Carrying Guns on the Appalachian Trail

conceal-carryThe Appalachian Trail (AT) is in the wilderness.

Barney Fife does not patrol the AT to make sure you're OK. There are no toilet paper vending machines, water fountains or privacy curtains.

The AT is followed by imperfect people through an imperfect environment.

An increasingly common question about hiking the AT goes like this, "I was wondering if carrying guns on the Appalachian Trail is legal because [insert reason here]. Can I?"

I have two daughters and six grandchildren. They live in tougher, more dangerous places than the environs of the Appalachian Trail. I, personally, suggest that they learn self-defense techniques and carry pepper spray. You might disagree. That's OK. We all live in imperfect environments. We need to be prepared for the unexpected, wherever we are.

You might want to carry a firearm on the trail or you might not want anybody but law enforcement officers to be armed. That's OK.

If you need specific legal counsel about carrying guns

  • who can carry
  • what they can carry
  • where they can carry it

please contact an attorney. The information presented here is subject to change and might not be accurate.

(In other words, if you choose to pop a handgun in your backpack and you're busted, please don't tell the authorities we led you to believe packing a weapon was as simple as carrying concealed Cheetos.)

Overview of Appalachian Trail Gun Laws

Roughly 40% of the Appalachian Trail is on land owned by the national park system. Even if you have enough gun permits to wallpaper the Taj Mahal, you are not allowed to discharge a firearm on federal land, except for highly restricted hunting.

  • Some states allow hikers to carry weapons that are not concealed.
  • Most states require a permit to carry a concealed weapon.
  • Some states will honor carry/conceal permits granted by other states.
  • Some states will NOT honor carry/conceal permits granted by other states.
  • In some states, even Superman cannot get a permit to carry a weapon.
  • Vermont, on the other hand, allows almost anyone over 16 to carry a concealed weapon.

The AT passes through fourteen separate states. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to the questions about who can carry what weapon where.

The Bottom Line on Carrying Guns on the AT

There are probably exceptions (why else would God have created lawyers?) but, generally speaking, a weapon in a backpack that is not openly visible is a concealed weapon. To carry a concealed weapon you must comply with each state's individual laws.

If you have a valid conceal/carry weapon permit issued by a particular state, you may click on the link below to see which other states might honor your permit.

We urge you not to ignore laws pertaining to concealed weapons. You might find yourself in life-changing trouble.

More links about guns on the Appalachian Trail


Tags: Appalachian Trail, Hiking, Hiking Gear, Camping Gear, guns appalachian trail, concealed guns on appalachian trail, gun permits appalachian trail, carry permits appalachian trail, and gun permit reciprocity appalachian trail

About the Author Robert Sutherland:
Robert Sutherland is a travel writer enjoying life. Robert has two adult daughters and six grandchildren.
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Comments
Appalachian Swede on Apr 20, 2015
I carry a Colt 1873 "Peacemaker" reproduction Uberti revolver chambered in .45 Long Colt. It is with me whenever and wherever I go hiking, camping and backpacking including on the Appalachian Trail. I carry it concealed in an accessory pack on my side so as not to freak out other hikers. I carry it because I am away from civilization, not the world. I carry it because if I were to find myself in a life threatening situation where I had to defend myself, law enforcement would be somewhere else. Their response would be measured in miles and hours provided one had the presence of mind to attempt a cell phone call during panic. Yes, there is a chance of being caught with it. Probably about the same odds of winning the Power Ball Lottery five times in a row. So, I'll take my chances and bask in the warm glow of peace of mind. :)
Bob on Jul 7, 2016
The Colt is a lot of gun. For those of us who are more concerned with weight, I carried a Keltec .32 on the southern half. I was uncomfortable with the small caliber, but it weighs 9.6 oz unloaded and less than a pound with a full 8 round clip. In the north, I switched to the Ruger 380. 9.6oz. empty. I haven't weighed it loaded, but I'm happier with the 380 no matter what the ammo adds.
John Schamel on Apr 24, 2015
I concur with Swede. If it's concealed, no one is going to know you have it so no big deal. An Law Enforcement professional would have to have Reasonable Articulable Suspicion to search you and if you are not brandishing, bragging or posing a threat to anyone, no way you'll ever get in trouble.
Appalachian Swede on Apr 26, 2015
That's right. What cop is going to look at a hiker and think, "I'll bet that guy has an illegal gun in his pack"? Another hiker could conceivably rat on you. When I day and section hiked the AT in Georgia and North Carolina last year I open carried. Other backpackers I met on the trail had positive reactions. Comments ranged from "cool" to "I'm glad to see someone carries besides me". Some wanted to hold my "Peacemaker". One thru-hiker in North Carolina told me he had never seen anybody carry a gun on the AT and asked politely if he could take my picture.
Ammoguy on Oct 24, 2015
The key word is "Seen"
Nimx on Apr 24, 2015
You're almost certain to be caught with the weapon if you are forced to brandish or use it. If the situation is truly life threatening, then you have nothing to lose. But regardless, if you are forced to shoot another hiker, or wildlife in a state where the weapon is illegal, chances are you're going to jail for a long time whether or not it's in self defense. I guess you just need to weigh your options very carefully.
Appalachian Swede on Apr 26, 2015
Yeah, I've thought about it before I ever bought my first gun years ago. I'm not worried about getting in trouble over shooting a hog or bear attacking me. The chances of getting caught are microscopic anyway. As for another hiker I'm not going to become a victim and end up like poor 24 year old Meredith Emerson who was kidnapped, beaten, raped, murdered and decapitated a few years ago by a scull crusher lurking on the AT here in Georgia.
Hoss on Aug 6, 2016
I wouldn't hike in Yankee states, sumbitches want folk to be trail bait. Prefer 12 gauge pump in my pack.
Ammoguy on Oct 24, 2015
I'd rather be judged by 12, than carried by 6
Freethinker02 on Nov 15, 2015
Throwing an innocent person in jail after using a firearm for valid self-defense--even where said firearm is not technically legal--is like charging a prostitute with solicitation after she gets raped. It's immoral and disgusting.


