In May all three of the Triple Crown Trail organizations updated their Covid guidance, now supporting thru-hiking and long-distance backpacking in 2021 with precautions. While there are considerations specific to each trail, there are also several shared recommendations, issued by all three organizations. These include:
- Getting vaccinated before you begin your hike
- Continuing to carry and wear a mask when social distancing is not possible
- Avoiding shelters and shared facilities as much as possible
- Washing your hands often
- Limiting group size and congregating at points of interest
Now let’s look at the specifics and actual statements from the ATC, PCTA and CDTC.
Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC)
The ATC issued an update to its Covid guidance on May, 11th 2021. The statement reads:
Throughout the pandemic, the ATC and its COVID-19 Task Force have been watching closely for one of the following criteria to be fulfilled:
We have determined that the second of these criteria has been fulfilled, and significant gains have been made toward fulfilling the first.
This means that as of May 11th, the ATC 2,000-Miler recognition program has resumed. And, the ATC is also now once again distributing AT 2021 backpack hangtags for thru-hikers and eligible section-hikers.
Additionally, AT shelters on US Forest Service land in Georgia and Virginia have reopened. This means a majority of AT shelters are now open, with some notable exceptions. Specifically, the 55 shelters on National Park Service lands from northern Virginia through Massachusetts and in Maine remain closed (though the bathrooms at these locations are now open).
Two of the visitor centers staffed by the ATC have also resumed operations, with some modifications. These are the ATC Headquarters and Visitor Center in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, and the AT Visitor Center in Monson, Maine. The ATC Visitor Center in Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania will remain closed until further notice.
Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA)
The PCTA issued its long-distance permits in 2021, allowing thru-hikers access to the trail. At the same time, its tone has remained cautious.
On March 30, 2021 the PCTA asked thru-hikers to practice what it termed “Extreme Social Distancing.”
Just a few decades ago, traveling the Pacific Crest Trail was a different experience in some ways. People resupplied less often than today. They carried more weight in food to go longer distances, maybe taking rest days on the trail in some wild and scenic place—instead of a hotel room in a town near the trail.
2021 is a year for everyone to keep it outdoors and focus on solitude. It’s not the year to be sitting shoulder-to-shoulder around a campsite, sharing a hotel room with six people, or packing a bunch of hikers into someone’s vehicle for a ride into town. This is the year to get back to the basics of the trail, to really revel in the kind of solitude you can only find in places like those where the PCT will take you.
However, the PCTA’s May 14, 2021 update noted that “things are looking up” with vaccinations numbers increasing and Covid infection numbers decreasing.
While guidelines have relaxed somewhat for Covid safety, it is still important to continue following CDC guidelines when on the trail and when visiting communities and resupply locations along the trail.
Continental Divide Trail Coalition
On May 20, 2021, the CDTC adjusted its guidance to support thru-hiking and section-hiking of the CDT. Additionally, it will resume offering shuttle services to the Southern Terminus of the trail on June 15th, and it’s now accepting applications for its Trailblazer program, which showcases the creative pursuits of long-distance travelers!
In its statement the CDTC says:
While it is no longer a CDC recommendation that vaccinated individuals need to wear masks outdoors, we encourage all individuals, regardless of vaccination status, to wear masks in cars, closed spaces, and indoors, particularly in the Trail’s vulnerable remote communities.
In that same statement, the CDTC also warns that snow is also causing an elevated risk to thru-hikers this year:
We want to urgently remind trail users that these rugged and remote areas are experiencing high snow and that specific skills, equipment, and knowledge are needed to safely navigate these environments.
* Recommendations from the Center for Disease Control around participation in outdoor activities can be found here.