Alternative Thru-Hiking: 5 Reasons to Flip-Flop the AT

Few things are definite in this world… for example 1 + 1 will always equal 2, the sun will always move from east to west, and my mom’s apple pie will always be the best apple pie to ever be created.  On the other hand, there are lots and lots of things that are not permanent, and with that in mind we’d like to announce our first major change in our 2017 Appalachian Trail plans.  Instead of trekking NorthBound (NOBO) as we originally intended, we will be embracing one of the newest styles of thru-hiking: Flip-Flopping

A NOBO hike typically starts around mid-March, beginning at Springer Mtn in Georgia and ending at Mt Katahdin in Maine.  A SOBO hike (SouthBound) typically starts around mid-June, beginning in Maine and ending in Georgia.  A Flip-Flop hike typically starts in mid-May, beginning in West Virginia (unofficial halfway point of the AT), hiking north to Maine, catching a ride back to West Virginia, and hiking south to finish in Georgia.

We are thrilled with how many good reasons there are for us to do this.  Of course, the unofficial motto of the AT is “Hike Your Own Hike” (HYOH), which means there is no best way or right way to walk the 2,000 miles.  But for our purposes, here are 5 reasons why we’ll be flip-flopping the Appalachian Trail:

1. Time

The thing about time is that it’s impatient.  It doesn’t wait up or slow down for anyone even if you’re running behind and have a really good excuse.


And yes, even the AT has a time frame.  Mt Katahdin usually closes in October due to wind and snow.  Since we are not leaving until mid-May we would be racing against time to get to the northern terminus.  And while this plan is technically doable, the rush sacrifices the enjoyment of the trip.  Hiking as Flip-Floppers will allow us to hike without an agenda, eliminating the worry of not completing our trek.

2. Beat the Crowds

This year there will be about 2,000 – 3,000 thru-hikers starting on the AT in Georgia.  That’s a lot of dirty, sweaty, hungry, muddy people who are all trying to have an amazing thru-hiking experience.

But all those people mean less space at shelters or campsites, less rooms available in hostels in town, and less animal sightings.  However, there will be more chance of catching an illness from unhygienic hikers, more muddy and trampled trail, and more shrimp-flavored Ramen noodles left at the grocery stores.


*Throws up a little in mouth*

Flip-Flopping will allow us to beat the crowds in Georgia.  By the time we start in mid-May, the major “hiker bubble” will have thinned out and we’ll be able to enjoy the company of our fellow hikers as well as the solitude of the forests.

3. Hiker Buddies – NOBO and SOBO

Not only will we be hiking alongside NOBO’s when we head north from Harper’s Ferry to Mt. Katahdin, we will be alongside SOBO’s when we flip-flop and go from Harper’s Ferry to Springer Mtn.  This will give us a chance to meet plenty of hikers and hear all the different stories and experiences.

hiker-4 hiker-2 hiker-3

When there are 2,000 people in one place at a time you can expect a little change in the landscape.  With all the hikers together in a giant bubble it is not unusual for the terrain to undergo some damage.  The trail can get muddy from constant use, puddles can become deeper causing hikers to diverge from the path into the woods causing plants and flowers to be trampled.  Animals might be rerouted from their natural habitats, or drawn to garbage and waste.


I heard ya’ll have SunChips

By Flip-Flopping we are promoting healthier use and treatment of the trail as well as the good habits of Leave No Trace so that others thru-hiking in the future can enjoy the same terrain, landscape, and natural habitats that we did.

5. More Positive Start

Ok, so this reason I have to admit is mostly speculation before we get on the trail.  And I should preface by saying that there is no easy part of the Appalachian Trail.


Piece of cake…

However, in the mid-Atlantic states, the trail is often more forgiving and it is usually where most thru-hikers start to log 20 mile days.  Since that is where we are starting we are hoping to get our trail legs faster than we would have in Georgia.  Plus we will be headed right to our home states of New Jersey and New York where the rocky terrain is familiar.  By Flip-Flopping we will begin our journey with a more positive and encouraging start, as opposed to possibly getting frustrated or overwhelmed in Georgia.

Again, there is no right or best way to hike the Appalachian Trail, but for our purposes Flip-Flopping seems to be the obvious choice.  For all the 2017 NOBOs, SOBOs, section hikers, and flip-floppers, happy trails and we’ll see you soon!

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Comments 12

  • Buffalo + Mumble : Apr 20th

    We couldn’t agree more! Undoubtedly we will see each other out there, happy trails!!

    • Sierra Knotts : Apr 21st

      Thanks for reading!

  • Cody Allen : Apr 20th

    I find this to be a rather cool idea! I recently wrote a blog about “Hiking in PA”, and i think that this could be a cool idea for the small hiking areas in our state! I like the blog, and look forward to reading more about hiking, in the future.

    • Sierra Knotts : Apr 21st

      Sounds great! Thanks for reading!

  • Laurie Potteiger : Apr 21st

    Awesome post!

    By the way, ATC estimates 3377 northbound thru-hikers started in Georgia last year, and it appears the numbers are higher again this year (the number of nobos who signed in at Amicalola Falls as of yesterday was equal to the total at the end of the season in 2016).

    Kudos to you for charting a less-familiar path for your thru-hike that will help disperse use, thus reducing impacts, and help make thru-hiking more sustainable!

    • Sierra Knotts : Apr 21st

      Thanks for the updated numbers, that’s definitely a huge NOBO hiker bubble!

  • stealthblew : Apr 21st

    Another benefit of your itinerary will be milder weather throughout the duration of your trip.

    Happy trails!

    • Sierra Knotts : Apr 21st

      That’s a great point! Summer months up north and fall/winter down south!

  • Kate G : Apr 21st

    Flip-flopper fistbump! I was already planning on flip-flopping, but now that my intended start date of April 19 has come and gone this week while my cat is in the hospital, I am even more glad I’m starting in Virginia instead of Georgia. Fingers crossed for a May start at this point.

    • Sierra Knotts : Apr 21st

      Good luck, hope to see you out there!

    • Friendly Phil : Apr 29th

      I started on Springer but only three days in found my Dad in intensive care and left the trail. I’ll be starting a flip flop from somewhere between Harpers Ferry to the Deleware Water Gap, heading north then returning to wherever I start and heading south. Not looking forward to the bugs but so psyched to get back on the trail. Good luck.

  • Toofar : Apr 23rd

    Flip flopping to me is ideal. If you start in WV you get to have two experiences one when you reach one mtn. Then you get to see another one 🙂


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