As soon as I started categorizing all of our AT photos and identified the
ones with signs in them, this song came to mind. The refrain has been dancing in my brain for weeks now . . .
It's a stretch to say that there are warning signs "everywhere" on the AT,
but I took photos of at least thirty advisory/ warning signs during my journey
and I know there were many more I didn't take because they were repetitious of ones I
already had. I probably averaged one or two advisory-type signs each day.
Signs give warnings about a myriad of different trail hazards. They advise hikers of dangerous exposed rocks and ridges,
washed-out bridges, strong river currents, flooded sections of trail, pesky
bears and other critters, and the prevalence of Lyme disease. They politely request
hikers to stay on the trail to avoid damaging fragile alpine zones and
endangered plant and animal species. And they identify alternate (blue-blazed)
bad-weather or high-water detours, private property, and other boundaries
All of these warnings and advisories are serious and should be heeded, but some are actually
humorous, as you'll see.
SAVE OUR CRITTERS AND ENVIRONMENT
The Appalachian Trail probably contains the greatest biodiversity of plants and
animals of any of the units of the National Park Service.
It is extremely important that hikers practice "Leave No Trace" principles to
help protect the environment. This was easier for me, since I didn't stay on the
Trail at night, than for backpackers, who by necessity have a greater impact
(pitching tents, building fires, washing themselves and their eating utensils,
gathering water, pooping in the woods, etc.).
The type of sign at the top of this page is very common along the AT, advising
folks that the Trail is for foot travel only.
Horses are permitted in only a few
places on the Trail (part of the Smokies and on the Virginia Creeper Trail
for certain, and perhaps the C&O Towpath in Maryland), although I saw them a
couple times in Virginia where they weren't supposed to be. I think bicycles are
permitted only on the Creeper Trail and C&O Towpath. This helps protect the AT
from damage and makes it more of a wilderness experience for hikers.
One of the first signs I saw in the South regarding the environment was this
Day 27 in Tennessee on top of Round Bald:
There weren't very many flowers up there (5,826 feet) or I would have
photographic evidence. Either it was too early in May for blooms or somebody had
already picked them!
Another common type of environmental-damage sign is found in the alpine zones in
northern New England, such as these two educational signs on Mt. Moosilauke in New Hampshire (Day
The white sign on top explains the fragility of the environment and ends
with a plea to "Help preserve the delicate balance of the alpine zone. It's a tough place to grow."
Very effective, I think.
The sign below at the Fourth Mountain Bog in Maine (Day 143)
advises hikers of the rare and endangered species of plants (such as carnivorous
pitcher plants) and asks them to stay on the bog bridges:
I also saw several endangered species signs for animals on my journey from Georgia to
One of the first was between Hot Springs and Sams Gap in North
Day 22, notifying hikers that entry into the
area beyond the sign could cause failure in the Peregrin falcon nesting area.
The undated sign was posted by the USFS and NC Resources Wildlife Commission.
Even though the sign above was enclosed in plastic, water had damaged the paper and it
was just lying on the ground. I don't know if that was really the protected area
Most similar signs were more durable than this and still tacked into
place, such as a metal "falcon breeding area" sign on a mountain summit in New
Day 114. That area was even protected
with a chain-link fence!
BEWARE THE TICKS AND BEARS!
Yes, ticks. Last year (2005) was a bad one for Lyme and other
tick-borne diseases along the
Trail, particularly from New Jersey north.
There were numerous signs in
those states, like the one below in New York, advising hikers on how to avoid
Connecticut used to be ground zero for tick-borne diseases but
the critters have spread widely by now. I heard of about two dozen hikers who
had Lyme diagnoses, and I didn't talk to all that many hikers or doctors about
Although rattlesnakes are problematic, especially in Pennsylvania, I never saw
any signs about them except a hand-written note under a rock in the middle of
the Trail where a hiker had spotted one. The guide books all warn about
rattlesnakes and other wild animals that can cause serious problems if they
I did see several signs regarding bear activity. Some shelters in areas where
bears are common, such as in the Smokies, Shenandoahs, and New Jersey, have
chain-link fences protecting the open side and cables strung between trees to
hold food well above the ground.
I was excited to see a yearling cub right on the Trail in front of me in New
Shortly after my sighting, I came to the Maschipacong shelter, which was wrapped
in crime scene tape! These signs indicated the shelter was closed due to recent
bear activity and a trap was set.
There were also prominent notices of recent black bear activity at sites between Salisbury and Jug End in Connecticut on
The shelters weren't closed but hikers were advised to hang their food and
not leave packs unattended.
DO THIS, DON'T DO THAT . . .
There are quite a few park boundary and private property signs along the
AT. Some are
big and bold NO TRESPASSING! signs, while others are more subtle.
In some places the AT is very close to private property. In a few others, the AT
actually passes through private property the National Park Service leases from
the owners. Hikers who go off-trail here risk the ire of the property
owners and jeopardize the future of the Trail - not a wise thing to do.
The next sign is located in southern Virginia between Groseclose and
Ceres at the beginning of a mile-plus of private property where the NPS is
leasing a narrow strip of land through beautiful farmland (Day
These three "warning" signs are just plain comical.
This hand-written "speed limit" sign is along the Trail on the
first peak north of Hot Springs, North Carolina (Day 22):
(If you don't understand the humor, remember that the trail is for foot travel only.
Not even David Horton or Andrew Thompson sped through there that fast,
let alone someone with a back-pack doing 2 or 2½ MPH.)
The second humorous sign is in northern Virginia and announces the beginning of
the infamous Roller Coaster, a rocky section of unforgiving PUDS ("pointless
ups and downs," in hiker-speak). This section about drove me crazy on
59, but pales in comparison to much more
diabolical trails farther north.
