safety and crime prevention

Although the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) is safer than most places, it is not immune from crime. In heavily used areas, A.T. "ridgerunners" and "caretakers" act as roving eyes and ears for Trail managers and for public education. However, many areas of the Trail are remote and help may be far away.

Safety awareness is one of your best lines of defense and your brain provides one of your best weapons. Here are some suggestions to minimize crime-related risk on the A.T., whether you're day hiking or thru-hiking.

Leave your hiking plans with someone at home and check in frequently

  • Establish a time you will check in upon completion of your trip, as well as a procedure to follow if you fail to check in. Be sure your contacts and your family know your "trail name" if you have one. On short hikes, provide them with the number of the land managing agency for the area of your hike. 
  • On extended hikes, provide someone at home the ATC's number: 304.535.6331. Long-distance hikers should check in regularly back home, and be mindful that any deviation from a set pattern will likely cause anxiety and possibly an unnecessary search.

 Sharpen your situational awareness

  • Situational awareness is one of your best defenses against crime. Be aware of what you are doing, where you are, and with whom you are talking. Remember to trust your gut - it's usually right, even when your brain can't explain why.

 Use extra caution if hiking alone

  • You are safest with a group; neither a single partner nor a dog is a guarantee of safety. If you are by yourself, there is no need to broadcast that you are hiking alone or give information about your plans.
  • If you encounter someone who makes you feel uneasy, avoid engaging them and put distance between you. Move on; try to connect with another group of hikers. Always pay attention to your instincts about other people.

 Be wary of strangers

  • Be friendly, but cautious. Don't tell strangers your plans. Avoid or get away quickly from people who act suspiciously, seem hostile, or are intoxicated. If you are by yourself and encounter a stranger who makes you feel uncomfortable, say you are with a group that is behind you.

Use the Trail registers (the notebooks stored at most shelters) 

  • If someone needs to locate you, or if a serious crime has been committed along the Trail, the first place authorities will look is in the registers. Sign in so that family back home will know it's you (let them know if you have adopted a trail name). When signing in, consider not using gender-specific names or revealing personal information that may increase your vulnerability. Leave a note, and report any suspicious activities in the Trail registers.
  • Be wary of posting your location or itinerary on online journals in real time. A password protected blog or site can offer more protection.

Be aware that you may encounter different cultural norms along the Trail

  • Hikers on the A.T. are an eclectic bunch. Actions, clothing, or language choices that may be viewed as simply freedom of expression in the generally accepting culture of the A.T. can be viewed quite differently in some local communities or by individual hikers or families on the Trail.

 Eliminate opportunities for theft

  • Don't bring jewelry. Hide your money. If you must leave your pack, hide it, or leave it with someone trustworthy. Don't leave valuables or equipment (especially in sight) in vehicles parked at Trailheads, and don't camp near roads.
  • More tips for leaving a parked vehicle can be found on our Parking, Shuttles & Transportation page.

Avoid hitchhiking or accepting rides

  • Hikers needing to get into town should make arrangements beforehand and budget for shuttles or a taxi. If you must hitchike, be sure to have a partner. Make a careful evaluation before entering a vehicle. Size up the drive, occupants, and condition of the vehicle. If anything just "doesn't add up," decline the offer.
  • Maintain enough distance between you and the vehicle so as not to be in a position to be pulled into the vehicle. If you do accept a ride, don't let your gear get separated from you. Keep your wallet and ID on your person. Photograph or write down the license plate and note the make, model, and color of the vehicle.

We discourage the carrying of firearms

  • Although carrying (with proper permits) is now legal on National Park Service lands in states where they are allowed on state parklands, firearms can be turned against you or result in an accidental shooting, and they are extra weight most hikers find unnecessary.


In an emergency, note where you are and call 911. Report any crime, harassment or suspicious activity to us and the local authorities. If 911 doesn't work, police telephone numbers are found in our guidebooks and on our maps.

Know your cell phone's capability

  • Cell phone reception on the A.T. is often unpredictable and varies significantly with service providers. Mobile phone companies have online maps showing their area of coverage. Reception is best on ridgelines or peaks and may be poor or non-existent in gaps, hollows, and valleys. Trail shelters and campsites are often located in such areas.
  • Remote areas such as Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee/North Carolina, Mt. Rogers National Recreation area in southwest Virginia, and Maine in particular are areas you may not find service for extended periods. Keep in mind you'll need to conserve your batteries. ​Be sure to tell folks back home in advance you may not be able to call as frequently as you have been.

Carry a map so you can describe your location

  • In an emergency, assistance may be delayed if you cannot describe your location in in detail. A map will help you describe surrounding landmarks to rescuers or law enforcement (who are often unfamiliar with the A.T.), show access points and routes, and provide you with the names of the nearest town and the county in which you are located.

