Conquering the Appalachian Trail: A 2,190-Mile Journey through 14 States

Everything you need to know about thru-hiking the iconic Appalachian Trail, from total mileage and elevation gain to how long it takes the average hiker. Includes details on each state.

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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!

Appalachian Trail Marker on the Trail with the white blaze behind it
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Hiking the Appalachian Trail can be an arduous journey . It’s 2,190 miles long and has an elevation change of over 500,000 feet. The trail extends from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine.

Finding how long it takes to thru-hike is vital to planning your necessary time off, finances, and many other things to build a good plan, so how long does it take to hike the Appalachian Trail, and what is the Appalachian Trail length?

The average thru-hike of the AT will take four to six months, covering 14 states and almost 2200 miles. Over the course of this hike, you will take around 5 million steps along with climbing a massive 464,000 feet over the course of the trail from start to finish.

Let’s take a look now at the states involved alongside how long you are in each state, and what it takes to finish this thru-hike for miles and time.

I will explain more about the average self-supported hiker and talk more about the FKT, or the fastest known time attempts, that people have made to complete the entire trail!

How Long Does it Take to Hike the Appalachian Trail From Start to Finish?

When you are planning to hike the AT, you are thinking about so many things, like gear, trail costs, and time.

For many, this attempt on a long-distance hike will require quitting their full-time job, so knowing how long they will be away is essential to plans, so what is the average time to hike the Appalachian Trail?

For most people who aren’t super-fit, this will be a six-month hike, with people generally starting in March or April and completing their hike from August to October .

This is a vast amount of time, and there is no way to guarantee you will even complete the hike, as nearly 75% of registered hikers will not finish their hike in Katahdin.

This means you need to plan for four to six months but understand what you may need to do if you get delayed or face injuries that keep you stuck in town for extended times.

There are plenty of ways to hike the trail, the more standard NOBO, or northbound hikers, or SOBO, or southbound hikers is the most common, but some people try to set the FKT, or fastest known time, for an AT hike.

Normal Thru-Hike Trek

This is a hike like any YouTuber, or average person would make, where you are traveling as fast as you can but taking time to enjoy the sites and sounds, taking in the experiences, and living the trail life.

There is a big difference, though, between hikers who are fit, and by fit I mean trail legs and hiking not gym weightlifter, and the couch to 2ker’s who have near-zero experience and head to the trail after buying gear without prior training.

Previously Hiking Fit Individuals

If you are a seasoned hiker and maybe do section hikes frequently, you will have a definite advantage over the fresh hikers, so how long does it take to hike the entire Appalachian Trail for the hiking fit?

For those who have their trail legs and frequently hike for long 5-7 day sections, this can be done in around 100-120 days with as short as 90 days reported as possible. This would mean averaging 20-mile days without zeros or 25 miles a day with a zero every five days.

As you may expect this will only be a subset of hikers whose bodies can absorb this brutal pace for multiple months, they still may end early or abruptly to an injury like the not-hiker fit we will speak more about below.

Not Previously Hiking Fit Individuals

While this may sound like couch bodies, it is more than just that as many people who use the gyms at home fit into this section. While their bodies are strong many fail to trail their legs for more than lifting weights, this isn’t a hiking-specific benefit.

So for these people, how long does it take on average to hike the Appalachian Trail successfully?

This group will tend to need every ounce of time available to them coming in at six months to seven as their starting mileage on the trail will frequently be 8-10 miles a day growing consistently but putting them behind others who start at 20 miles per day.

This is typical to most people who choose to hike the AT and not a bad thing, it’s what makes the Appalachian Trail such an amazing melting pot for unique people from all walks of life. The trail would be much more boring if it was limited to perfectly skilled and trained long-distance hikers.

For the mentally crazy among us, there is the tracking on FKT websites to chart the time to complete an AT thru-hike which is incredibly astonishing!

Fastest Known Time to Complete the AT

There are some amazing athletes who may or may not use a team to try and complete the trail in an amazingly short time. Many of these successful attempts have been less than 2 months to complete the trail, end to end while managing 50 miles a day pacing!

Let’s cover quickly the difference between the two types of FKT attempts so you can read more on those attempts if you choose to, they are the supported FKT and the unsupported FKT.

Supported FKT

The supported FKT means that you have help from end to end, people who can drive and prep food, clothing, shoes, and all the stuff to keep you moving consistently and not buried in the tedium.

