|I awoke to this sunrise after literally sleeping alone under rocks on the PCT.|
Both are excellent choices, so whether you’ve finished hiking one of them and are ready to take on the next, or are simply deciding which one to hike for your first-ever thru-hike, here is one of several discernible differences that make each unique.
This analysis is based on northbound thru-hikes of both trails. A southbound hike of the Appalachian Trail offers some distinctions from hiking Georgia to Maine that will offer a completely different experience. (I'm happy to discuss those differences with you.)
The People Factor: The Appalachian Trail has shelters and designated campsites along the way. The Pacific Crest Trail encourages distributed camping by not formalizing camps.
Here’s how it impacts your trip:
|Lots of good people, many I still count as best friends, at Eagles Nest Shelter in Penn. in 2003.|
On the A.T. shelters tends to organize hikers into condensed clumps, yes clumps, of hikers. If you stay at shelters or camp nearby them, you may hike alone all day, encountering some hikers along the way, but rest assured, you’ll get to swap stories over meals around the campfire before you snooze. It’s a perk for the extroverts among us, but can be overwhelming to people who came to seek fellowship with the wilderness, as the shelter environment can breed an almost party-like atmosphere, especially within the first 500-miles of the Trail.
|I slept alone under these rocks on May 4, 2010 as this spot afforded the most protection from the relentless wind.|
On the PCT there are a few formalized campsites, and others that naturally develop around water sources. Without heavily established sites, hikers on the PCT tend to walk until they are ready to stop, rather than walk to an established “destination” for the day. Also, fewer people start thru-hikes of the PCT every year than on the A.T. Given these facts, if you start any time after the ADZPCTKO, you will encounter fewer hikers during the day and at night. It takes a bit more planning to camp with people you enjoy spending time with on the PCT given the low-impact nature of camping, especially if you like to hike alone much of the day.