Throughout the pandemic, outdoor recreation has been promoted as the safest way to get out of the house, exercise, and spend time with loved ones. This encouragement had its limits, however, such as masking up and maintaining proper distance. For long-distance hikers, another limitation was advised: Postponing plans to hike the Appalachian Trail (AT), which traverses a large portion of the East Coast’s wilderness.
In March 2020, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) recommended that long-distance hikers put off their trips back to curb the spread of COVID-19. Though you may not think social distancing would be an issue for thru-hikers on the longest footpath in the country, the ATC implemented this to discourage trekkers from gathering at campsites, huts, and other shelters along the trail. It was also meant to stop them from shuttling into various towns along the route to stock up on supplies.
Well, good news has finally come for aspiring AT thru-hikers: With vaccines now widely available, the ATC is walking back its advisory. Hikers are asked to keep COVID-19 in mind when planning their trips, such as packing tents rather than relying on shared shelters and continuing to carry a mask, socially distance, and abide by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines on the trail. Getting vaccinated is, of course, highly encouraged as well.
As two of the trail’s visitor centers plan to reopen at the end of May and the beginning of June, in West Virginia and Maine, respectively, the ATC has also pledged to resume its recognition program for thru-hikers, acknowledging those who manage to complete the trail within a year. To stay up to date, bookmark the ATC website for the latest on the state of the AT.