Appalachian Trail Institute

Dreaming of hiking the entire Appalachian Trail?

Then ‘get thee to the’
Nestled in the beautiful mountains of northeastern Tennessee at the Appalachian Folk School
(twelve miles from the Appalachian Trail in Damascus, VA)

About the ATI...

Is there a long-distance hike on the Appalachian Trail in the future? Do you want to increase your chances of completing the entire journey? Do you want to save money by not buying equipment and clothing you don’t need? Then the Appalachian Trail Institute (ATI) would be an informative and valuable program for you.

Unfortunately, at least 75-80% of the people who start their Appalachian Trail thru-hike fail to accomplish their goal. Why? Most of the time it wasn’t because they ran out of money, got seriously ill or injured, or got mauled by bears or bitten by snakes. Instead, it is because they were not realistically prepared for several challenges that are inherent in any long-distance journey. Year after year, many hikers who stop prematurely have not adequately prepared themselves mentally and emotionally for the psychological demands of the trail. It is a fact that most hikers have ended their treks because their actual trail experience turned out harder and less enjoyable than they expected. This has caused personal disappointment and frustration (not to mention a loss of time and money) that results from disrupted plans, unfulfilled tasks, and/or deferred dreams.

Fortunately, there is a time-tested and trail-proven program to increase your chances of experiencing the joy and sense of accomplishment at the journey’s end. The main purpose of the ATI is to increase your chances of completing your hike by providing you with the most realistic, comprehensive, and updated information/guidance available anywhere.

about the ATI continued

Organized and directed by Dr. Warren Doyle, who has walked the entire AT a record eighteen times (+38,000 miles), the ATI is an intensive, five-day program that covers trail history and management; trip logistics/planning; food, equipment, physical conditioning, hiker safety/health; and the most neglected, but most important topic of all, the psychological/emotional aspects of long-distance hiking. For over thirty-five years (since 1989), over two thousand future AT hikers (from forty-seven states and four foreign countries) have attended and enjoyed the ATI.

IMPORTANT: The ATI is not a ‘how to hike/backpack’ class. It is not for people who haven’t done any hiking at all on the AT. It is not geared to beginners. Furthermore, it is not for people who don’t wish to be pushed out of their comfort zones (i.e. close-minded people find the ATI to be a frustrating experience).

After morning classes, participants will do short (5.5 to 7 miles), diagnostic afternoon hikes on the AT between Whitetop and Shady Valley, TN (including Damascus, VA). Non-hiking spouses and significant others will enjoy relaxing in a quiet, rural setting or exploring the many shops in the surrounding communities.

“The ATI is an affordable and effective five-day program to increase your chances of fulfilling this dream by offering a realistic preparation for the challenging journey ahead.”

The completion rate of ATI graduates is 75% compared to a 20-25% completion rate of non-ATI participants.

Sept. 30 - Oct. 4
Oct. 7-11

March 24-28
May 19-23
Oct. 13-17
Oct.  20-24


$300 suggested donation for the five-day/four-night program per person (includes on-site housing). More details are below.


“The ATI should be a requirement for anyone planning to hike the AT. It was definitely a key factor behind completing my journey.”

“It was time well spent. Fun, informative, entertaining, and inspiring. I thought I knew it all before but I really didn’t. The tuition was reasonable and more than paid for itself because I would have purchased a lot of useless, expensive equipment.”

“I am so glad I took the initiative and made the time to attend the ATI. I carried its spirit 2,100 miles with me to the summit of Katahdin! I am a dreamer no longer. I did it! Thank you for this wonderful service to other hikers.”

ATI Sessions (2024)
Sept. 30 - October 4
October 7-11

ATI Sessions (2025)
March 24-28
May 19-23
Oct. 13-17
Oct. 20-24

Registration Information
Register online or via snail mail. $300 suggested donation for the five-day/four-night program (per person). Complete the registration form and mail a $50 fully-refundable registration deposit (check made out to Appalachian Folk School ) and send to:

Appalachian Trail Institute, PO Box 93, Mountain City, TN 37683

The remainder of the donation ($250) is to be paid on the last day of the program (satisfaction guaranteed).

Your suggested donation includes: On-site indoor lodging (bunkhouse); about 25-28 hours of classroom instruction; about 10 hours of hiking spread over three hikes; and, instructional materials.


The Appalachian Trail Institute is held at the Appalachian Folk School outside Mountain City, TN just twelve miles from the Appalachian Trail in Damascus, VA.

Physical Address:

Appalachian Folk School 
3142 Divide Rd.
Mountain City, TN 37683


ATI attendees can stay on-site. There are a limited number of private rooms w/shared bathroom. The bunkhouses are a short distance from the bathroom/shower house. Folks can also tent in our yard. Local motels/campgrounds are also available (at your own expense). 


Three lunches and four dinners (not included in the donation) will be at local dining establishments. There is a small kitchen on-site with a stove/refrigerator to help you prepare your own breakfast.

Trail snacks are the responsibility of the attendee. (There will be at least three-day hikes on the AT ranging from 6-8 miles.)

Other Information

Programs usually start at 1 pm on Monday and end between noon and 2 pm on Friday.

Weekend hiking/lodging before and after the ATI can be arranged with advance notice.

With advance notice, we can provide ground transportation to and from Tri-Cities Regional Airport, TN ($50 one way)

Please try to register at least one month before your desired program dates.

No pets, alcohol, drugs, smoking, and closed minds.

Non-hiking significant others are welcome to attend (i.e., reduced donation) and go shopping and/or relax.


Donation for the five-day/four-night program is $300 per person (less for non-hiking significant others). Your donation includes: On-site indoor lodging; about 28 hours of classroom instruction; about 10 hours of hiking; and, instructional materials. Donation is as follows: a $50 fully-refundable registration deposit (upon request) and the remainder of the donation ($250) to be paid, or not paid (i.e., satisfaction guaranteed), on the last day of the program.

What to Bring

  • Sleeping bag/bedding/towels (unless you are flying in)
  • Suitable clothing for the season
  • Rain gear
  • Daypack or backpack
  • Water container
  • Hiking shoes/boots
  • Pen and paper for notes
Your dream, and your willingness to listen and to learn (i.e., open-mindedness) how to make it a reality.
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