The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) announced updated guidance for hikers on the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) during the COVID-19 pandemic, removing its recommendation against long-distance hikes that require multiple stops in nearby communities. This update was issued in light of the widespread availability of effective COVID-19 vaccines, as well as the recent announcement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) classifying outdoor activities like hiking as posing significantly lower risks for spreading the virus, even among small groups of both fully vaccinated and unvaccinated people.
In a post released on its website, the ATC listed multiple changes to its guidance, which had been in place since March 2020. These updates include classifying a “thru-hike” of the A.T. — where a hiker attempts to travel all 2,193.1 miles of the Trail within a twelve-month period — as a safer activity, particularly for those who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The ATC will also restart its recognition program for hikers who have completed a full thru-hike of the Trail, which was paused during the pandemic to avoid incentivizing multi-state travel during the pandemic, including stops for resupply in dozens of trailside communities. Miles hiked on the A.T. during this pause — between March 31, 2020, and May 11, 2021 — will not be counted toward 2,000-miler recognition by the ATC.
“The ATC acknowledges the past year has required significant sacrifices both within and outside the A.T. community of volunteers, supporters, and hikers,” said the ATC in the post. “Many of us have lost friends and family. Some have delayed lifelong plans and aspirations — including postponing attempts to thru-hike the Trail — to better ensure they and those around them are at a lower risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19. We thank everyone who has taken, and continues to take, extra steps to help combat this pandemic.”
The ATC also announced reopening dates for two of its visitor centers. The ATC Headquarters and Visitor Center in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, will reopen with modified operations on May 27, 2021. The A.T. Visitor Center in Monson, Maine, located roughly 100 miles south of the Trail’s northern terminus on Katahdin in Baxter State Park, will open on June 2, 2021.
The ATC will also resume the distribution of A.T. 2021 backpack hangtags at these locations, which are provided to thru-hikers and eligible section hikers who have registered their hikes with the ATC via ATCamp.org and completed a brief training course in Leave No Trace backcountry principles.
While this updated guidance is yet another sign of improved COVID-19 conditions throughout the United States, the ATC notes that precautions should still be taken to help avoid spreading the virus both on and off the A.T. In addition to receiving a vaccine, the ATC encourages all hikers to carry a mask for when social distancing can not be maintained; to pack a tent or other personal shelter system instead of using the often-crowded three-sided shelters at various points on the Trail; and to follow CDC recommendations for protecting yourself and others, including when to avoid travel.
To read the full post and learn more about the ATC’s updated guidance, visit appalachiantrail.org/covid-19.