Appalachian Trail: Am I Hiking Alone?

“You are on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.” -Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go

Georgia Appalachian Trail

The first question asked by friends, family, coworkers, and strangers was—are you hiking ALONE? Is your husband coming? I was genuinely touched that so many people were instantly concerned for my safety. They were curious how I was going to make it out there on my own. 

I Hike, You Hike, We All Hike

Good news: I am actually hiking with about 2000-3000 other people. Starting in March (or April) places hikers smack in the middle of the ‘hiker-bubble’. Approximately 3,000 people will attempt to thru-hike each year, and 76 percent will start in March/April in Springer, Georgia heading northbound NOBO to Katahdin, Maine. 

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy publishes trail registrants by day, and as of mid-March 2022, there were 3,005 northbound hikers registered already, while only 91 planned to march southbound. In March, the peak month for hikers starting their adventures, 1,590 hikers registered to start their trek—that’s more than half (53%) of all the other months combined, followed by April (26%). That’s one BIG hiking bubble. 

On the day I started, more than 50 hikers were registered to be on the trail, and that was an average volume day for March. Was I going to be alone? Highly unlikely. At least not for the first few months. My husband was also section hiking and we were starting the NOBO trek together. 

Starting Solo

Nearly 70 percent of all hikers start the thru hike solo, but almost everyone ends up making friends and hikes in a group together (Source: 2019 Hiker Survey, The Trek). 

After all, for most people, it’s hard to find friends and family members willing to give up their lives for 5-7 months to go walking through the woods. It took a year of planning for me to finally make the decision to go—and it’s never convenient to take a six-month vacation. 

Communities Along the Trail

There are 50 towns along the trail that are officially recognized by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy as AT communities, where hikers are supported with good resupply options, hostels, and other amenities such as laundromats and showers. The trail is also sprinkled with magical trail angels who help hikers with rides into town, homemade meals, beer, and cheery company. 

Common Dangers

Trees without leaves


Black bears are a dime and a dozen. But, they are a rare sight. In the daytime, most bears will high-tail away from a hiker long before they can be spotted. But at night, specifically around the food bags, branch-snapping sounds are typically a sign that a bear is scoping out the food supplies hanging in bear bags from nearby trees. 

On a different backpacking trip in Shenandoah, Virginia, a bear visitor crunched his way right up to our tent in the middle of the night. Luckily, the snapping branches under his paws instantly woke me up and I made enough noise to scare the bear away. But he did leave a fresh pile of scat right under the hanging food bag. 

It is critical to properly store your food (read tips on storage from the ATC). In most states, black bears will leave their hibernation dens between February and April—just in time to join hikers on the trail. 

Hanging a bear bag.

Fun Insight: In the Smokies, some bears will turn to hollowed-out trees to make a den—60-80 feet off the ground. Look up to spot bears in the trees!


Lyme-disease-carrying insects are by far the scariest (and tiniest) danger on the trail. According to the CDC reports, most prevalent states with Lyme disease are concentrated in the Northeast and across the Appalachian mountains in Virginia. 

More than half of all hikers spray their clothing and gear with permethrin as a preventative measure, but that alone is not enough. Hikers must check their bodies daily for possible ticks. If caught within a 24-hour period, the chances of getting the disease are greatly reduced. 

The ATC recently published an article on how to prevent tick bites


As is true for almost every place in the world, some hikers will encounter some not-so-well-intentioned people on the trail. Unfortunately, it happens. The trail isn’t immune to crime, and sadly, in the last 47 years, 11 people were killed on the trail (1974-2021). 

Insight: On the trail, news about suspicious hikers spreads like wildfire. From Reddit threads to Facebook groups and word-of-mouth on the trail itself, hikers aren’t shy about sharing the latest updates and known whereabouts of potentially dangerous people. There is an unspoken awareness that we’ve all got each other’s backs and everyone is looking out for potential trouble.


These slithering reptiles are locals to the trail, and are some of the last standing predators in the Appalachians. They are particularly active in the warmer months and enjoy sunbathing on the trail during the day. Since they can’t regulate their own body temps, they’ll look for sunny spots to enjoy the day.

The timber rattlesnake is the most common species on the trail and will have a thick body of approximately three feet in length. They will warn you if you approach. My husband almost stepped on a large rattlesnake in North Carolina, but its rattle was so instantaneous and loud that he jumped back a few feet prior to even spotting the snake in the grass, which was just inches off the trail. 

Rattlesnakes are not aggressive snakes and snake bites aren’t too common, but it’s best to use some hiking poles to move leaves around if stepping into a thick pile. 

Fun Insight: Rattlesnakes don’t have ears, and can’t hear. If you spot a snake, raising your voice won’t be very useful. How do snakes know you’re coming? They can feel the vibrations from the footsteps on the ground (Source: National Geographic). Try stomping your feet instead to get it to move—from a safe distance, of course. 


Cooler temps, wet clothing, lack of calories…and BAM! you might find yourself mumbling and fumbling. One of the first signs of hypothermia is slurred speech. If you start to mumble, take note. Hikers can also get confused and may seem discombobulated. 

If your hiking buddy starts to act a little funny, get them into dry clothing quickly, wrap them in a sleeping bag, boil hot water to drink, and feed them some hot food. You can also pour warm water into bottles and place them under armpits and near the groin. Hypothermia is a medical emergency and should be treated immediately (Source: TrustCare). 

