How to Be a (Trail) Magician

You may already be familiar with trail magic. For those who aren’t, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy defines it as “an unexpected act of kindness” and “a quintessential part of the Appalachian Trail experience for many long-distance hikers.”

Trail magic can mean many things, but I’ll focus on the edible variety for now. Long distance hikers are in a unique position, often away from civilization for days at a time. Yes, they carry their own food with them. Yes, they will eventually be able to resupply in town. But the stomach wants what it wants. “Too many calories” is never in a long distance hiker’s vocabulary. The extreme generosity exhibited by trail magicians (or trail angels) is simply one of the greatest things on the AT. And I’d be willing to bet that at least once during a thru-hike, a hiker stumbles upon some form of trail magic when they are most desperate—the trail provides.

Having experienced trail magic this year from the other side—providing it to hikers—I can tell you, it’s just as awesome. The kindness of others during our thru-hike last year inspired Ash and I to pay it forward. Northern Pennsylvania is rough (heat, bugs, poor water sources, rocks, etc.) and magic seems to slowly decrease as hikers head north. What better place to set up some food for those weary folks? We had a pretty great turnout in July and we’re looking forward to doing it annually. If you’re interested in providing trail magic, here are a couple of ways to do it.

Set up a trail magic station

This is a great way to help out if you (a) don’t live near the trail, (b) have some free time and (c) want to chat with hikers.

  1. Find a location that meets your needs. Do you need lots of space? Do you need to park multiple cars? Do you want to see some great views from the trail yourself?  Sites like these can help you plan: Find a HikeInteractive Map and AT Parking.
  2. Bring ANYTHING edible—hikers will be very grateful, I assure you. If you really want suggestions, hikers love: high-calorie snacks & sweets (chips, candy bars, etc.), sodas, bananas (potassium), any fresh fruit, any hot food (burgers, hot dogs, bbq), cake, cheese, boiled eggs, water, or literally any other edible item you can imagine.
  3. If you have extra camp chairs, bring them. Tired hiker legs want to rest.
  4. Consider the weather. A canopy or tarp is helpful just in case.
  5. Talk to hikers about the trail.
  6. Offer to take their trash (to lighten their load) AND take any trash from the magic.
  7. Recycling is always appreciated.

Magic on-the-go

This is a great way to help out if you (a) are planning to day hike on the AT, (b) have a car nearby and (c) have extra room in your day pack.

  1. Bring ANY edible goodies that you’re willing to carry (apples, sodas, chips, etc.).
  2. Offer them to thru-hikers you see during your walk.
  3. Alternate: If the parking area is visible from the trail, you could leave the goodies in your car and offer them to any thru-hikers who happen to walk by before/after your hike.

Thru-hikers are also familiar with another type of edible magic: the mystery cooler. Because of the potential negative impact to plants and wildlife, ATC and ALDHA do not endorse this method. I will say that these were a thrill to find during my hike, and I was absolutely grateful for the goodies inside. This is best left to folks who live very close to the trail, to ensure it doesn’t become a trash pit or attractant to animals.

For more information, read ATC’s suggestions for providing trail magic and last but not least, leave no trace!

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 1

  • Charlie Wood : Mar 31st

    Me and the wife are going to set up trail magic this year in southeren PA on rt 30 hope to see a lot of hikers this is our first time we will try to make great time and great food and drinks hope to see you their dare not sure watching some hikers on youtube like the Hiking Vikings so mabey around that time that cross or close to it


What Do You Think?