ATC Urges 2021 Hikers to Take Precautions, Consider Alternatives

In an open letter to 2021 trail users, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy on Thursday urged long-distance hikers to take steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 during their hikes. As it becomes increasingly clear that the pandemic will continue to disrupt normal life well into 2021, the long trail organization has released guidance for next year’s prospective hikers.

“Hiking the A.T. in 2021 will likely remain a logistical challenge underscored by health and safety risks,” the letter says. This is particularly true because of ongoing state, local, and federal restrictions and the fact that some trailside businesses may not be open for business.

“The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) urges all hikers to stay local and exercise caution while so much uncertainty around the COVID-19 pandemic exists. However, we know that many are planning long-distance journeys on the A.T. in 2021. To ensure hiker safety and health while on the A.T., we ask hikers to plan, prepare, and stay informed.”

Prospective hikers should take the following steps.

  • Register your hike with ATC starting on December 1 so you can plan ahead and avoid overcrowded start dates. This also enables ATC to send you important trail updates via email or text so you can stay up-to-date.
  • Plan and prepare. Make sure you have adequate equipment and skills for the hike you are planning to undertake. (This is always true, but even more so during a pandemic when emergency responder resources are already stretched thin). Planning an AT hike during the pandemic also includes staying up-to-date with COVID information and implementing pandemic safety best practices.
  • Consider alternative hikes. Thru-hiking will still pose a significant logistical challenge in 2021 due to the pandemic. Overcrowding on the AT will likely make social distancing difficult. ATC compiled a list of 24 alternative long-distance hikes near the Appalachian Trail, ranging from New York’s 37-mile Taconic Crest Trail to the 1,175-mile Mountains to the Sea Trail in North Carolina.
  • Anticipate crowds. Day and section hikers should consider visiting at non-peak times, ie during the week, to mitigate overcrowding.
  • Stay informed. Subscribe to the ATC’s email list and social media channels to stay up to date. Knowledge is power.

COVID Best Practices for Hikers

Beyond basic COVID best practices such as mask-wearing, frequent handwashing, and social distancing, hikers can take additional precautions to help slow the spread of the virus. For instance, ATC currently recommends avoiding privvies where possible and instead opting for a cathole following Leave No Trace principles.

Many shelters remain closed (even where signage isn’t posted) and shelters in general should be avoided. Hikers should also avoid high-touch areas like picnic tables, bear poles, and bear lockers. They should come prepared with their own means of secure food storage.

Also, the AT passes through 14 states and numerous localities. All of them may have their own specific guidance and regulations surrounding the pandemic. It’s important for hikers to respect local restrictions and guidelines as they traverse the AT in 2021.

States and localities may have specific regulations surrounding the pandemic.

“Planning for the future is near impossible.”

The ATC formally requested an unprecedented temporary closure of the Appalachian Trail on April 2 due to the pandemic and asked all hikers to stay off the trail for the time being. The organization convened a task force and released updated guidance for hiker safety on May 21, including a renewed request for thru-hikers to call off their hikes.

At that time they identified three scenarios which might cause the organization to review that recommendation: “the removal of all A.T. closures in place due to the pandemic, a flattening or reduction of the COVID-19 infection rate in all A.T. states for a period of two weeks, and the availability of an effective COVID-19 vaccine.”

ATC acknowledges the frustration and turmoil wrought by the pandemic. As the virus continues to spread, “we also find ourselves adapting to a constantly shifting political, social, and economic landscape. The world, in short, is characterized by uncertainty, and planning for the future is near impossible.”

However, as much as possible, any plans you do make should include special considerations surrounding the pandemic. “We thank you for taking these crucial extra steps to keep yourself, other hikers, and Trailside communities safe – today and into 2021. Please support and protect the A.T. and the greater Trail community by educating and preparing yourself before your A.T. journey.”

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Comments 20

  • Avatar
    Bob Sartini : Nov 14th

    Bear poles. Really. Even privies is pretty far fetched. It’s important that guidelines be realistic and doable so people respect them.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Jesus : Nov 14th

    The pandemic is fake. The COVID-19 mortality rate is 99.9%. I’m sorry but Americans (especially progressives) are the dumbest people on the planet. I hope you all survive the Chinese plague. This “guide” is silly

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Jhon : Nov 14th

      You are a STONE FOOL Tell that to the 200,000 + Thousands that COVID 45 has slaughtered.

      Reply
      • Avatar
        Chavez : Nov 14th

        Swine flu still has killed more..damn ..didnt close down a country.mretard

        Reply
      • Avatar
        Tenzing : Nov 14th

        I would if they were not dead. Staff off the trail, wear a mask. Death is but one step away.

        Reply
  • Avatar
    Dave : Nov 14th

    Isn’t the woods the best place to social distance? I don’t get it……. outdoors is where everyone should be. I never got sick from hiking. C’mon let’s be real

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Ralph Mahon : Nov 14th

      AGREE!

