How to Plan for and Hike The Eastern Continental Trail

So, you’ve saved up enough cash or gotten that new credit card, figured out how to get the time off from work, and you are ready to start planning your next big adventure on The Eastern Continental Trail! 

Here is all of the information that you will need to put together a successful thru hike:

 

I had not heard of the ECT before I began research for my 2017 Florida Trail thru hike.  While digging through all of the information out there, I came across Nimble Will Nomad’s trail journal and through even further deep diving, I discovered a hiker named Jupiter, who happened to be hiking the trail at that very moment and who, if his schedule worked out, would be completing a record-breaking speed hike of the Florida Trail section of the ECT on the same day I planned to start it. Needless to say, I was intrigued. I followed Jupiter’s journey right up until the day we crossed paths on the FT, him headed south, me headed north.

Jupiter has a section devoted to his 2016 – 2017 ECT thru hike on his hiking website: Jupiterhikes.com. His site is great; awesome video, photographs, gear lists, stats, trail babble, and most importantly, planning info! Jupiter did a lot of homework for his own hike and his site provides an incredible amount of information and is a great place for a jump off point for your own research. I’ve included many links here that you can find on his website too.

Jupiter was also kind enough to let me email him questions and quandaries I had about the trip and provided me with in-depth responses and suggestions. I can’t thank him enough. Check his site.

Nimble Will Nomad’s site nimblewillnomad.com was also extremely helpful. He wasn’t the first person to pioneer the route, but he did write the book on it.

I also read multiple past ECT thru hikers’ trail journals and blogs to make sense of sections that lacked official guides. All of these hikers’ sites are linked below.

What follows is a comprehensive list of every resource I used to plan my ECT thru hike. They are listed in order from south to north. You may need more…or less.

 

 

the florida trail logo

Resources for The Florida Trail
This will take you to my Florida Trail info page, which compiles all the necessary links to reference for a successful thru hike of the FT. Sources include maps, guides, apps, local chapter info, and links to Florida Trail associations and Florida hiking websites.

The Florida Trail Guide includes the data for the Overseas Heritage Trail and following connector from Key West all the way to Big Cypress, as well as all of the information on the FT itself. You will be good from Key West to Alabama.

 


 

alabama hiking trail society

Alabama Road Walk
The most comprehensive guide for walking the road walk from the end of the northern terminus of the Florida Trail to the southern terminus of the Alabama Pinhoti Trail is THIS ONE. In fact, this guide not only gives you directions to the tenth of a mile for the whole Alabama road-walk section, it navigates the ENTIRE distance from the northern terminus of the Florida Trail to the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail! The mileages do get a little wonky due to some updates/reroutes and this guide is written more like directions, with textual descriptions and navigation but it does cover the road walk, Alabama Pinhoti, Georgia Pinhoti, and Benton Mackaye Trails.

Get the Alabama road walk to Appalachian Trail southern terminus directions here.

I chose to use the above guide for the Alabama road walk section only, implementing the two Pinhoti Trail guides and the Benton Mackaye directions below for their respective sections.

Alabama Road Walk Maps

Super detailed GPS plotted Alabama Road Walk maps by Warren Johnson, aka “gubbool”
Check out gubbool’s epic travels at his website, Lifeat2mph.com

The Alabama Hiking Trail Society provides detailed maps for every section of the road walk here.

 


 

pinhoti trail alliance logo

The Pinhoti Trail (PT)
^General information about the Pinhoti trail.

Because the Pinhoti Trail traverses both Alabama and Georgia, parts of it are managed by different organizations. There are two separate guides, one for the Alabama Pinhoti Trail (APT) half, and one for the Georgia Pinhoti Trail (GPT) half. Conveniently, the two guides use corresponding sequential section numbers, so it is relatively easy to switch between them upon crossing the AL/GA state line.

Alabama Pinhoti Trail (APT) NOBO Directions
Pinhoti Trail Sections 1 – 13
I refer to the format used as directions rather than as a guide because mileages are broken up into sections, not listed in a linear “thru hike-style” running total. Also, turns, directions, and descriptions are written out instead of using symbols or abbreviations. LOTS of good data and information here, just a clumsy format and mildly confusing if you need to reverse the directions for a SOBO hike.