Tip: I used hand warmers in my sleeping bag to warm up after shivering for 30 minutes during a particularly cold night. They warmed up my core in about 10 minutes and I was able to comfortably sleep through the night.


Bad hygiene practices mixed with a crowded hiking community make for an ideal environment for the virus to spread. It’s important to sanitize your hands after touching anything communal: bear ropes/cables and food storage boxes, hiker boxes, shuttles, shelters, and picnic tables. If sharing food or accepting food, don’t reach into chip bags, pour some chips out instead. More on my personal hygiene practices can be read here.


Filtering, boiling, and/or using a Steripen to sanitize water from the rivers and streams is a must. Hikers will be quickly taken off trail if the drinking water isn’t properly treated. 

Tip: If temps drop into the 30s, it’s important to sleep with your filter inside your sleeping bag. If it freezes in the elements, it will no longer properly function. Every hiker is extra diligent about preserving their clean water systems.

All-in-all, the hiking community is a supportive group of like-minded nature enthusiasts. The eclectic collection of individuals from every walk of life makes this hiking trail a fascinating experience. 

If you are considering doing a thru hike, try a shakedown hike at first. Bring a friend over a three-day weekend and hike a section amidst the hiking bubble. It will give you a real sense of this adventure, which will go far beyond anything you can find on YouTube.

Final Note

Low Gap Shelter Campsite

10-15 Hikers Gathered in Tents and Hammocks at the Low Gap Shelter, Georgia.

There is a certain edge to hiking the Appalachian Trail. Just the physical challenge of walking up and down mountains for 6-8 hours each day brings together a tight-knit community and everyone bonds over the micro and macro ups and downs of the trail. Leaning on each other for company, mental support, and kindness is what makes this trail so unique and special. Whether you hike alone or with a friend there is always someone here to keep you company. 

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Comments 10

  • Wolf of the Wind and Wood : Mar 31st

    Ive been here reading through multiple blogs. Finding unique insights and what people are thinking about in general. One day I hope to do a through hike of the AT. If it goes well maybe the PCT. Right now its just a dream but I am reading about what many people encounter in the mean time to have an idea of what to do and what to expect. I am wondering though, you mention the percentages of people on the trail, among other things but do you have a plan for if things go wrong? For if things do take that 3% turn for the worse or close? Things like bear spray and knowing there is a proper way to use it and a way that makes it useless. What about people who are the most dangerous thing on the planet? I mean because honestly if you dont have a plan that can actually work, it means you dont care or just dont actually want to take it seriously. Its a serious question. Ive talked to all types. Those that say they understand it can happen and that if it does that’s the roll of the dice and they are good with it. Others who don’t even want to think about it or take it seriously though.
    Anyway I hope you have a plan that involves surviving and whatever doing WHATEVER that takes. The fact is, the world needs more people like through hikers and the more we have the better…. in most cases.
    Good luck, I hope you find your path and maybe even some new ones.

    • Kate is Kate : Mar 31st

      Knowing the dangers and preparing to respond to them is important for any outdoor excursion. Unfortunately not everyone prepares, so I am hoping to just bring awareness so that people don’t naively show up on trail. Most people are prepared though.

  • Dug : Mar 31st

    Actually, don’t compare homicides to all violent crime. At 11 over the last 47 years, and assuming the average number of hikers is 2000 per year for those 47 years, the rate is about the same as for the US generally. Certainly not 1000 safer!

    • Kate is Kate : Mar 31st

      Terrific point. Thanks!

    • Scot : Apr 1st

      The rate is much lower. Those numbers reflect thru hikers and not section hikers, day hikers, and weekend warriors using the trail. In over 40 years hiking the trail, I’ve seen one shady guy that was annoying our group. But, nothing came of it.

      Most of my situations have been with snakes, 1 bobcat or possum curled up on my partners bag and a wild turkey that scared me as much as I scared it.

  • Bill : Apr 1st

    I am lucky enough to have a cabin near the 100 mile wilderness. We see so many thru hikers in town (monson) in September. I try to section hike the northern AT in off-seasons, to avoid the crowds. I’m glad you’re enjoying the trail,But your post confirms that hiking with dozens/hundreds of people is in no way a wilderness experience, unfortunately.

  • Capt Kirk : Apr 3rd

    1. How many miles daily, do you average?
    2. What is the daily range, shortest to longest?

    Thank You Brave One.

  • John Jacobs : Apr 3rd

    Always remember the volunteers taking care of the trail.

  • Suzette Standring : Apr 4th

    I am so happy to tune into your blog, which is very informative and fun. You really share the sense of novelty and adventure, and I SO enjoy joining you on the hike from the comfort of my armchair. YOU ROCK, and your writing is wonderful!

  • J. Lane : Apr 7th

    I can’t remember ever posting any photos or actually anything, most of my greatest hike and adventures were before the cell phone world. My hikes, cover 7 countries, Appalachian, and others but I came across your article very good and many great comments.
    I hope the friendship and care of others would spread into other arenas of the world as a whole .
    And I still remember many people from everywhere, and every race creed culture and so on from being a hiker and adventurer. Such memories.
    I hope this article will so inspire others to get outside.
    Thank you Kate.
    This is the most I’ve said in 50 yrs of hiking . Be blessed, All..


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