No self-respecting jury would throw a young woman in prison for having an "illegal" firearm after she used it to fight off a rapist on the AT.
Nate Opgenorth on May 27, 2016
Problem is finding a self respecting Jury....but generally I agree..that said I'd bring a gun you don't care about because you might not see it for a while if the police take it from you. Even in 100% justified shootings they drag their feet because its "evidence", he pulled first and I shot him what else is there to it? Lol
Scott Pentheny on Jan 23, 2016
I carried a .22 survival rifle on the trail I used it to supplement food. Reactions were very mixed BUT, no one (other than the vegetarians) turned down fresh meat at camp (this included the folks who were scared of guns). I changed quite a few opinions (about guns) on the trail just by showing that it could be done responsibly.
annie_on_the_trail on Apr 15, 2016
I'd like to point out that a "weapon in a backpack" is as useless as not having one at all. You conceal a weapon within easy reach, not on your back. And, yes, I legally conceal carry at all times, including on the trail.
Nate Opgenorth on May 26, 2016
It might protect you legally. Say if you had a handgun in a small logbox or with a gun lock through it with the magazines in your pocket and the ammo in a baggie or even loaded magazines in your pocket. I know in some states if you don't have a carry permit that is enough, I believe in my state that is the protocol for persons transporting a handgun while riding a bicycle or on foot, then again I live in NYS and the laws always change but every pistol permit in this state is a carry permit but Judges put administrative restrictions on them and what is "proper transportation" is anyones guess...however in a state like NJ or MD I would NOT want to test this out, especially NJ....luckily Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania offer non-resident permits practically shall issue (NH you can open carry no permit needed), CT non-resident permits are always shall issue, MA permits are kind of a pain because you need to show up in person to apply and have the permit signed by a State Police Lieutenant Colonel or higher....so you could probably do it....although MA permits are $100 for only one year :O I live in NYS so I have a NYS Pistol permit but for non-residents is almost impossible unless you lived in NYS and moved and your Judge isn't a jerk and lets you change your address (surprisingly common) or you have a part time home or business in NY State (very common). Maryland, New Jersey and New York would be the big obstacles, you'd have to look up the legal ways to transport a firearm in a backpack on foot so that you would be in compliance with the federal law that protects firearm owners while traveling through states that do not allow certain firearms (FOPA). I suppose you could "cheat" and skip around Maryland by taking the long path through West Virginia and PA and then (smartly) go around NJ and then you'd only have to deal with New York for a little bit, then you could "cheat" again and go straight to Vermont (constitutional carry) and avoid CT and MA if you didn't want to get their non-resident permits...although the CT permit is pretty easy to get, they can be picky with the finger prints (they complain about them being smudged or incorrectly done a lot so just make sure you get a cop to do it and have him sign with his badge number, I did this for one of my permits and they were very friendly about it despite the cop who did it not really knowing how to do finger prints very well LOL). Then through New Hampshire you could open carry without a permit and then Maine is constitutional carry similar to Vermont. Seams like a lot of effort but a hike like this will have a lot of planning so what's the process of getting a few more permits and a little extra planning? I certainly value both my freedom (as in not being in prison) as well as my life (as in not being a defenseless subject against God only knows what). I wouldn't hike the Appalachian trail without at least some kind of handgun on my side, even if I had to store it in a backpack through certain parts to comply with the law (although concealed is concealed). I say get a Glock 20 or Glock 29 with some 10rd magazines or a nice reasonable sized revolver in .357, .44, or .460 Magnum and be prepared.
annie_on_the_trail on May 26, 2016