Alabama Pinhoti Trail Towns and Post Offices
^Addresses and locations of the towns and Post Offices the trail passes in Alabama.

 

 

Pinhoti Trail Logo

Georgia Pinhoti Trail (GPT) NOBO/SOBO  Directions
Pinhoti Trail Sections 13 – 31
This is the most comprehensive guide I could find for the Georgia Portion of the Pinhoti Trail. I refer to this format as directions rather than as a guide because mileages are broken up into sections, not listed in a linear “thru hike-style” running total. North and South bound directions are provided, but they are listed one after another, in two separate sections with reversed data/directions. Also, turns, directions, and descriptions are written out instead of using symbols or abbreviations. LOTS of good data and information here, just a clumsy and somewhat confusing format.

Pinhoti Trail Maps
Super detailed GPS plotted AL/GA Pinhoti Trail maps by Warren Johnson, aka “gubbool”
Check out gubbool’s epic travels at his website, Lifeat2mph.com

Free, extremely detailed and professional Alabama Pinhoti Trail TOPO maps from “Mr. Parkay”

Free, extremely detailed and professional Georgia Pinhoti Trail TOPO maps from “Mr. Parkay”

You can also purchase actual, physical professional quality maps for the Pinhoti Trail here: The USDA Forrest Service

 

 


 

benton mackaye trail logo

 

The Benton Mackaye Trail (BMT)
^General information about the Benton Mackaye Trail.

Benton Mackaye NOBO/SOBO Thru Hikers’ Guide by Ernest B. Engman aka “Sgt. Rock”
You’ll only be doing 70.1 miles of the Benton Mackaye Trail, to connect the Pinhoti Trail to the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail at Springer Mountain, GA. This guide is easy to follow NOBO or SOBO. I refer to this as a guide because Sgt. Rock includes elevations, standard symbol and abbreviation systems, and easy to understand linear duel-directional mileages.

This is “the definitive publication for those hiking the entire trail”. I found a pdf of the 2011 edition free online. It does include some updates since 2011. The most up to date BMT guide is the 2017 – 2018 version, also by Sgt. Rock. At the time of writing, it is sold out on the BMT Guide website, but is available here for $13.95.

Personally, I have decided to just use the 2011 version, and rely on my sense of direction to navigate any updates/changes I may encounter.

All of the maps you will need for the short Benton Mackaye section are included in this guide.

Benton Mackaye Trail Towns and Post Offices
^Addresses and locations of the towns and Post Offices the trail passes.

 

 


 

appalachian trail logo

The Appalachian Trail
^General information about the AT.

The Appalachian Trail is easily the most traveled and congested of all of the trails on the ECT. This is good and bad. The impact on the environment from so many hikers on the trail each season is pretty apparent. The majority of AT hikers, thru or section, do not fully understand or practice leave no trace principles. Litter and vandalism are common sights around shelters. Even unsullied spots to bury your poop in the ground are becoming harder to find.

On the other hand, the Appalachian Trail being one of the most popular and famous trails in the country means there are endless resources available to help you plan for and hike the trail! Also, if you don’t fancy hiking alone, you are more or less guaranteed company on the trail if you hike during the typical ‘season’ of March – October.

There are only two resources to consider if you decide not to just follow the plentiful white blazes and other hikers heading in your direction, The AT Guide and The AT App.

Guides
There are many guides out there, but by far the most popular is the annual guide released by David “Awol” Miller. His company self publishes both North Bound and South Bound data books each year with new updates and additions.

Check out the AT Guide site here.

From theatguide.com:
“In 2003, software engineer David Miller left his job, family, and friends to hike 2172 miles of the Appalachian Trail. His journey resulted in his memoir, AWOL on the Appalachian Trail, and a The A.T. Guide which has become the most popular guidebook on the Appalachian Trail.

