If the idea of spending months alone in the woods intrigues you, backpacking the Appalachian Trail is not the right choice for you. Contrary to what worried friends and family imagine, you will not experience day after day of dangerous solitude. At times, you will be surrounded by people…
The original vision for this trail was a place of respite for the many big-city dwellers along the East Coast. It certainly meets that goal. In the past few years, 2-3 million people set foot on the AT annually. Popular sections get downright crowded on weekend days when visitors come out for a few hours or a simple overnight.
Like most overnight hikers, we aim for a shelter each night. We like the ease (laziness?) of throwing our sleeping pads and bags on the wooden floor. Others prefer to pitch their tents nearby. Everyone appreciates the often-found “luxuries” of a picnic table, a nearby water source, and an outhouse.
When hikers gather, stories are told and tips are shared. Some nights there is chatter and joking around a campfire. Mornings tend to be hectic, with hikers all focused on grabbing breakfast and packing up their gear. Occasionally the nightly conversation has been deep enough that new friends gather for a photo together before going their separate ways. For most of us, this social aspect is part of the joy of a backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail.
Do you need more time away from people? Even when evenings get crowded, it is easy to spend most of the day by yourself. You will only occasionally pass another hiker. You can choose to hike at your own pace. If sharing the adventure with a partner (like daughter Andowen and I do), walk on your own for most of the planned daily miles, then meet occasionally to check on each other and enjoy a snack together. Savor those hours of quiet, immersed by yourself in nature!
Do you long for solitude? Do you dream of traveling alone? Consider a backpacking expedition on a different long trail such as the Pacific Crest Trail or the Continental Divide Trail. Both of these trails are much more remote. Hundreds of thousands of people use the PCT annually. Even fewer set foot on the CDT.
If you still want to hike the Appalachian Trail but occasionally need more than a few daily hours of hiking alone, consider backpacking on a more remote area of the trail (such as in Maine). Or simply plan to camp away from shelters for a few nights. We greatly enjoyed the nights we slept beside waterfalls or beautiful streams.
Now you know the truth. Tell your family and friends to stop worrying. When you choose to adventure on the Appalachian Trail…you will rarely be alone in the woods!