The text on the sign is hard to read on the screen. This is what is says:
"HIKER NOTICE: WARNING!! You are about to enter The Roller Coaster!
Built and maintained by the 'Trailboss" and his merry crew of volunteers. Have a
great ride and we will see you at the Blackburn Trail Center (if you survive)."
One of my very favorite Trail signs is this one inside the privy near the
Little Swift River campsite in Maine on
I like it when serious points are made with humor. There was wire mesh surrounding
the base of the wooden privy, indicating the porcupines really have been
causing damage to the structure.
DAMAGE TO TRAIL SECTIONS
Several danger signs in the South warned of hurricane damage from 2004 storms,
such as this washed-out section of trail in North Carolina on
10. Following the bright pink ribbons on the rough quarter-mile
relocation reminded me of running an ultra-distance trail race.
I had already been through a damaged area two days previously near Standing
Indian where trees had been uprooted from the winds and heavy rains (North Carolina,
but the damage didn't necessitate a relo there.
Many bridges sustained heavy damage during those 2004 storms, and one that was
washed out at Stony Creek in Virginia hadn't been replaced when I was
Day 39. The sign below was posted two
miles downstream, giving hikers the opportunity to use an alternate route along a
road instead of fording the wide creek.
The creek looked OK at the sign and
someone wrote at the bottom of the sign to "Just ford it!" because the crossing
wasn't bad. I figured the creek would be smaller
two miles upstream and took the white-blazed trail.
See the story on Day 39 and
a photo of the creek and washed-out bridge in
(second photo from top).
The unusual hand-written "bridge out" sign below was over a deep chasm in
Massachusetts, not a stream. I suppose someone could leap across it, but I
didn't take the chance. The detour was very short around the side. (Day 102)
Hikers always run the risk of getting soaked in boggy areas from New Jersey
north to Maine whether it has been raining recently or not. The swamps and bogs
flood easily and the bridging isn't always in the best shape.
Such was the case
Day 97 when I traipsed through the Great Swamp in New York,
getting wet where the bog boards were broken. At the far end of the section I
saw this warning:
The first river warning I saw was about dangerous currents at Laurel Falls in
Tennessee. Just downstream from the falls the white-blazed Trail follows
a narrow rocky ledge right
next to the river. There is a blue-blazed high-water trail
considerably higher on the cliff.
Although I would encounter more dangerous
water in New England, I was still pretty cautious on those rocks on
28 when I saw this warning at the trail head:
I saw a few other high-water routes along the Trail, but they aren't as common
as bad-weather routes to avoid exposed rocks and ridges.
The most important river warning is at the Kennebec near Caratunk, Maine.
Because of at least one hiker's death and numerous near-death experiences from
folks who are fording the unpredictable river, the ATC has been paying a local
outfitter to ferry hikers across the river in a canoe twice a day since about
Some testosterone-crazed hikers still insist it's the manly thing to do to ford
the Kennebec anyway.
Fine. It's a free country and it's your life! But I
sure had fun taking the canoe ride and I've already posted several
photos here about the experience (e.g.,
There are many dangerous ridges along the AT, and they begin as far south as the
I thought this warning at Charlie's Bunion on
16 was actually kind of funny in a Well, duh! sort of way.
"Closely control children??!!"
The very narrow ridges in this section have some
huge drop-offs that are hazardous to adults and I'd question having young
kids anywhere near them.
Most of the ridge warnings are in the White Mountains in New Hampshire
where tree line is very low on some peaks (about 3,500 feet, as I recall).
like in the Rockies and other much higher mountain chains, sudden weather
changes are a given, even in the summer. I knew the warnings and still got caught on Mt. Madison in high winds, fog, and sleet. The details of that harrowing
experience are in the journal on
When I safely descended an alternate route to a valley to escape the icy
boulders on the summit, I saw these two graphic signs (not that it would have
made any difference if I'd seen them that morning!):
Sometimes there are alternate, blue-blazed routes to use to avoid dangerous
exposed rocks and ridges during bad weather. This includes fog as well as rain
or snow and ice. It is easy to get lost or injured in such places, and
evacuations are very difficult or impossible.
I think the photo below near Blackstack Cliffs in
North Carolina on
22 was the first bad-weather route I saw on my journey: The two
trails re-connect about a half mile further north.
You may not be able to read the sign on your screen. There is a white blaze on
the right and the sign indicates there are exposed rocks that direction. The
blue blazes to the left indicate the safer bad-weather trail that
remains in the forest:
The rocks on the white-blazed section were tricky to negotiate even on a a dry day because I wasn't as used
to bouldering as I was by the time I got to New England. They'd certainly be
hazardous if wet or icy.
I suppose I behaved like one of those testosterone-crazed fellas I bad-mouthed
earlier because I took bad-weather/high-water routes only twice on my entire
thru-run/hike - coming down from Mt. Madison on
121 and escaping the flooded Big Wilson River on
returned to Madison on
Day 125 and completed the whole white-blazed
route. I am missing a mile on the north side of the Big Wilson River, but went
several times that distance on the high-water route so I feel no compulsion to
return to do the white-blazed route in that location, although I would
like to see both the Big and Little Wilson rivers at normal levels some day.
I hope you had fun remembering some of the signs and places they represented if
you have hiked the Trail yourself or followed along in my journal. And I hope
they are an incentive for the rest of you to get out on the Trail somewhere!
Next up: Gimme shelter - campsites, shelters, huts, and privies
along the AT.
Signing off (for a day or two),