AT Gateways Festival

Most people have heard of the Appalachian Trail Days Festival held in May in Damascus VA but there are many other festivals held in trail towns along the AT.  One of the first festivals held each year is FKA the Appalachian Trail Kick Off Festival which this year it was renamed to the AT Gateways Festival.  Usually held the first week in March (this year’s event was held March 1-3, 2024).

Stone Arch Marking Start of AT

The beginning or the end?

The Gateways Festival is held at Amicalola Falls State Park, home of the famous stone arch signifying the beginning for north bound hikers (NOBO) or the end of the hike for SOBO hikers.  For flip floppers like we plan to hopefully be, the stone arch would be our ending point.   In reality the stone arch is the beginning or end of the APPROACH trail.  The actual start of the AT is 7.8 miles from the stone arch at Springer Mountain.

In case you were wondering, it takes a good HOUR to drive that 7.8 miles to the trailhead that leads one mile south to get to the official starting point of the AT at Springer Mountain.  Around here we say, “You can’t get there from here” (said in a Southern twang).  So for all those who plan to NOBO from the gap, you get a bonus mile added to your total AT miles when you get to Katahdin because you gotta hike a mile to Springer to start your hike and then hike back that same mile.

The original start of the AT was Mount Oglethorpe Mountain about 13 miles away from the Stone Arch, but as with a lot of the AT it was rerouted and removed.  You can even start further south at Flagg Mountain, AL, which is the last mountain in Southern Appalachians.

Amicalola Lodge Front Porch

AT Gateway Festival Events

Several vendors including several volunteer organizations set up booths at the beautiful Amicalola Falls Lodge on top of the Mountain.   One of the highlights was the Sawyer booth where they were giving away the coveted squeeze threaded plastic ring that lets you connect two Smartwater bottles or a CNOC to your squeeze so you can gravity feed (it’s how you filter creek water to make it drinkable for those that don’t understand this sentence).

So many other really cool ideas and information were presented by the vendor booths.  One of my favorites has been the Outdoor 76 booth where owners Cory and Rob discuss footwear and feet.  Rob and Cory have saved scores of thru-hikes that would have otherwise ended.  Their stores are located near the first 150 plus miles and the co-owners know all about feet and foot maladies.  They can save your hike when you start out NOBO and start to have feet issues.  While hiking is an all-body sport your feet are one of the most important parts.  If you have any troubles with your feet, see Rob or Cory and they will save your thru-hike too.

Rob and Cory From Outdoor 76



In addition to the vendor booths, a full day of presentations were held at the Lodge.  One of my favorite presentations was “hip hygiene” where GATC members gave a one-hour presentation covering all things thru-hiker hygiene (or lack thereof).  My favorite quote to sum up how to clean yourself with a small rag: “Pits and cracks front to back.”

This presentation went into the LNT (leave no trace in the woods like trash etc.) with a special emphasis on digging the perfect cathole (a hole you dig to bury your poop).  Especially entertaining was covering the statistics on poop covered in a 2022 post here on the Trek:

Pooping on the Appalachian Trail: Important Statistics from My Thru-Hike.”

2023 Thru Hiker Signatures


Famous people

There were many AT thru-hiker celebrities at the festival including Gene Espy, the second person to thru-hike the AT.

Meet and Greet with Gene Espy the second person to thru-hike the AT

We even ran into an AT celebrity with wings, the famous Miss Janet Trail Angel, who spends nine months of the year helping thru-hikers.

Tent City

For this year’s festival, construction of the building at the lower part of Amicalola Falls was completed and open.  Across the street is small field where they have “tent city,” and about 25 tents ended up camping the night.  At night, several campfires made for warm, welcoming conversations with other festivalgoers.

With all the information presented, the discussions held with other festivalgoers, and the vendors sharing their knowledge, my head was too full by dusk, so we headed back to tent city to enjoy a meal and spend some time with others around the fire.

It’s Official

The main reason we went to this year’s Gateway Festival was to get our yellow hang tags.  The room was full at the time we registered and sat through the LNT seminar before getting our tags.  We snagged numbers around 600.   I am not sure if that is a high number for this time of year with the bubble not yet fully underway.

Statistics on how many of the 4-5,000 AT thru-hikers quit vary, but some say 25% quit by Neels Gap, home of the famous shoe tree where you ceremonially launch you hiking shoes into the tree as you quit.  This is about five days into the hike for NOBO hikers and it’s where some hikers realize the glorious social media posts are actually a lot of rain and pain.

Another 25% of aspiring AT thru-hikers leave the hike by Harpers Ferry (the unofficial midway point).  Half of the remaining aspiring thru-hikers end up leaving the trail, so only 25% of the thru aspiring hikers make it all the way to Katahdin.  Hoping we make it too.

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Comments 1

  • about me : Mar 17th

    Personal Experiences: Personal experiences, including life events and interactions, are another influential factor. Experiences, whether positive or negative, can shape values by influencing perspectives, priorities, and beliefs.


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