Don't panic if you're lost or injured

  • Most of the A.T. is well-enough traveled during times of popular use that if you are injured, you can expect to be found. However, if an area is remote and the weather is bad, fewer hikers will be on the Trail, especially after dark.
  • Keep your pack with you.
  • Don't leave marked trails and try to "bushwhack" out. You will be harder to find and are more likely to encounter dangerous terrain.
  • If you must leave the Trail, study the guidebook or map carefully of the nearest place where people are likely to be and attempt to move in that direction. If it is necessary to leave a heavy pack behind, be sure to take essentials in case your rescue is delayed.
  • Afterwards, when everyone is safe and accounted for, follow up by filing an incident report with us and law enforcement.

In an emergency

  1. Call 911 (If you have a phone and can get a signal). Tell the dispatcher you are an A.T. hiker, and provide your location (include name and approximate distance of nearest town and road if possible). A.T. maps and guidebooks often list other numbers in case 911 does not work.
  2. If you don't have a phone or can't get a signal, the standard call of distress consists of three short calls, audible or visible, repeated at regular intervals. A whistle, which should be a standard piece of gear for any hiker, is particularly good for audible signals. Visible signals may include, in daytime, light flashed with a mirror or smoke puffs, and at night, a flashlight or three small bright fires. Anyone recognizing such a signal should acknowledge with two calls - if possible by the same method - then go to the distressed person to determine the nature of the emergency. Arrange for additional aid if necessary.

flora and fauna

The Appalachian Mountains are home to many plants and animals, and some have the potential to harm you. The best way to avoid a bad encounter is to respect the wild animals and plants from a distance.

Black bear in a tree

Black Bears

PLEASE REPORT ANY BEAR INCIDENTS: your report will help reduce human/bear conflicts on the A.T.!  Bear Incident Report

Black bears live or pass through almost all parts of the Appalachian Trail corridor. While attacks on humans are extremely rare, a startled bear may react aggressively. Especially at overnight sites where hikers have been careless about storing food, bears may become habituated and may become aggressive in pursuit of human food. Be aware that bears have an exceptionally keen sense of smell.

The best way to avoid an encounter while you are hiking is letting a bear know you're there.

  • Make noise by whistling, talking, etc., to give the bear a chance to move away before you get close enough to make it feel threatened.
  • If you encounter a bear and it does not move away, you should back off, speaking calmly and firmly, and avoid making eye contact. Do not run or "play dead" even if a bear makes a "bluff charge."

The best defense against a bear encounter in camp is preparing and storing food properly:

  • Cook and eat your meals 200 feet away from your tent or shelter, so food odors do not linger.
  • The ATC recommends carrying a bear resistant canister—constructed with solid, non-pliable material and designed to resist bears—to store your food and "smellables."  Although canisters do add bulk and weight, there are a number of benefits to carrying a bear canister.
  • Where bear boxes, poles, or cable systems are provided, use them. Never leave trash in bear boxes, feed bears, or leave food for them. Do not burn food wrappers or leftovers or leave them in fire pits, which may attract bears.
  • Where food storage devices are not provided, and if you are not carrying a canister, hang your food, cookware, toothpaste, personal hygiene items, and even water bottles (if you use drink mixes in them) 12 feet from the ground, 6 feet from the trunk, and 6 feet from the limb from which it hangs.  The PCT Method of hanging is considered more effective than tying off a rope to a tree trunk.
  • Avoid becoming complacent when storing your food. Just because there have been no reports of bear activity in the area does not mean that bears are not present.  All it takes is one food bag that is not hung properly to change a bear's habits.
  • Improperly stored food may lead to a bear becoming habituated to human food. Whether a bear is fed intentionally or unintentionally, a fed bear is a dead bear.

Encountering a bear in your campsite:

  • A bear that enters a campsite or cooking area should be considered potentially dangerous. Yelling, making loud noises and throwing rocks may make it go away; however, you should be prepared to fight back if necessary. If you are actually attacked by a bear, you should fight for all you are worth with anything at hand.
For more information, visit the Black Bear page of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.



Venomous and nonvenomous snakes are widespread along the Trail in warm weather, but they are generally passive. Watch where you step and where you put your hands. Snakes are active at night in hot weather, so use a flashlight and wear shoes. Respect Wildlife - please don't kill them!

Snake bites are rare, and bites from venomous snakes do not always contain venom. Very few people die from snakebites in the U.S.

If you are bitten by a snake you believe to be venomous:

  • ​Try to remain calm.
  • Call 911 and seek medical treatment as quickly as possible. In the backcountry, this may mean walking out to a trailhead instead of waiting for emergency personnel to reach you.
  • Wash the wound with soap and water.
  • Do not apply ice.
  • Do not apply a tourniquet.
  • Remove rings or other jewelry that could function as a tourniquet if swelling occurs.
  • Do not use a "cut and suck" method to try and remove venom.

More information is available from the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service, and



Spiders are not aggressive, but may bite when trapped or touched. Be careful around wood piles and other dark, dry places. Inspect footwear and clothing for spiders and shake them out before putting them on, especially if left outside overnight.

A few hikers have reported bites of recluse-type spiders that required them to leave the Trail and seek medical care. Wash any bites with soap and water.

