The Pros and Cons of Campfires on the Appalachian Trail: Should You Spark One Up?

Lighting a campfire on the AT can be rewarding but comes with risks. Learn the benefits of fires for cooking, warmth, and socializing vs. the work and environmental impact.

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Josh Koop

I live with my wife and daughter in Katy, Texas and my local trail is the Lone Star Hiking Trail which is an amazing way to experience the Sam Houston National Park!

Camp fire where people can relax around
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Can you have a fire on the Appalachian Trail? This is a question that many hikers ask themselves as they prepare for their thru-hike you may want to understand, that while fire sounds excellent there are keys to managing them in the wild.

There are pros and cons to taking a stove or a campfire with you on your hike, and it ultimately depends on each hiker’s individual needs and preferences as long as you abide by overall Appalachian Trail fire rules.

In this article, we will explore the pros and cons of having a fire while hiking the Appalachian Trail. We will also provide some tips on building a safe and responsible campfire, should you choose to have one.

Fire Restrictions On the Appalachian Trail

In general, there will always be fire restrictions in some form overall, as the Appalachian Trail goes through many different types of ecosystems. In the more rural and less developed areas, you will find fewer restrictions in place.

However, as you get closer to more populated areas, there will be more restrictions in place to protect both people and property.

Area Restrictions

There are some areas where fires are not allowed regardless of the time of year or circumstance. These areas will typically have signs posted indicating that fires are not permitted.

If caught having a fire in one of these areas, you can be subject to a fine or even arrest. Some of the places where fires are typically not allowed include:

  • In developed campgrounds and picnic areas without fire pits
  • Within 100 feet of any trail, road, or water source
  • In areas where there are drought conditions or high fire danger

Seasonal Restrictions

In some cases, fires may only be allowed during certain times of the year. This is often due to a higher risk of wildfires during the dry summer months.

If caught having a fire outside of the designated season, you can be subject to a fine or arrest.

It is essential to check with the local authorities in the area you will be hiking to find out if any seasonal fire restrictions are in place.

Weather Restrictions

Similar to seasonal restrictions, there may also be restrictions in place based on the current weather conditions. If the area is experiencing high winds or extremely dry conditions, fires may not be allowed.

Again, it is important to check with local authorities to find out if there are any weather-related fire restrictions in place before you hike.

Fire Bans

Some areas always have fire bans in place. This means that no fires are allowed at any time, regardless of the season or weather conditions.

If caught having a fire in an area with a fire ban, you can be subject to a fine or arrest. Some of the places where fire bans are typically in place include:

  • National Parks
  • National Forests
  • State Parks

Please be a good steward of the Appalachian Trail and follow all fire restrictions and don’t just make fires along the Appalachian Trail in random areas as it takes years for burn circles to fade.


Most have designated fire pits that are in the vicinity of the shelter and the only place where a fire can be built. You can be asked to leave the shelter if you are caught having a fire outside of the designated fire pit.

Some shelters do not have designated fire pits, so fires are not allowed at those shelters. Please don’t make your own fire pit at a shelter that does not have one.

The Downsides of Building Campfires

There are many reasons why thru-hikers choose to avoid fires while on the Appalachian Trail. In most cases, it simply comes down to personal preference. However, there are also some practical and safety reasons to avoid having a fire.

Some of the reasons why thru-hikers may choose not to have a fire include:

It’s Exhausting

For nearly all thru-hikers the end of the day of hiking will signify setting up camp and trying to get a meal in as it will be hard enough to get to sleep.

The last thing most hikers want to do is go through the hassle of building and maintaining fire and then the LNT impact, as adequately putting out a fire takes lots of water and time most don’t want to give away.

Fire Safety is Hard Work

One of the most significant issues for having fires when allowed that causes people to choose not to start is managing fire. They have embers and coals, and they can easily escape a firepit to start a forest fire.

All it takes is one small mistake for everything to go up in flames or, even worse, cause an uncontrolled wildfire that can destroy homes and property and injure or kill people.

Properly extinguishing a fire(1) takes lots of time and effort. Many don’t have the extra energy to manage, especially when they can avoid it, but make sure to read my post on leave no trace and brush up on your skills and mindset.

The Benefits of Campfires

There are many benefits to having a fire while hiking the Appalachian Trail. These benefits include providing warmth, cooking food, and deterring wildlife.

One of the biggest advantages of having a fire is that it can provide warmth on cold nights.

Social Gathering

A lot of thru-hikers want to have social time, and they want the experience of interacting with other people. They want to hear stories from others and share their own stories.

Most of the time, thru-hikers are on their feet and moving fast through the trail, taking time to take in sights and sounds. A fire can provide a perfect opportunity to do this by slowing things down and providing a place for people to gather.

Some people’s favorite memories from an Appalachian Trail thru-hike are the time spent around a fire with others.

Warm-Up & Dry Clothing

In addition to being a place to gather, a fire can provide warmth on cold nights. A fire can be crucial for staying warm throughout the night if camping in an area without shelter.

Especially when you have had a rough day and have been hiking in torrential downpours, getting dry can help strengthen your resolve and be more comfortable.

A fire can be perfect for drying out your clothing and gear.

Cooking Food

Another benefit of having a fire is that it can be used for cooking food. This can be a great way to have hot meals on the trail , which can be a real luxury.

There are many ways to warm up your water for food or coffee. You can also use a fire to cook food directly, such as hot dogs or marshmallows.

Final Thoughts on Fires Along the Appalachian Trail

Overall, there are many benefits to having a fire while hiking the Appalachian Trail. These benefits include many things like providing warmth, cooking food, and deterring wildlife.

However, there are also risks associated with fires, including starting wildfires and damaging the environment. For these reasons, most hikers choose not to have fires while on the trail.

If you choose to have a fire, take the necessary precautions to prevent any damage to the environment.

Remember that you represent all hikers when on the trail , so please tread lightly. Leave no trace and hike on!

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