How Many Hikers Have Died On Appalachian Trail? | Hikers University

Safety matters: Uncovering the truth about Appalachian Trail hiker deaths in our comprehensive guide. Stay informed and hike responsibly.

There have been over 100 recorded deaths on the Appalachian Trail. It’s important to note that these tragedies are rare occurrences and represent a very small percentage of the overall hiking community. The vast majority of its users have a safe and enjoyable experience.

As a seasoned outdoor expert, I’ve dedicated years to studying the Appalachian trail's complexities, its unique challenges, and the factors contributing to thru-hiker incidents. My years of dedicated exploration and meticulous analysis of trail data enable me to provide accurate and comprehensive insights into the trail's safety record. With a commitment to fostering awareness and promoting responsible hiking, I’ll provide a well-informed and balanced understanding of this critical aspect of the Appalachian Trail's history.

Table of contents


History of The Appalachian Trail

The Appalachian Trail, a 2,000-mile-long hiking trail that stretches from New Hampshire to West Virginia in the Eastern United States, was conceived by Benton MacKaye.

The trail includes iconic locations such as Lost Pond Trail, eight national forests, and Blood Mountain, where thru-hikers, trail runners, and other hikers can spend time.

It also includes the White Mountains, Annapolis Rocks, Mount Katahdin, Franconia Ridge, Harpers Ferry, Shenandoah National Park, and Mount Rogers, suitable for thru-hikes.

In addition to the diverse environment, day hikers can find shelter at various trail shelters while exploring the entire length. Most shelters are simple, three-sided structures with a roof and an open front. This design provides shelter from rain, snow, and wind and ensures warm weather at night.

The trail is managed by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the National Park Service under the National Trails System Act. Also, the Carolina Mountain Club is actively involved in the maintenance and stewardship of a significant portion of the Appalachian Trail as it passes through North Carolina.

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy is a volunteer-based organization that works to protect and manage the trail, striving to ensure the trail's survival for future generations.

In partnership with the National Park Service, the Conservancy uses a cooperative management system that involves local, regional, and national stakeholders such as the Appalachian Trail Conference and numerous federal, state, and local agencies.

This cooperative effort demonstrates the collaborative spirit necessary to protect and maintain a vast trail system. This trail continues across 14 states, including Maine and Georgia, and passes through various terrains and landscapes.

How Many Hikers Have Died on Appalachian Trail

On the darker side, people die on this trail. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy estimates over 100 deaths on the entire trail, with at least 13 cases of murder. However, it’s important to note that the number of hikers who have died from accidental causes, medical issues, or other causes while hiking the trail is not easily available.

To present a more comprehensive view of the statistics, here is a table summarizing the available information on deaths on the Appalachian Trail:

Cause of Death Number of Deaths
Murder 13
Accidental Fall Not yet confirmed
Medical Issues Not yet confirmed
Exposure to Elements Not yet confirmed

Despite these statistics, it’s vital to remember that millions of hikers, trail volunteers, and nature enthusiasts visit the Appalachian Trail each year without incident. With proper preparation, awareness of potential dangers, and adherence to safety guidelines, the vast majority of hikers can enjoy this incredible outdoor experience with confidence.

Reasons for Deaths on the Appalachian Trail

Various factors contribute to the fatalities on the Appalachian Trail. Some of the most common causes include falling trees, weather conditions, heart attacks, and even people attempting murder.

Understanding these dangers and taking adequate precautions can help reduce risks while traversing this iconic trail.

Falling trees, for example, are an unpredictable yet common cause of fatalities along the trail. Dense forests and aging trees, coupled with severe weather conditions, can contribute to falling branches and trees, putting hikers at risk.

Weather conditions play a significant role in the safety of hikers on the Appalachian Trail. Extreme temperatures, heavy and cold rain, and storms can all have a considerable impact on trail conditions, potentially leading to hypothermia, heatstroke, or slips and falls. Hikers must be aware of weather forecasts and adjust their plans accordingly.

Heart attacks are another common cause of death on the trail. Long-distance hiking, such as a thru-hike, places significant physical stress on the body. Thru-hikers with pre-existing heart conditions or other health issues may be more susceptible to experiencing a heart attack while on the trail.