Many speed records have been set and numerous attempts have been made, but the quickest known time on the route is 41 days 7 hours, and 39 minutes in 2018.

These are the absolute fastest times for any trails as the support helps you to get help on the fly and you don’t have to manage to go into towns and the parts that really slow a hike overall.

Self Supported FKT

This is more like the traditional thru-hiker where you have to manage everything yourself on the trip.

They put this level as “any support you employ must be equally available to anyone else,” which can include fellow hikers but not real-life friends.

This is the most like a standard thru-hike since you must buy provisions as you go, stay in hotels, and look for or ask for food or water.

If you were to stay with friends though you are no longer self-supported but now supported since your friends aren’t available to others.

What are the Average Miles Per Day Required to Complete the AT Successfully?

For most hikers, when they start at the arch, they will average around 8 to 10 miles per day as they start building up their trail legs.

As the strength and stamina increase, most typically move 12-20 miles each day to start moving harder.

Once your legs are built up, trail legs as most refer to them, you will find that you will begin doing 20+ mile days with regularity.

Starting to crank out the miles on the trail and make up some time or add on some of the fantastic side quests to spectacular sites while on the trail.

Building up mileage is a good thing as starting slow allows your legs to adjust and all the ligaments and muscles to build up to becoming a machine, many times going too fast or too far is what ends a thru-hike due to injury.

If you were to walk at just 10 miles per day, without taking a zero in town, it would take you nearly 220 days to complete this hike, this is why distance ends up mattering so much as you travel.

One thing many don’t know well beforehand is that Katadhin closes based on the weather so the closer you get to the cold snow dropping the sooner the close will happen and possibly the loss of any chance to summit and complete your thru-hike!

If you are looking to complete the full hike within 5 months, you are looking at needing to maintain about 15 miles per day without taking any zeros.

This is why getting pulled into town for multiple days can mean having to walk serious miles afterward.

The Halfway Point and Half-Gallon Challenge

The halfway point for a perfect Appalachian Trail stop is Pinegrove Furnace at the Pine Grove General Store.

This is well known in the hiker community and is the place where hikers compete against each other in an ice cream challenge.

The Mental Halfway Point and the Half-Gallon Challenge

Here you can choose to participate in the half-gallon challenge with your tramily and other thru-hikers, and when successful you get an Official Pine Grove Store Victory Spoon.

What States Do You Travel Through and For How Long?

The Appalachian Trail travels through 14 states including some amazing experiences in places like Georgia and West Virginia on the trek from Springer to Katahdin, we are going to dive into each below as to how long and what are some of the highlights to the state!

How long does it take to hike the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail?

Georgia is the start for any NOBO thru-hiking attempt and begins at Amicalola Falls State Park right outside the visitor center.

This 8.8-mile approach trail to get to the start of the AT is an excellent chance to evaluate your abilities before starting the trail properly.

Once you reach Springer Mountain (Elevation 3780′) you will officially find the bronze plaque in the ground and the first white blaze. This begins the first 76.4 miles of the Appalachian Trail in Georgia.

Blood Mountain is the highest point on the trail in Georgia at a little over 4900′ and is the highest point in the state.

How long does it take to hike the North Carolina section of the Appalachian Trail?

As you pass into North Carolina from Georgia you will pass back and forth along the Tennessee North Carolina border.

The trail length in North Carolina comes in at 95.5 miles which moves pretty fast through some amazing areas like Wayah Bald, the NOC, and then Fontana Dam Shelter.

It is here that the Appalachian Trail, which extends for more than 71 miles through Great Smoky Mountains National Park, starts in the south at Fontana Dam and finishes in the northeast at Davenport Gap.

How long does it take to hike the Tennessee section of the Appalachian Trail?

The AT reaches Tennessee from North Carolina at Doe Knob, these first 64 miles in Tennessee follow the Smokies. In total, you will hike 287.9 miles while in the state which travels through some amazing forests and highland pastures.

You will also pass below Clingmans Dome which is the highest point on the trail at 6625′ and, weather permitting, some of the most amazing views you will get anywhere on the trail.

This is also where the amazing Max Patch area is located, though camping has been removed to overuse it is an amazing place to hike through and take in the scenery.

The Roan Highlands is another spot to check out, here you will find one of the highest mountains on the trail in Roan High Knob at 6280′. 

How long does it take to hike the Virginia section of the Appalachian Trail?

