The ideal time to hike the MST is the spring or fall when temperatures are not extremely hot or cold. If you plan to start your hike early in the year, it often works best to hike west – leaving from the coast and heading toward the mountains. That way you’ll avoid high temperatures and bugs in the coastal areas and reach the mountains after snow and ice have melted. Snow is a possibility as late as April at high elevations in the mountains. If you plan to start in the summer or fall, begin at Clingmans Dome and head east to the coast as temperatures cool. Starting the trail in the fall would allow you the added bonus of colorful fall leaves. By the time you reach the coast in the fall, temperatures should still be favorable.
Based on the experience of past MST thru-hikers, it typically takes 3-4 months to complete this adventure. It can be shorter if you bike the roads or greenways, or paddle the Neuse (Segments 11A-16A). Make sure you plan for days off, or what are known as “zero days,” since you don’t add miles on those days. Your body will need rest, and you should plan to be off the trail a day or so. Some hikers take days off for bad weather and also to see attractions in the area.
To plan your hike, consult the trail guides and interactive google map and in other guidebooks. Develop a good estimate of how many miles you can travel in an average day. Most hikers start out hiking 10 to 12 miles a day, depending on physical condition (see also the fitness section). Create an itinerary and pencil in where you plan to stop each night. You may run ahead or behind schedule, but you still need a plan of attack before hitting the MST. For safety reasons, share your itinerary with several people.
Logistics will be an everyday issue while on the trail. The best way to change plans or coordinate food or supply drops is to carry a cell phone although coverage may be spotty in remote areas. The cell phone can also serve for emergency purposes. To save the battery, turn the phone off when not in use.