The Appalachian Trail stretches more than 2,000 miles through 14 states, from Maine to Georgia, and requires a bit of extra planning to tackle. OK, a lot of extra planning. Whether you want to hike the national scenic trail for a couple of days while on vacation or dedicate your life for a few months to a “thru-hike,” taking on the entire span in a single trip, you’ll need to plan months in advance.

To start, figure out when you want to hike, and how far. This helps determine where to start. If you’re planning an early spring hike, start south and work your way north to avoid early spring snowstorms in the Northeast. On the flip side, late summer/fall hikers should start north and make it through the cold states before winter hits. Check out some of the best “easy” section hikes along the trail, including Great Smokey Mountains National Park, Shenandoah National Park and the Mau-Har Loop in Virginia.

It’s easier to start packing once you know how long you’ll be gone and what time of year you’ll be hiking. Once you have those details set, assess what hiking gear you have and what you’ll need to get. Start with a comfortable backpack – as with shoes, you’ll want to have a backpack that fits perfectly. While packing varies depending on your trip (a thru-hike requires much more gear than an overnight trip), there are a few essentials every hiker should consider, such as sleeping bags, boots, food, a first-aid kit and water. Choosing the right clothing is essential. Avoid cotton, since it absorbs moisture and fails to wick it away from your skin, along with retaining more odors. Go for synthetic fibers and wool to stay comfortable throughout your trip.

For longer hikes, bring your own tent. While there are shelters along the trail spaced out about every eight miles, it’s best not to rely on them since they could be occupied by the time you get to one. Hikers feeling a bit more adventurous travel with a hammock instead of a tent.

Once you have all your gear, practice hiking with it before the big trip. Load up the backpack and find a local trail to test how your pack feels for a day. This will give you ample time to adjust anything if needed. Make sure to wear new shoes to break them in, as well, since a blister can ruin a day of hiking. On a similar note, make sure you’re in pretty good shape before you hit the trail, as it can be exhausting for everyone early on. If you’re hiking over a few days, your body will eventually adapt.

Hiking any distance of the trail can be a tremendous individual achievement, not to mention a great family-bonding experience. If kids are a bit older, consider an overnight hike to teach them about camping and respecting the natural world; younger kids, meanwhile, could enjoy a 3- or 4-mile out-and-back hike or loop hike.

If you’re traveling with a family pet, know that dogs are allowed on the trail except in three areas: Baxter State Park, Bear Mountain State Park and Great Smokey Mountain National Park. As always, keep your dog on a leash and be mindful of trail etiquette, such as keeping your pet out of springs or other sources of drinking water and burying his waste.

If going the distance sounds like fun but you don’t want to drop everything and hike 2,000 miles straight, take part in the 14 State Challenge to gain the experience of the A.T. without a time limit. The challenge encourages people to hike a part of the trail in all 14 states, whether during family vacations, business trips or special outings just to hike. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy has helpful tips on where to go in each state to make the most of the challenge.