The Appalachian Trail Conservancy has lifted a recommendation against long-distance hikes on the A.T. for the first time since the pandemic struck last spring.
The update was issued in light of widespread availability of effective COVID-19 vaccines and a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announcement classifying outdoor activities like hiking as low-risk for spreading the virus. The recommendation comes as thousands of hikers have already started or registered to start a thru-hike this year.
The ATC will also restart its recognition program for hikers who have completed a full thru-hike of the trail. It had paused the program during the pandemic to avoid incentivizing multi-state travel, which includes 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," reads a statement from the ATC. "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 www.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 hikers should still take precautions and encourages them to carry a mask for use when social distancing is not possible; to pack a tent or other personal shelter system instead of using the often-crowded three-sided trail shelters; and to follow CDC recommendations for protecting yourself and others, including when to avoid travel.
For more information about the ATC's updated guidance, visit www.appalachiantrail.org/covid-19.