I didn't make it through your novel, er, message :-), but you sound like you've done your research. However, I stand by my assertion that a gun in a backpack, separated from the ammo, or inhibited by a trigger lock is USELESS. Dead weight. Pun intended.
Nate Opgenorth on May 26, 2016
Ha it is a bit of a novel but if you had the right amount of carry permits you wouldn't need to store it in a backpack for the most part. I certainly agree though, a gun without a round in the chamber is somewhat useless because a split second threat won't wait for you to rack a round in the chamber. I just know a lot about CCW reciprocity and from living in NYS where you either know the law or you are screwed when it comes to guns.
Yankeebill on Jul 11, 2017
Most states that allow a non-resident to carry openly require a cwp from the person's state of residence, as does New Hampshire. Vermont is an exception. Several states that have issued non-resident permits in the past have tightened up their requirements and increased fees significantly, or quit issuing them altogether. I would still carry. I too am more Leary of two-legged predators than those with four legs. A short barreled, stainless Ruger Vaquero in 45ACP works for me. Fairly non-attendance, but gets the job done. Also, I have cwps in several eastern seaboard states, but CT, MA, NY, MD, & VA I would be very careful in.
Nate Opgenorth on May 26, 2016
Long post but if you are serious about Appalacian trail and carrying legally or semi-legally or whatever give it a read; Like I posted below NY, NJ, MD are your "impossible" states unless you live in NY or have a business in NY then you can get a NYS Pistol permit (hiking is always allowed with a NYS Pistol permit). Luckily Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania offer non-resident permits practically shall issue (NH you can open carry no permit needed), CT non-resident permits are always shall issue, MA permits are kind of a pain because you need to show up in person to apply and have the permit signed by a State Police Lieutenant Colonel or higher....so you could probably do it....although MA permits are $100 for only one year :O I live in NYS so I have a NYS Pistol permit but for non-residents is almost impossible unless you lived in NYS and moved and your Judge isn't a jerk and lets you change your address (surprisingly common) or you have a part time home or business in NY State (very common). Maryland, New Jersey and New York would be the big obstacles, you'd have to look up the legal ways to transport a firearm in a backpack on foot so that you would be in compliance with the federal law that protects firearm owners while traveling through states that do not allow certain firearms (FOPA). I suppose you could "cheat" and skip around Maryland by taking the long path through West Virginia and PA (permitless open carry allowed outside Philly) and then (smartly) go around NJ and then you'd only have to deal with New York for a little bit, then you could "cheat" again and go straight to Vermont (constitutional carry) and avoid CT and MA if you didn't want to get their non-resident permits...although the CT permit is pretty easy to get, they can be picky with the finger prints (they complain about them being smudged or incorrectly done a lot so just make sure you get a cop to do it and have him sign with his badge number, I did this for one of my permits and they were very friendly about it despite the cop who did it not really knowing how to do finger prints very well LOL). Then through New Hampshire you could open carry without a permit and then Maine is constitutional carry similar to Vermont. Seams like a lot of effort but a hike like this will have a lot of planning so what's the process of getting a few more permits and a little extra planning? I certainly value both my freedom (as in not being in prison) as well as my life (as in not being a defenseless subject against God only knows what). I wouldn't hike the Appalachian trail without at least some kind of handgun on my side, even if I had to store it in a backpack through certain parts to comply with the law (although concealed is concealed). I say get a Glock 20 or Glock 29 with some 10rd magazines or a nice reasonable sized revolver in .357, .44, or .460 Magnum and be prepared.
hjc4604 on Aug 22, 2016
"I have two daughters and six grandchildren. They live in tougher, more dangerous places than the environs of the Appalachian Trail. I, personally, suggest that they learn self-defense techniques and carry pepper spray. You might disagree."

