ATC Releases Updated Trail Use Guidance, Asks Thru-Hikers To Continue Postponing Hikes

May 20, 2020; 2:30 p.m. MST: The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) has released updated guidelines for Appalachian Trail users, including day hikers, overnight hikers, and prospective 2020 thru-hikers.

2020 AT Thru-Hikers

With over 50,000 deaths due to COVID-19 in AT states, and the constantly changing national and global circumstances, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy is asking hikers to continue postponing their 2020 thru-hikes. There are still more than 100 shelters closed along the AT, and though some states might have relaxed regulations, access to privies and shelters isn’t guaranteed. The ATC is also continuing to put a hold on 2,000-miler recognition.

One of the main objectives with stay-at-home and travel restrictions is to stay local, and hiking 2,000 miles through 14 states goes directly against those recommendations. Stopping in town to resupply, hitching, taking shuttles, and stopping at the post office and laundromat—all tasks thru-hikers must do along their hike—has the potential to contribute to the spread of COVID-19.

There is not currently a set time for these recommendations to change, but the ATC is working with partners to review and update thru-hiker guidances as conditions change. These conditions can include but are not limited to:

  • When all official pandemic-related AT closures are lifted
  • The rate of COVID-19 infections has remained flat for two weeks and quarantines for out-of-state visitors in all 14 AT states have been lifted.
  • An effective vaccine to protect against COVID-19 is widely available.

Read the full updated guidelines for 2020 thru-hikers here.

Day Hikers / Overnight Hikers

As stay-at-home recommendations are lifted and states relax restrictions, the ATC cannot restrict trail users, but asks that before hikers head to the trail, they ask themselves the following questions:

1) Are you, or anyone in your group, exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, or have you been in contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19?

2) Is there an official closure of the section of the AT you are planning to hike?

3) Are you, or anyone in your group, missing any essential gear to not only have a safe and healthy hike but also mitigate the spread or contraction of COVID-19?

If you or anyone in your group can answer yes to those questions, it is in the best interest of yourself and other trail users for you to stay home. Not only does strong discretion before public trails usage help mitigate the potential spread of COVID-19, staying safe on the trail and avoiding accidents or potential rescue scenarios helps ease the strain on first responders and medical personnel.

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The ATC also asks hikers to follow these guidelines during local outings on the Appalachian Trail:

-Stay local and hike close to home. Avoiding travel is still key. Keep tabs on trail closures here.

-Hike only with people from your household and immediate circle. If the trailhead is crowded when you arrive, consider alternate locations or waiting for a less popular day.

-Follow all CDC recommendations for sanitizing and face coverings in towns if you happen to stop in a trail town you don’t live in.

-Understand restrictions and closures are not the same along the entire trail. More than 100 shelters are still closed, and restrictions are still active throughout AT states. Several states still have 14-day quarantines required upon entering.

-Know your area and don’t take unnecessary risks. There is already a strain on the medical system, and putting more pressure on first responders is detrimental to the community as a whole.

Read the full updated guidelines for day hikers and overnight hikers here

Feature image via Maggie Slepian

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Comments 14

  • Chris R : May 21st

    ATC guidelines are practically junk at this point. ATC guidelines are even more restrictive than New York State guidelines. In fact, the Adirondacks in upstate NY have already released guidelines for the safe use of their trail systems. As exercise has been deemed “essential” it seems to be an absolute antithetical to proper health. The ATC should champion the safe use of trails Not be the ones to invalidate the use of the trail. Ive already hiked over 175 miles in MA (non AT, following social distance, and face covering) and I am fine.

    Anyways, here are some pretty standard guidelines since ATC can’t cope, adapt, or are otherwise shirking leadership.

    1. maintain social distance. 2. within visual range, don face covering. 3. Sleep in your tent (although the shelter would seemingly be ok because you can space 6 ft apart and you are not in an enclosed space) 4. Don’t Use the Privy, (bring the trowel etc) 5. when signing registers, (you should still sign in) Use hand sanitizer before and after touching the register and bring your own pen. 6. plan more maildrops and spend less time in the grocery store. 7. Do Not Use Public Transportation or Shuttles.

    The hiker is in far more danger going to the grocery store or on public transportation than any other part of the trip.

    remember the ATC doesn’t own the trail. everyone is allowed to freely move through this country. the only agency that can enforce a medical quarantine is the CDC otherwise its just voluntary isolation.

    In any event, you are going to have a difficult time explaining why a person should not walk to get groceries, you just happen to be walking along the trail until you get there.

    Hiking is not a privilege. A persons ability to travel is protected. Which is exactly why RI had to backtrack their ban on NY residents. Which is why we can still fly all over the country.

