  Always trust your instincts about other people.

Leave your hiking plans with someone at home and check in frequently. Establish a time you will check in upon completion of your trip, as well as a procedure to follow if you fail to check in. On longer hikes or thru-hikes, provide ATC’s number, 304-535-6331.

Be wary of strangers. Be friendly, but cautious. Don’t tell strangers your plans. Avoid people who act suspiciously, seem hostile, or are intoxicated.

Don’t camp near roads. Be aware that anywhere people congregate — including shelters and designated campsites — may have greater risk.  When tenting, find a location not easily seen from the trail.

Don’t camp near roads. Be aware that anywhere people congregate — including shelters and designated campsites — may have greater risk. When tenting, find a location not easily seen from the trail.

• The Appalachian Trail Conservancy discourages the carrying of firearms.

Eliminate opportunities for theft. Don’t bring jewelry. Hide your money. If you must leave your pack, hide it, or leave it with someone trustworthy.

Use the Trail registers (the notebooks stored at most shelters). If someone needs to locate you, or if a serious crime has been committed along the trail, the first place authorities will look is in the registers.

In an emergency, note where you are and call 911.  Report emergencies or incidents to ATC at incident@appalachiantrail.org or by calling 304-535-6331. Suspicious or illegal behavior should be reported to the local rangers or local law enforcement (911 usually works, but other phone numbers are on official AT maps) as well as ATC.

Be mentally prepared for the risks you may encounter. If you encounter trouble, chances are a law enforcement officer or ranger will not be nearby and a cellphone may not work.

Always  a carry current trail maps and know how to use them.

Stay alert. Pay attention to details of your surroundings and people you encounter, and look for anything that does not fit or sends a red flag. It is easier to avoid getting into a dangerous situation than to get out of one. Trust your instincts about strangers.

Avoid hitchhiking or accepting rides: Hikers needing to get into town should make arrangements beforehand and budget for shuttles or a taxi.


Pay attention to the changing skies. Sudden spells of “off-season” cold weather, hail, and even snow are common along many parts of the Appalachian Trail. Winter-like weather often occurs in late spring or early fall in the Southern Appalachians, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

Hypothermia: A cold rain can be the most dangerous weather for hikers, because it can cause hypothermia, a dangerous lowering of the body’s core temperature due to exposure to cold, wind and rain chill. Dress in layers of synthetic clothing, eat well, stay hydrated, and know when to take refuge in a warm sleeping bag and tent or shelter.

Lightning: The odds of being struck by lightning are low, but if a thunderstorm is coming, immediately leave exposed areas. Boulders, rocky overhangs, and shallow caves offer no protection from lightning.

Sheltering in hard-roofed automobiles or large buildings is best. Avoid tall structures, such as ski lifts, flagpoles, power line towers, and the tallest trees, solitary rocks, or open hilltops and clearings. If caught in the open, crouch down on a pad, or roll into a ball.

Heat: Dry hot summers are surprisingly common along the trail. Water may be scarce on humid days, sweat does not evaporate well, and many hikers face the danger of heat stroke and heat exhaustion if they haven’t taken proper precautions. Wear a hat and sunscreen and stay well hydrated.

Source: Appalachian Trail Conservancy www.appalachiantrail.org.

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