The A.T. Guide is the guidebook of choice for hikes of any length on the Appalachian Trail. The book contains thousands of landmarks such as campsites, water sources, summits and gaps. The trail’s elevation profile is included and every landmark is aligned to the profile. Hikers using this guide know where they are on the trail, what views, streams and campsites are ahead, and whether they’ll be hiking uphill or downhill to get there. The A.T. Guide answers all of your questions about how to get rides, where to stay, and where to get supplies. There are 93 maps of towns on or near the trail showing where to find these services and detailed listings for businesses. The A.T. Guide is the most innovative trail guidebook ever developed.”

Purchase Awol’s AT Guide Books here.

 

Guthook’s AT Guide APP
Before I hiked The Florida Trail, I had never used an App on a phone to navigate. I’ve never used a GPS unit either, so the whole concept was foreign to me. I played around with The Florida Trail App at home, but it never really clicked for me until I was actually out on the trail and could watch the little dot that represented me actually move in real time along the red line that represented the trail. Talk about auto pilot! Having an app makes hiking a trail so much easier. Not only is the trail mapped out in front of you to follow should you lose sight of blazing or get turned around, but pictures of upcoming campsites,  information on all distances and resupplies, and all of the other information you could possibly need on the trail are all there, packed into your phone…at zero weight penalty! Almost too easy.

Ryan “Guthook” Linn built the AT Guide App as well as the Florida Trail App (and a bunch of others), so using it is familiar and easy. If you are bringing your phone with you on the Appalachian Trail anyway, I highly encourage you to use this app!

Get Guthook’s AT guide here for Android

Get all of Guthook’s Guides here for Apple

 

 


 

SIAT logo

The International Appalachian Trail
^General information about the IAT.

After you summit Katahdin at the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, continue on the Knife Edge peak and out of Baxter State Park. Soon after exiting, you begin the last piece of the puzzle of trails, the International Appalachian Trail!

The IAT follows the rest of the Appalachian Mountain Range through to Nova Scotia and even further now, into Europe, since some of their mountain ranges were part of the Appalachian chain when our continents were beside each other on Pangea.

Something like 15 countries and several territories are involved in trying to complete the IAT all the way through to Morocco! It’s unbelievable; check out all the chapters here!

 

The ECT route hiked by most thru hikers, the acceptable amount of mileage to be considered a complete thru hike of the ECT is from Key West FL to Cap Gaspé, Quebec.

Though technically the ECT continues to follow the IAT all the way through Nova Scotia north to New Foundland, where it officially ends, most thru hikers either begin or end their attempt at Cap Gaspe in Quebec. From what I can tell, this is because the cost, time, and logistics of hopping ferries to get further north to what are essentially just very long and boring road walks, through not-so-hiker-friendly country is just not worth those extra miles to most people.

For my purposes, the following are all of the sources I used to plan my route on the IAT portion my thru hike, from Cap Gaspé, Quebec to Mount Katahdin.

 

Katahdin to Quebec
First I will offer up this piece of gold that I found late in my research, after already plotting my journey on the IAT, using the sources below.

While putting together this page, I came upon a small, almost invisible link on the French Canadian SIAT website. Following it took me to a Free PDF created by John “Plugger” Stough in 2009. It lists distances in miles and kilometers between every official camp, motel, or stealth camp that John used or passed on the IAT. Total distances for each section  of Maine, New Brunswick, Quebec are provided, as are estimated time durations between sites for three different hiking paces.

This Data sheet does not contain any actual directions, but can really help you speed up your planning process as far as time frame and logistics. I wish I had found it sooner. *Important to note that many updates have happened since 2009, including the addition of at least six new shelters*

Get John “Plugger” Stough’s Katahdin to Cap Gaspe Data Book here

 

 

Maine
Mt. Katahdin to the US/Canada Border 
This first section of the IAT is 138 miles long. The are shelters on the trail and several towns along the way. This is a very detailed set of directions, with distances in both miles and kilometers, well-written descriptions, locations of water and campsites, and really good general information about flora, fauna, resupplies and such packed in.