      Reply
    • Avatar
      Mike L : Nov 14th

      When you hike the Appalachian trail you constantly need to go into small towns to resupply, which can also require hitching a ride. Theres also a good chance that the type of people who choose to hike the trail in 2021 are also the type of person to ignore shelter closures and other precautions. Not to mention if you get the virus in town and come down with symptoms in the woods, the people that are going to have to come rescue you will have to put their lives at risk. But go ahead and keep being willfully ignorant.

      Reply
      • Avatar
        Darren : Nov 24th

        This same argument was used earlier this year and it was equally ignorant and evidence-free then. Hundreds of thruhikers completed hikes (including me) without a single incident. And I can assure you the type of people who hiked in 2020 were often the type of people who ignore closures and precautions.

        Reply
  • Avatar
    BK : Nov 14th

    All of this stuff is so blown out of proportion. Got back to work a couple days ago after having it, felt like a bad flu for 2 or 3 days. Not going to stop me from doing a NOBO Thru Hike this year. Society can’t just shut down for something that just doesn’t have a big impact on the vast majority of people… If someone is at risk, let them make their own decisions, don’t just ruin society for everyone.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      AndyBoy : Nov 14th

      My friend was 32 and was not part of a high risk group and passed away from Covid. He caught the virus because he couldn’t quit his job as a server because he had a family to support. It’s almost like anecdotal evidence varies and your experience doesn’t automatically match everyone else’s.

      Reply
    • Avatar
      Shannon Ramsey : Nov 22nd

      I don’t think it’s fair to say that the type of person who plans on thru-hiking in 2021 is the type of person to ignore shelter closures and other precautions. I recently section-hiked part of the trail and the few thru-hikers and section-hikers I met on the trail were very considerate on and off trail. Sure you’re going to get some dillweeds who will think they are above the rules and regulations and ignore them and they give everyone else a bad name but I genuinely think most people out there are thoughtful and smart people, at least that’s how I find most AT thru and section hikers to be anyways.

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Jeremy D. : Nov 14th

    This has to be one of the stupidest things I have ever read, whoever put this on here must have voted for Biden

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Jhon : Nov 14th

      Yes Trumpanzee, they must have voted for PRESIDENT BIDEN.

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Tom Brown : Nov 14th

    Good common sense advice. People should be well prepared before assuming additional risk of the Corona virus while on the Trail.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Chavez chavez : Nov 14th

    Folks..i did a thru hike in 18 this year i told my boss i needed to go back for a short 220. Front royal to peters mtn..i passed 21 hikers sobo. 10 were day trippers..stayed in kinda outdoorsy in duncannon..as in 2018 the doyle made me puke…mike the owner has a fully detoxed cleaning lady..sweet woman come in and dress down the joint…day hickers had masks…1 thru had one while conversing on the cliffs over the potomac…atc from what heard wont recognize anyone in 2o2o. So i met those mentioned plus the water lady at boiling springs at plus a party of 20 at the shelter on the hill darlington..plus 40 plus at arlington hgts..i got tested the day i got back..no covid. Wow..relax..ask for chavex in the fall..i will come back to do another easy 2 or 300.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Blue Mountain Edward : Nov 14th

    Get out and enjoy yourself. Take the dank mask off your face and smell the forest. You may see me on the trail but not today.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Doc : Nov 14th

    So….we can go to a crowded grocery store, people can protest in the streets or celebrate a new president with mass gatherings, but it’s unsafe to be outdoors. Right….
    Aren’t we getting a vaccine soon? Is it possible that we could be kicked off of or out of the AT?
    We are planning a section hike for about 5-6 days during the week. Is that a problem?

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Shannon Ramsey : Nov 17th

      When are you planning your section hike and what section are you doing? I recently section hiked from Front Royal to Waynesboro and I didn’t have any trouble acquiring a permit or ran into any issues with closures. However, as the article noted, this may change and parts of the trail could “close” if things continue to regress. Honestly, you should be fine to complete your section hike, I would just continue to monitor the ATC to see if they add any restrictions. But once you’re out there, I doubt you will run into any issues or be kicked off so long as you’re considerate of others and prepare accordingly. If you’re hiking through Shenandoah National Park or through the Smokies and the parks happen to close again then that’s risky and you may have rangers who tell you to get off but other than that I think you’ll be fine. Enjoy your section hike, happy trails!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Darren : Nov 24th

    I thruhiked in 2020. There were no “logistical difficulties”. Most shuttlers and hostels were open and welcoming. The trail was never closed. The park service ignored ATC’s request. And, as far as I can find, not a single thruhiker (or any other hiker or resident of a trail town) was infected let alone died as a result of trail-town interactions. I’m sure the ATC would be reminding us endlessly if there had been.

    If you want to thruhike, do it. You won’t regret trying. You will regret letting fear, uncertainty, and doubt deter you.

    Reply

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