This is where many start to experience some on trail exhaustion, the crappy food and constant moving cause the “Virginia Blues” as before you were moving state to state with speed.

When you enter Virginia you hit the state with the MOST miles in it at 550.3 miles, this can lead to a feeling of monotony and this can lead to people losing interest and leaving the trail.

Virginia has basically 1/4 of the total Appalachian Trail mileage , so it can seem like a lot, but there is some amazing scenery and areas to check out but for NOBO hikers can experience some wet conditions due to spring thaw and heavier rainfall.

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy considers a well-maintained 104-mile section of the path in Shenandoah National Park that was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps and has few rises to be excellent for novice hikers.

The most popular spot on the A.T., McAfee Knob is also known as “the most photographed location on the AT.” McAfee Knob is part of Virginia’s Triple Crown, which comprises three well-known summits: McAfee Knob, Dragon’s Tooth, and Tinker Cliffs.

The annual “Trail Days” festival in Damascus has grown to be the most significant gathering of Appalachian Trail hikers in the world. It’s a huge party and celebration of the footpath that everyone wants to participate in.

How long does it take to hike the West Virginia section of the Appalachian Trail?

West Virginia is nearly a blip on the thru-hike as the trail only runs through 4 miles of the state when you exclude the nearly 20 miles along the Virginia border itself.

This is where you will actually come to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy in Harpers Ferry, often stated as the “psychological midpoint” for an AT thru-hike.

How long does it take to hike the Maryland section of the Appalachian Trail?

Maryland is next up and is 40.9 miles in length but with one point that irritates many thru-hikers, you are forced to stay in designated shelters and campsites and no off-trail camping is allowed.

This can drive many thru-hikers to choose to try and hike the entire state in a single day which takes a pre-dawn start to as late as required to get out of the state and set up camp.

If instead, you choose to hike normally you can look to stop at the Dahlgren campground which has free showers which are perfect for those weary hikers willing to stop.

How long does it take to hike the Pennsylvania section of the Appalachian Trail?

Once you pass through Maryland you will enter into Pennsylvania, this is the start of your next 229.6 miles of trail, and depending on how fast you hike this can take a while to cross.

The Susquehanna River is widely recognized as the boundary between the northern and southern parts of the Pennsylvania AT. The AT goes over the Susquehanna via the Clarks Ferry Bridge, which is located near Duncannon.

The AT passes through St. Anthony’s Wilderness, which is the second-largest roadless region in Pennsylvania and owns several coal mining ghost towns, including Yellow Springs and Rausch Gap, in the north of the state.

Common trail town stops on the Appalachian Trail are Boiling Springs, Duncannon, Port Clinton, Palmerton, Wind Gap, and Delaware Water Gap.

The phrase “where boots go to die” is synonymous with Pennsylvania among hikers, owing to the state’s reputation for having more long sections of rocky trail than any other.

The worst rocks are found in the northern portion of the state, north of the Susquehanna River.

Many people regard Pennsylvania to be one of the easier sections of the AT because it is mostly walking on ridges with little height changes when compared to other states.

How long does it take to hike the New Jersey section of the Appalachian Trail?

The trail begins in New Jersey on a pedestrian walkway along the Delaware Water Gap Toll Bridge over the Delaware River and ascends to the top of Kittatinny Ridge from the Delaware Water Gap.

New Jersey contains just 72.2 miles of the AT following along Kittatinny Ridge for a majority of the time. You will continue to hike along and see some unique sites and places like Sunfish Pond, Stokes State Forest, and more while passing through the state.

After this, you end up following the Kew York-New Jersey border for around 30 miles entering Wawayanda State Park and Abram S. Hewitt State Forest and entering into New York near Greenwood Lake.

How long does it take to hike the New York section of the Appalachian Trail?

While New York may have relatively little overall elevation changes not featuring PUDs non-stop it does have overall rugged terrain that has many ledges and cliff sides.

The trail winds through 88.4 miles within New York, starting at the NJ/NY state line, and summits many teeny mountains that come in around 1400′ in elevation with Prospect Rock being the tallest at 1433′ in elevation.

The Harriman and Bear Mountain sections of the AT are the oldest parts, being built in 1923.

New York is the state that has the ever famous Lemon Squeezer, a narrow crack between huge boulders on the trail.

In addition, you will get the chance to hike through a park zoo which is also the lowest point on the AT at only 124′ above sea level.

How long does it take to hike the Connecticut section of the Appalachian Trail?