Symptoms of a spider bite include:

  • Redness, intense pain, and a blister at the bite site that becomes ulcerated.
  • ​The development of a rash.

Sometimes a MRSA infection may be mistaken for a venomous spider bite. More information is available at


Poison Ivy

Poison ivy grows along many parts of the A.T. (except the highest elevations of the South and in parts of northern New England) and can cause considerable discomfort if you have touched it. Learning to recognize it is the best way to avoid contact.

The leaves are in clusters of three, the end leaf with a longer stalk and pointed tip. Poison ivy is most often seen as a vine trailing near the ground or climbing trees, sometimes with a thick, hair stalk. The vine can send out horizontal limbs from a large vine that at first glance appears to be the lowest branches of the tree.

If you have touched poison ivy:

  • Wash immediately with strong soap (but not with one containing added oil) and cold water.
  • If a rash develops in the next few days, apply over-the-counter products from a pharmacy ​to minimize discomfort​. It usually takes several days for the blisters to disappear.
  • Do not scratch.
  • If blisters become serious or the rash spreads to the eyes, see a doctor. 

environmental considerations

Sudden weather changes, river crossings, and lightning on the A.T. introduce environmental risks to hikers. Take sensible precautions. Walking in the open means you will be susceptible to sudden changes in weather, and traveling on foot means that it may be hard to find shelter quickly. Pay attention to the changing skies. Sudden spells of "off-season" cold weather, hail, and even snow are common along many parts of the Trail. Hot weather, particularly in Virginia and mid-Atlantic summers, poses the risk of heat-related illnesses.



Virtually every part of the Trail has the potential to receive snowfall through early April. Winter-like weather often occurs in late spring or early fall in the southern Appalachians, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. Mountains in the South, especially those above 5,000 feet, can receive snowfall - sometimes deep. The highest peaks in Tennessee, North Carolina, and southwest Virginia receive an average of close to 100 inches of snowfall a year.

In the northern Appalachians, it can snow during any month of the year. In Maine and New Hampshire, snow can linger until June. The locations that receive the most snow are often the most remote. Be prepared for the conditions you may encounter.

The following websites can help you become acquainted with weather patterns along the Appalachian Trail:



A cold rain can be the most dangerous weather for hikers, because it can cause hypothermia (or "exposure") even when conditions are well above freezing. When the wind blows, its chill effect can make you much colder than the temperature would lead you to suspect, especially if you're sweaty or wet. Hypothermia occurs when wind and rain chill the body so that its core temperature drops if the condition is not treated in time.

Avoid hypothermia by dressing in layers of synthetic clothing, eating well, staying hydrated, and knowing when to take refuge in a warm sleeping bag and tent or shelter. Cotton clothing, such as blue jeans, tends to chill you when it gets wet from rain or sweat, increasing your risk of hypothermia. Natural wool and artificial fibers such as nylon, polyester, and polypropylene all do a much better job of insulating your body in cold, wet weather.

Hiking in the hot sun


Hot dry summers are surprisingly common along the Trail, particularly in the Virginias and the mid-Atlantic. Water may be scarce on humid days, sweat does not evaporate well, and many hikers face the danger of heat stroke and heat exhaustion if they haven't taken proper precautions.

Common types of heat problems:

  • Sunburn: Occurs rapidly and can be quite severe at higher elevations; hikers in the Virginias and southern Appalachians are often surprised by bad sunburn in spring, when no leaves are on the trees.
  • Heat Cramps: Usually caused by strenuous activity in high heat and humidity, when sweating depletes salt levels in blood and tissues.
  • Heat Exhaustion: Occurs when the body's heat-regulating system breaks down. A victim amy have heat cramps, sweat heavily, have cold, moist skin, and a face that is flushed, then pale.
  • Heat stroke: A life threatening condition that occurs when the body's system of sweating fails to cool a person adequately. Body temperature can rise to 106 degrees or higher.



The odds of being struck by lightning are low, but if a storm is coming, immediately leave exposed areas. Boulders, rocky overhangs, and shallow caves offer no protection from lightning, which may actually flow through rocks along the ground after a strike. Tents and convertible automobiles are no good, either.

Sheltering in hard-roofed automobiles or large buildings is best, although they are rarely available to a hiker. If you cannot enter a building or car, take shelter in a group of smaller trees or in the forest.


  • Tall structures (such as ski lifts, flagpoles, and power line towers)
  • The tallest trees
  • Solitary rocks
  • Open hilltops or ridges

Hiker forging a river

River and Stream Crossings

Fording streams and rivers may be the most dangerous challenge hikers confront. River crossings can be deceptively hazardous. Even a very shallow, swiftly flowing body of water can pack enough force to knock you off your feet. Use caution and common sense.

If a section of the Trail is closed or presents a serious safety hazard, hikers may take an alternate route or skip those sections entirely and still be eligible to receive 2,000-miler status. Read Safety Tips for Fording Streams and Rivers for advice.

Hunting on the Appalachian Trail


Hikers and hunters should be aware that hunting regulations vary widely along the A.T.