    I understand you want to ban hikers from the trails; lets ban pedestrians from sidewalks too!

    last point, look at the rescues lately… coming from day hikers that are completely unprepared. Lots of newbie day walkers that didn’t even know that the ATC even existed.

    stay safe, enjoy responsibly

    • Carl M. : May 21st

      @ Chris R.:

      I support the ATC and the position they are taking, particularly their advice on not using trail facilities i.e. shelters, picnic tables, registers, etc. This is a pandemic.

      • Chris R : May 21st

        registers should still be signed (safety issues supersede) register only needs to be signed by one person in the group..

        its so funny that golf courses are open, drive in movies, recreational pot, (in MA, 25th) restaurants (drive thru) and houses of worship, and hair cuts! (no one says stay local regarding these services)

        I support nothing that requires a vaccine to be found, no evidence that we will ever find one either.

        I support decreases in cases. ( lets go back to not testing! JK)

        I support nothing that supports classism or geographic superiority.

        Staying local is redlining people into the “we are close and you are far” with no shared definition of what local is except you can’t buy gas or food on the way. By the logic, if you are on trail, you are local because you didn’t need to buy gas or buy food along the way. Furthermore, there is no precedent for “stay local” as a person would go to a location to buy food that is not in their local environment. ie I go a town away to buy groceries. Some people staying local don’t even have supplies at the local area. The ATC Task Force needs reality based progress, not head in the clouds hopes.

        This “Stay Local” philosophy is diametrically opposed to the original intent of the AT. To allow “city-dwellers” to quietly enjoy the great outdoors. (surprising because the original intent is to allow densely populated areas easy access to locations in the wilderness.) Now the ATC, flips it to “AT, only for locals!”

        green paradise put up a parking lot… it is so easy to socially distance in the woods. it is so easy to step aside and allow someone to pass. Like all states agree, if you are sick, stay home.

        • Brian Kirk : May 21st

          Nailed it. Segmented by age, those under 65 (i.e., those who would be hiking) have a near 0% chance of dying from COVID.

          0-19 years old: .003%
          20-29: .003%
          30-39: .008%
          40-49: .017%
          50-59: .145%
          60-64: .290%
          65-69: .757%
          70-74: 1.688%
          75-80: 4.333%
          80-85: 7.836%

          Sources: Economisch Statistische Berichten (ESB), RIVM, Pienter Research, CBS, and Stitching Nice.

          Again, you literally have next to no risk of dying from COVID while hiking. In fact, I’d wager since you’re constantly outside its more safe to thru-hike than to stay in shelter. As the “great” Gov. Cuomo displayed in a presentation of his, most infections occurred while being sheltered in place. Go figure. So can we please stop this charade and fear mongering? It’s more technocratic nonsense that exacts massive costs for imagined benefits. And no, I’m not a science denier. I believe in rational public policy based on real data, not made up models.

          Now watch my post be censored for giving a contrarian view using data on public policy.

    • JonS : May 21st

      Well said, Chris. These guidelines are so over the top. Where do I want to be in the “pandemic”? Outside, enjoying nature, strengthening my immune system. The ATC threat to withhold through hike acknowledgement is just mean. They can shove that

      Former proud ATC member

      • Wingnut : May 29th

        I mailed my ATC membership card back to ATC. I had been a loyal ATC member for 20+ years. I feel that the ATC organization is a worthwhile organization, but it’s current leadership is nothing but a bunch of overpaid political hacks. Their recent decisions regarding the pandemic shows just how out of touch they are with hikers.
        Do they think that I hiked the AT to get some stinking certificate from the ATC or get my name listed in their magazine? What in the world is wrong with them? I hiked some sections of the AT during the pandemic and I could care less what the ATC said!

        • Steve : May 31st

          Same here. Since I can’t “work from home”, I’ve had more time to get out on the trails being healthy. I let my ATC membership expire when they changed the name to “Conservancy”, against the wishes of the majority of the membership. I saw the writing on the wall back then.

    • carla phillips : May 21st

      Right on. They shouldn’t be telling us not to hike . It’s a free country or so I thought. The only reason these idiots don’t want hikers on the AT is because they can’t control people on the trail. I never thought that in America we would be hearing not to hike here or there. They just want to control all of us!!!!

  • Brian Kirk : May 21st

    Ok, Karen. The risk of dying for those who are hiking is so low (near 0%) these draconian measures are not warranted. Please show me any evidence at all that hiking outside is dangerous. If you’re scared, then stay home.

    • Paul : May 21st

      Ok Karen ok Boomer ok snowflake…ahh, love these trail names

  • Bruce Hall : May 21st

    Apparently The Trek did not read these ATC Guidelines also released yesterday.
    Protecting and managing the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) — while ensuring the safety and health of our staff, A.T. volunteers, visitors, and Trailside communities — are the top priorities of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) during this challenging time.