I do disagree as I have a daughter and 3 sons. See below.

From: <a href='http://www.citizen-times.com/story/sports/outdoors/2015/03/24/hiking-deaths-rare-heavily-traveled-appalachian-trail/70394614/' target=_blank rel=nofollow>www.citizen-times.com</a>

"Probably the most infamous AT crime of the past decade was the murder of hiker Meredith Emerson in 2008. The 24-year-old University of Georgia graduate was hiking with her dog, Ella, on New Year's Day in the Blood Mountain, Georgia, area of the Appalachian Trail.
She was attacked, kidnapped and killed four days later by serial killer Gary Michael Hilton. He received a life sentence in Georgia for Emerson's killing. Hilton is also serving a life sentence without parole for kidnapping, robbing and murdering John and Irene Bryant while they were out for a hike in Pisgah National Forest in 2007.

Those types of crimes, Sommerville said, are even more rare. But hikers would do well to follow safety precautions."

The article omits the fact that Ms. Emerson had a blue belt in an unspecified martial art and disarmed her attacker of a knife and a police baton before he finally subdued her. Her 60 year old 160 pound (She was 24 and 120 pounds) murderer said, " She almost beat me". I have little doubt that had she been armed, he would be dead or wounded and she would still be alive. Obviously the dog was useless as a defender. He didn't kill the dog. Fortunately he was extradited to Florida for a similar murder and was sentenced to death. He had confessed to Meredith's murder in return for taking the death penalty off the table in Georgia. He was sentenced to Life in North Carolina for murdering John and Irene Bryant in 2007.
Unfortunately Florida will probably have to re-do sentencing him to death after the Supreme Court of the US ruled Florida's Death Penalty process unConstitutional in January, 2016.

See also:
<a href='http://www.nbcnews.com/id/23769881/ns/us_news-crime_and_courts/t/killer-says-female-hiker-fought-him-end/' target=_blank rel=nofollow>www.nbcnews.com</a>
Vincent Velasquez on Sep 2, 2016
"you are not allowed to discharge a firearm on federal land, except for highly restricted hunting." This is not true... I'm not sure about North Carolina, but in Georgia you can target shoot on National Forest land which is federal land! <a href='http://www.fs.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsinternet/!ut/p/c5/04_SB8K8xLLM9MSSzPy8xBz9CP0os3gDfxMDT8MwRydLA1cj72DTUE8TAwgAykeaxRtBeY4WBv4eHmF-YT4GMHn8usNB9uHXDzYBB3A00PfzyM9N1S_IjTDIMnFUBADW0rdA/dl3/d3/L2dJQSEvUUt3QS9ZQnZ3LzZfME80MEkxVkFCOTBFMktTNVVJNDAwMDAwMDA!/?navtype=BROWSEBYSUBJECT&amp;cid=stelprdb5127611&amp;navid=120000000000000&amp;ss=110803&amp;position=Not+Yet+Determined.Html&amp;ttype=detailfull&amp;pname=Chattahoochee-Oconee+National+Forest-+Alerts' target=_blank rel=nofollow>www.fs.usda.gov</a>
edward woc on Mar 19, 2017
That's what is wrong with our country today. Do you think in a NY minute that our forth father would have went westward with out protection. I am a former Marine and I believe the right to carry arms. I don't want my name to be on the headlines of a local paper "Another hiker killed again by a serial killer"on the AT.". The law need to be changed so that folks wishing to carry protection on the AT should be allowed to if the have a federal permit to do so, and it should no take an act of congress for a person to get one. With today's internet it should be a fairly easy process who is permit worthy. Just a thought from a former US Marine.
Dave on Jul 16, 2017
When carrying in a National Park you must follow your State's laws. A bill was passed in 2010 allowing carry in the parks.

It's your second amendment right people. And as long as you're not in some backwards ass state you carry as you see fit.
Captain Info on Oct 28, 2017
I have to agree with Mr. Velasquez- there are definitely places where you are allowed to discharge a firearm on federal land. I have gone through thousands of cartridges on BLM land. That stands for Bureau of Land Management, which is under the Department of the Interior.

This was in California even, which is full of the darn liberal hippies that beg for new unnecessary laws, damn conservatives demanding all ridiculous rules are obeyed without question, and those lousy professional tax payer-funded extortionists- I mean "Peace Officers"- whose only thought upon seeing a person is, "What can I bust them for and how much money will that make?" They don't care about how their actions usually ruin people's lives and get them locked in a cage defending themselves from homosexual rape, that's not their job because it doesn't make any cash for them or their department. So, hiding an easily-accessible handgun on a hiking trail is definitely the way to go in order to protect yourself. I prefer a double action revolver, as they are almost impossible to jam (even full of mud- just check that the barrel is clear, of course) and the only thing you need to do in order to operate it is squeeze the trigger. No thinking about what actions are necessary, and if you need more than six rounds of .357 S&amp;W Magnum then God save us all. No black bear or human will come back fighting after that, I promise.

Also, if I'm not mistaken, you can sleep with a loaded gun while in a tent on National Forest and National Park land, as the tent is considered your temporary home. Firing a gun there is no longer allowed, at least in California, for some most likely illogical reason other than making money through fining people, or "extortion" as it's known everywhere else.

I'm almost certain there are more instances where guns are allowed on federal land, but I can't remember what they are. Maybe the author will correct this article after he's researched all of them. Happy hiking!