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AT Mileage for a Beginner

I'm just getting into hiking, been doing lots of training hikes and just completed my first warm up trail (C&O Canal Towpath).  While I'm trying to be smart about tackling the AT in sections, I'd like to first try the Maryland section and the Shenandoah NP section.   Looking for some insight on the trail, especially the elevation aspect to it.  What's a realistic mileage estimate for those sections for an older beginner?  I'm 47 yrs old and could be in better shape, which is one of the reasons why I started backpacking

7 Replies

Elevation is not a big deal in Maryland. Climbs are short, and most of the Maryland trail follows the ridgeline. In Virginia, the climbs are a little higher. Although some people manage to hike the entirety of the Maryland AT in one day, three to four days is more reasonable.

As hikers, we tend to put too much emphasis on daily mileage.  Of course, since we have "real" lives in between hikes, we do have to maintain some kind of schedule.  But there should be some flexibility built into it.  Leave some time to admire the view, or explore the abandoned homestead you'll come across.  Maybe the trail will take you through an old orchard;  you'll certainly want to take advantage of that!  The thing to remember:  are you out there to make miles, or to recharge, enjoy yourself, and have one of the experiences of your life?  Both are worthy goals.

Retired medical technologist and engineer
REI member since 1978
Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

I heartily agree with the Rainy Hiker.  Don't worry too much about your mileage.  Enjoy yourself and stop when it feels right - you should be pleasantly fatigued, but not exhausted.  High mileage will come later, if then.  It is not essential to the outdoor experience.

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

These are great sections to start with.  Maryland does have some sections with a lot of rocks, but the up and down is a bit more gentle.  Mileage estimates depend on how comfortable you are with what you are carrying, how well your shoes work for you, and what have built up to.  If you know how many miles you typically would hike in an hour and how many hours you would reasonably hike, you could start there.  I then consider terrain and elevation which you can get from a map.  Maybe add 45 minutes/ 1000 ft?  And don't forget to take breaks even if you don't feel like you need them.  Just sitting for 15 minutes and loosening your shoes can make it feel like your starting fresh again.



I Live in MA, but spend time at my brothers in VA, and love Shenandoah.  Its been a few years since I've hiked there, but looking to go in April, and a few times in the Spring/Summer.



well, the shelters are about 10 miles apart for starters, for planning purposes (except in snp) and usually have tent areas in the vicinity.

pro tip - treat a hot spot on your feet immediately, with a piece of tape or bandaid, don't wait for the hot spot to get worse.

you don't have to carry more than 2 liters of water at most times, plenty of creeks to fill up.

try to keep you pack weight under 35lbs.

slow, steady pace wins the day.

good luck!

REI Member Since 1979

I did one day in MD from Harpers Ferry to Rt 40A. The section from Crampton Gap shelter to Rocky Run  shelter sucked. Lots of rocks. I was twisting my ankles a lot through here. I still have to do from Rt 40A to Pen Mar. I hear there are rocky sections along the way, so take it slow. I'm planning to do some VA section hiking this fall starting down in Damascus and working my way north. Haven't done Shenandoah yet. Looking forward to that. Shenandoah is closest to where I live in MD, about 2 hours away.