As you leave New York, you will enter Connecticut for the next 51.6 miles of your trek, nearly following the Housatonic River Valley and the ridges.

The trail passes within one mile (1.6 km) of the business district of Kent, a resupply point for long-distance hikers.

The trail then enters the Taconic Mountains, passing through Lion’s Head, Riga Ridge, and Bear Mountain before reaching the Massachusetts line at Sage’s Ravine.

How long does it take to hike the Massachusetts section of the Appalachian Trail?

Once you enter Massachusetts, you will be in Berkshire County, and you will never leave it if you stay on Trail.

You will have to hike 90.2 miles of trail in Massachusetts, climbing Mount Everett at 2602′ in Elevation and then dropping into the Housatonic River Valley.

You will hit some rollercoasters going up and down, but since you should be in peak physical condition, you shouldn’t have any issues traveling through towns like Dalton and Cheshire.

Then traverse up into peaks like Mount Greylock at 3491′ in elevation then descend again into the Hoosic River valley then directly ascend to the Vermont state line.

How long does it take to hike the Vermont section of the Appalachian Trail?

Vermont has 150 miles of the Appalachian Trail and once entering Vermont, the trail runs with the southernmost sections of the Long Trail.

The trail then runs parallel to the Green Mountains’ ridgeline, climbing such prominent peaks as Stratton Mountain, Glastenbury Mountain, and Killington Peak.

The trail passes through the Glastenbury, Lye Brook, and Peru Peak Wildernesses of the Green Mountain National Forest.

After departing the Long Trail at Maine Junction, the AT continues to move east, skirting the White River, passing through Norwich, and entering Hanover, New Hampshire, via the Connecticut River.

How long does it take to hike the New Hampshire section of the Appalachian Trail?

The AT runs 160.9 miles in New Hampshire and is almost entirely within the White Mountain National Forest. From Hanover to Glencliff, the easier southern section of the trail passes over Velvet Rocks, Moose Mountain, Smarts Mountain, and Mount Cube.

After that, it ascends to Mount Moosilauke and enters the White Mountains’ highest peaks. It’s the start of a much more difficult stretch for northbound hikers that includes not just suffering distance and time, but also more rugged and steep terrain.

From the summit of Mount Pierce to the north side of the cone of Mount Madison, which is about 12 miles (19 kilometers), the route runs completely above the treeline in New Hampshire’s Presidential Range.

The AT goes above the summits on 16 of New Hampshire’s 48 four-thousand footers: Moosalauke, South and North Kinsman, Lincoln, Lafayette, Garfield, South Twin, Jackson, Pierce, Washington (highest point on the AT north of Tennessee), Madison (the highest point in New England), Wildcats D and A, Carter Dome, along with South and Middle Carter.

In addition, you come close to the summits of another 8 of the 48 four-thousand footers: Liberty, Galehead, Zealand, Eisenhower, Monroe, Jefferson, Adams, and Moriah.

How long does it take to hike the Maine section of the Appalachian Trail?

According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), Maine’s AT is “extremely challenging” with its 281.4 miles.

The western section includes a mile-long stretch of boulders at Mahoosuc Notch, known as the trail’s most difficult mile and very challenging terrain on the body.

The central part of the state features one of the most significant difficulties in crossing the Kennebec River, which is 200 feet wide at this location.

Then you have the “Hundred-Mile Wilderness”, the last and most isolated stretch of trail in Maine (and perhaps on the entire trail).

The section passes through the town of Monson and ends outside Baxter State Park just south of Abol Bridge. The northern end of the Appalachian Trail is located in Baxter State Park at Baxter Peak, Katahdin’s highest peak.

The summer camping season ends for Baxter State Park from October 15 to May 15. Before May 31 or after October 15, the park highly discourages thru-hiking within its boundaries.

Key Takeaways on Thru-Hiking the Appalachian Trail

The Appalachian Trail is a daunting hike that takes the average hiker four months or longer to complete.

Hopefully, you now understand more about how long is the AT, as the trail distance is approximately 2,190 miles with an elevation change of over 500,000 feet.

It’s important to know how long the hike will take you so you can adequately prepare yourself both mentally and physically.

Most hikers take around six months to finish the trek living through inclement weather that can take out even the most seasoned and experienced hikers.

The trail goes through 14 states and lots of difficult terrains so be sure to do your research and plan accordingly, I have a post on cell phone service on the Appalachian Trail .

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