You can get it from the Maine Chapter of the IAT; it is free to download here.

Chapter Leader
IAT-SIA – Maine Chapter
Dick Anderson, President
randerson19@maine.rr.com

 

 

 

New Brunswick
US/Canada Border to Matapedia, Quebec
This is the best set of directions I saw for the New Brunswick section of the IAT and it includes the trail route in a google maps window. The directions are not very efficiently formatted and distances are only in kilometers. It is divided mostly into sections between small towns and one through a Provincial Park. Directions are typed in short paragraphs for each section and are not very descriptive. Many of the ECT hiker blogs I’ve read note that blazing through New Brunswick is lacking, so I would zoom in on the trail map provided and screen shot some sections for reference.

Get the New Brusnwick IAT section information here.

Chapter Leader
IAT-SIA – New Brunswick Chapter
Poul Jorgensen
pjorgensen@sentiernbtrail.com

 

 

Quebec
The Quebec portion of the IAT consists of several different regions: Matapedia Valley, Matane Wildlife Reserve, Gaspesie Park, and the Forillon National Park of Canada. There are pamphlets with maps for each section, as well as more detailed topo maps for a few.
You can get all of the maps in the SIAT shop individually, but I recommend first purchasing a $10 membership card, which will give you a discount in the store, and then purchasing the “Combo #1: All Cards”. Cards means maps and the Combo #1 provides you with every map you will need for all of Quebec.

The maps and membership cards are available here, at the SIAT shop.

 

The Passport / Staying at Refuges & Shelters
One unique aspect of the Quebec section is the option to camp in “refuges” on the trail. More substantial than the Adirondack-style shelter on the Appalachian Trail, some of the refuges on the IAT have four walls, windows, doors, platform beds, and wood-burning stoves!

You can make reservations for each of the many refuges on the trail and pay per night, if you think you can guess exactly when you will be at a certain location. Alternately, you can purchase “The Passport”, which allows you access to every shelter on the trial, on any date, for one flat fee. Brace yourself though, the cost of ‘the passport’ in 2017 was $425! Also, there are some rules: You must give up your spot in a refuge to anyone who has made an actual reservation on that day, if the shelter gets “overbooked”. You may “check in” at 3pm and must “check out” by 10am. Yes, $425 is a lot of money, but I’m planning on staying at almost 20 of these shelters, so reserving them individually would be far more expensive. Plus, I get the freedom to arrive whenever I feel like it.

There is an online form to fill out and send to the SIAT office with your estimated itinerary. They will contact you with details on how to complete the purchase. It’s at the bottom of this page.

 

As far as a guide, the best one out there is a small book offered by the SIAT called “The Companion”. It is very rudementary, using clip art and black and white photo-copied pages. All of the shelters, towns, and landmarks are listed with distances between each provided in kilometers and miles. It is also packed with tips for the trail and information on accommodations, resupplies, gear rentals, and much more. I would consider it a must for planning this section.

You can buy a pocket-sized paper version for $12.95 CAD at the bottom of the SIAT shop page here
or you can download a PDF for free here.

 

 


 

 

I read and followed many past ECT thru hikers’ journeys to round out my research. These were my favorites:

Jupiter Hikes: https://jupiterhikes.wordpress.com/eastern-continental-trail/
Nimble Will Nomad’s Site: https://nimblewillnomad.com/
Sterling Coleman’s 2012 ECT trail Journal: http://www.trailjournals.com/journal/12834
Sycamore’s 2015 ECT Trail Journal: http://www.trailjournals.com/journal/19276
Lil’ Buddha’s 2016 ECT Trail Journal: http://www.trailjournals.com/journal/19633
Joe King’s 2018 ECT Blog: https://byrslf.co/trail-journal-eastern-continental-trail-2018-days-0-7-1-15-1-22-b9bae51baed8

 

 

 

Boom! That’s it! That should be everything you need to plan for and follow the ECT from Key West to Cap Gaspe. Drop me a line and let me know if you find other useful sources I can add here for future ECT hikers!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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