Stretching from Georgia to Maine, the Appalachian Trail is the longest hiking-only footpath in the world, offering an escape from the hustle and bustle of the city for day hikes or backpacking trips.
Of the 14 states the trail passes through, Virginia has the greatest portion of the trail with 554 miles in the state.
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) estimates 2 to 3 million visitors hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail each year. There’s been a 78 percent increase in the amount of hikers completing the entire 2,190-mile trail in the 21st century versus the 20th century.
The trail’s recent popularity gain over the past couple of decades has brought more foot traffic to the area, sometimes causing overcrowding to be an issue.*
One employee from the ATC is exploring new ways to try and alleviate the congestion and help prevent damage to the trail’s natural resources.
Photo by Appalachian Trail Conservancy
Jason Zink is ATC’s visitor use manager. He works to understand how many people use the trail.
One of ATC’s most recent projects, which Zink helped with, was the launch of A.T.CAMP, a free website that allows groups of six to 10 hikers find and register for campsites along the trail.
Backcountry camping is allowed at about 100 of the designated camp sites and within the immediate vicinity of most of the 250 shelters along the trail.
Zink said a single group can manage to overcrowd the capacity of many trailside campsites. By registering an overnight hike on the site, groups can see what campsites are already going to be occupied.
“For the groups that use it, we see it as a trip planning tool and a way for them to choose campsites that maybe aren’t crowded if they can see how many people are already registered per site,” Zink said. “On the other end, it will help us in the future to see where and when people are using the trail and that helps us make decisions about where to build future campsites or improve existing ones.”
Zink said A.T.CAMP is not mean to reserve a spot or impose any sort of restrictions on others looking to stay at the same site, it’s solely a planning tool.
Zink said a lot of groups, like scout troops and college orientation groups, have already utilized A.T.CAMP.
ATC has already said they hope to expand the registration to include individual hikers by the end of this year.
Zink said like any other project ATC does, they look to continually improve it over time. Right now, there’s information about each campsite shelter along the trail, but he said ATC will try to add more information about each individual shelter like how many people it can hold, the water sources, and anything else a trip planner might want to know about.
Until then, other resources for hikers include ATC’s main website.
*The above linked article “Is the Appalachian Trail Getting Too Crowded?” is by Matt Chaney courtesy of VCU CNS.