It’s crucial to consult a healthcare professional and train appropriately before undertaking a strenuous hike.

Lastly, attempted murders on the Appalachian Trail are rare, but they do occur. For example, in the early morning hours of May 19, 1990, Stephen Roy Carr, a young man shot his fellow hikers Robert Mountford Jr. and Laura Susan Ramsay while they slept in a shelter near Duncannon, Pennsylvania.

Mountford and Ramsay were both young social workers, hiking the trail to raise awareness and funds for a Maine-based homeless shelter. Carr was later convicted of their murders and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Emphasizing personal safety and awareness of your surroundings can mitigate the risk of encountering a violent situation on the trail.

Search and Rescue Efforts on the Appalachian Trail

Search and rescue efforts on the Appalachian Trail (AT) are a vital component of ensuring the safety of hikers and backpackers who traverse this extensive and challenging trail. These efforts involve a coordinated response from various agencies and organizations to locate and assist individuals in distress.

Here's an explanation of the search and rescue (SAR) efforts on the Appalachian Trail:

  • Emergency Response: When a hiker is reported missing or in distress, local authorities initiate a search and rescue operation. This often includes deploying trained search teams, which can consist of professional search and rescue personnel and volunteers with specialized knowledge of the trail.
  • Trail Angels and Shelters: Along the AT, there are "trail angels" who provide assistance to hikers in need. Additionally, some trail shelters are equipped with communication devices for emergencies, allowing hikers to call for help if necessary.
  • Safety Education: Prevention is a crucial aspect of SAR efforts. Organizations like ATC offer safety education programs to hikers, emphasizing preparedness, Leave No Trace principles, and responsible hiking practices to minimize the risk of accidents.
  • Training: Search and rescue personnel receive specialized training for wilderness and backcountry rescues, including navigation, first aid, and evacuation techniques tailored to the challenging terrain of the AT.

Safety Measures

Hiking the Appalachian Trail can be a challenging and rewarding experience, but it's essential to take proper safety measures to ensure a successful adventure.

Before embarking on your hike, it’s essential to plan. Research the trail, understand its difficulty, and familiarize yourself with its terrain. Check the weather forecast and any trail updates, such as current conditions, strong winds, or closures.

Additionally, inform someone about your planned route and the expected duration of your hike.

A first aid kit is a crucial item to carry while hiking. Your kit should include items like adhesive bandages, antiseptic wipes, pain relievers, blister treatments, tweezers, and any personal medications. Additionally, learning basic first aid skills, such as how to treat cuts from tree limbs, sprains, and insect bites, can be immensely helpful.

When it comes to hiking safety tips, it is always a good idea to hike with a buddy or in a group, as there's strength in numbers. Stay on marked trails, follow Leave No Trace principles by packing out your trash, and respect wildlife by observing from a safe distance.

Also, wear appropriate clothing and footwear for the trail conditions, and carry enough food and water for the duration of your hike.

Lastly, although the Appalachian Trail might have limited coverage for cell phones, having your cell phone can be a valuable tool for navigation, communication, and emergencies. There are lightweight solar chargers available that can keep your device charged throughout your hike.

You can also download an offline trail map or app that helps monitor weather conditions to stay informed during your journey on the Appalachian Trail.

Key Takeaways

  • There have been over 100 recorded deaths on the Appalachian Trail.
  • The most common causes of hiker deaths include falls and medical issues.
  • Preparation and experience play crucial roles in reducing risks.
  • Thru-hiking poses unique challenges for long-distance hikers.
  • The trail's safety has improved over the years thanks to education and rescue efforts.


Peter Brooks

Peter Brooks

I’m a hiker, backpacker, and general outdoor enthusiast. I started hiking out of college while working for the National Forest Service, and have been hiking ever since. I’ve been solo hiking and leading hiking groups for two decades and have completed hundreds of small hikes and some majorones such as the Appalachian Train and the Pacific Crest Trail, and hiked on four continents. I’d love to share some of my insight with you.

Read More About Peter Brooks