    While the ATC continues to recommend staying at home and staying away from the A.T., we understand that many of you are considering hikes on the A.T. as your states’ stay-at-home orders expire or shift to “safer at home” recommendations. In recognition of this highly dynamic situation, the ATC believes the scientific information has become clearer on how to keep yourself and those around you safe from COVID-19. Based on that science, we offer the following guidance.

    Before you decide to head out, ask yourself three questions:

    Are you, or anyone in your group, exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, or have you been in contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19?
    Is there an official closure of the section of the A.T. you are planning to hike?
    Are you, or anyone in your group, missing any essential gear to not only have a safe and healthy hike but also mitigate the spread or contraction of COVID-19?

    If the answer to any of these questions is yes, we ask you to stay home.

    If the answer to all these questions is no, we recommend the following:

    Be self-sufficient: In addition to the ten hiker essentials, carry a CDC-approved mask and hand sanitizer. Practice social distancing; if not possible, make sure you are wearing a mask and other personal protective equipment (PPE) to help stop the spread of COVID-19. As this virus can remain on hard surfaces for days, we advise not using Trail resources like shelters, privies, or picnic tables. If you come into contact with hard surfaces, either wash your hands (if possible) or use hand sanitizer. Pack a trowel so you can dig catholes (70 adult steps from the Trail, campsites, and water sources and carry out toilet paper) instead of using privies on the Trail. For overnight trips, use a tent or other personal shelter and carry a bear-resistant food storage device to avoid using a bear box, cables, or pole. Treat your hike like a true backcountry experience that is not reliant on A.T. facilities you would otherwise use.

    Stay local: Hike close to home. Ensure you do not have to stop for gas or meals along the way. Check the Trail Closures page on our website before heading out, as the section of the Trail you are planning to visit may have an official closure or other restrictions.

    Stay small: Hike only with members of your immediate household or in groups smaller than six people. Avoid well-known locations where there will likely be many visitors. Do not access the Trail during high traffic periods (weekends, holidays, etc.). Have a backup plan in case the trailhead is crowded when you arrive. If trailheads are full, turn back and return when crowds have dispersed. Do not park in undesignated areas or block roads or gates.

    Be prepared: Carry a physical map of the area where you are hiking. Share your plans with someone you know in case you need assistance. Review Leave No Trace principles on our website so you can leave the Trail the same or better than you found it. Being prepared not only protects you and the Trail — it protects your fellow hikers and, should you become lost or injured, the search and rescue teams that would use their limited resources to come to assist you.

    Be respectful: If you head into town on your trip, please wear PPE and use hand sanitizer or wash your hands with soap frequently. Contact businesses and service providers in advance to make sure they are open and follow local guidelines. Minimize the amount of time you spend in town. If you become ill on Trail, particularly if you exhibit any symptoms associated with COVID-19, leave the Trail and seek medical attention.

    Be patient: While some states are removing or relaxing stay-at-home orders, there are still numerous restrictions and closures on the Trail. Over 100 shelters are still closed, at least three states have required or recommended 14-day quarantines upon entering, and restrictions are still active throughout A.T. states. The Trail may be closed near you. Even if open, certain Trail facilities may not be open to public use. Keep yourself informed and check the ATC website for the latest updates.

    For thru-hikers, we ask that you continue to postpone your thru-hikes for the time being. On a thru-hike, staying local is impossible and requires frequent stops in towns for resupply and shuttles to/from communities, creating multiple opportunities for contracting or spreading the virus. However, we have identified criteria for when this guidance will change. For more information, read our letter to 2020 thru-hikers by clicking here.

    We continue to appreciate everyone’s assistance in keeping the Trail community and the Trail itself safe and healthy. Our personal health is now a collective issue: unless everyone is safe, no one is safe. So please be prepared and be thoughtful when you head outdoors.

    The Trail will be there, through this crisis, and beyond. Make sure you are safe and healthy now, and in the future, to enjoy all it has to offer.

    Thank you and be safe,

    The Appalachian Trail Conservancy Team

  • FM : May 22nd

    Most people tend to average 15 miles a day, so starting a southbound AT hike by June 1 is imperative if you want to finish in GA by Nov 1. It’s still doable. I covered ground in 4 but had to take an additional month to recover from injury.

  • Ziptie : May 24th

    I already postponed my section hike once because of the ATC (and the country’s) overreaction… In another universe, today I would now be about 16 miles into Georgia with the end goal of doing the whole state.

    I’ve moved it to September, at which point, I hope all the nonsensical regulations about the horrors of hiking outdoors have been lifted, so I won’t have to ignore them.


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