Experiences Starting the AT NOBO in Mid-May

Getting a Later Start

Hi! My name is Triple A and I started the Appalachian Trail at Springer Mountain on May 14th. Most hikers start a northbound thru-hike in February, March, or April, so we definitely started at the tail end of NOBO season. My hiking partner, Pepper, and I had to wait to graduate from grad school before driving down to Georgia. Now that we are almost a month into our thru-hike, I wanted to share some of the experiences (good and bad!) that have come with a later start to the Appalachian Trail.

A beautiful ridge in North Carolina

Unsolicited Opinions from Others

The most noticeable experience of starting NOBO in May is that everyone, and I mean everyone, wants to share their opinion about it. Before I even started the trail, people told me I was starting too late. All the way back in February, a coworker at my graduate internship asked me, “Aren’t you supposed to be there already?” When we got to Mountain Crossings, a visitor told us “I’m so sorry that you had to wait so long to graduate.” On Round Bald, a day hiker asked us where we were headed. When we replied “Maine,” he quickly said “Not this year, you aren’t.”

The most frustrating interaction came from a section hiker who repeatedly advised us to shuttle ahead 200 miles. He insisted that’s where the people who are “actually dedicated to making it to Maine” are hiking, and that on our timeline, we would miss all of the fun social aspects of the trail. He told us that unless we were just out here to “sniff the air,” we were not getting the full experience. Now that I’m almost a month in, I know that his opinions are completely false!

The People

All of the unsolicited comments made me nervous that the trail would be devoid of thru-hikers in May. I was comforted by the idea of starting with my hiking partner Pepper, but I wondered if we would get the chance to form a trail family. I am so thankful to share that we have formed a truly amazing trail family of about a dozen hikers. We are composed mostly of recent college graduates which is why we all started mid-May. It is completely a myth that there aren’t dedicated thru-hikers starting in May. You absolutely can find a trail family later in the season!

Our trail family on Max Patch!

The Weather

Another late season aspect I was worried about was the weather. I thought that starting in the South in May would bring blazing heat every day. Our first day on the Approach Trail lived up to this, and we were struggling in the Georgia sun the entire hike to Springer Mountain. For the rest of the first month, we never experienced heat like that again. In fact, I have worn my fleece and puffy almost every night, and I often get chilly at lunchtime. The trail has been much cooler than I expected, and I know we have plenty of summer heat ahead of us, but we are thankful for the mild weather we’ve had so far!

Sunset at Siler Bald

The Mental Aspect

Of course, starting later does force us to pay attention to our weather window. Katahdin does close in October, so we need to be mindful of our progress. We don’t have all the time in the world, but it doesn’t mean we feel rushed either. It is easy for people’s comments to get to our heads, but we are currently doing just fine to get to Maine by October. We still have plenty of time to have fun, spend time in towns, and enjoy the journey!

Biggest Takeaways

Our first month on trail was better than anything I could have imagined. We have had beautiful weather, formed an amazing trail family, and seen unbelievable views in GA, NC, and TN. Sometimes it is hard to ignore the doubts and the comments from others, but we feel confident in ourselves and our hike. It is absolutely possible to experience a fulfilling NOBO thru-hike starting later in the season!

A beautiful morning in the Smoky Mountains

Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

Comments 7

  • Dawn : Jun 10th

    F’ those people. It sounds like a lot of “mansplaning.”😊🤦🏽‍♀️

    • Keith w Byrd : Jun 10th

      Should be a wonderful trip for you. Perhaps some dry watering holes in Penn, and a few more bugs… but you can get you some spray, and trail angels may keep you in water… if not you can shuttle ahead if that happens..

      • David Odell : Jun 11th

        Great post. I didn’t start my AT thru hike until June 17th, 1971. Finished October 14th. Fall colors in Maine were fantastic. Best of luck on the rest of your hike. David Odell AT71 PCT72 CDT77

  • Al Galletly : Jun 11th

    I’m sure many of the doubters are very well-meaning … and most, I’m sure, are indeed trying to be helpful. In spite of the doubters, every individual’s trek is different. This is YOUR journey. So enjoy it … the good, the not-so-good and the ugly. Wishing you well.

  • thetentman : Jun 11th

    HYOH! You go girl.

    Thank you for the post and pics. Can’t wait for the next one

    Good luck!

  • Chris : Jun 11th

    Have a great hike. Enjoy it all.

  • YeeHa of BeeChHill : Jun 11th

    What a great post, Triple A! It is clear you have established this journey as YOURS, with all that means, including a trail family that matters to you. I hope you, Pepper and the others enjoy Virginia as much as earlier states – and might stop by BeeChHill (just north of Daleville) on your trek to Maine. Regardless, we’ll enjoy your upcoming posts.


What Do You Think?