The Appalachian Trail, known as the A.T., is a hiking trail that spans the distance between Springer Mountain in Georgia and Mt. Katahdin in Maine. The length of the trail is listed differently by different agencies and experts, but is approximately 2,100 miles (3,380 km.) The A.T. was first opened in 1923, and has enjoyed popularity as a hiking spot since.
In 1921, a former forester named Benton MacKaye envisioned the trail as an escape for city dwellers. The trail was originally planned to have hostels and nature camps at regular intervals, but these ideas were later scrapped for cost reasons. Though a small section was opened in 1923, it was not until the re-organization of the trail conference by Myron Avery in the 1930s that most of the work began in earnest. Disagreements between MacKaye and Avery lead to MacKaye’s departure, but he remains memorialized as the founder of the Appalachian Trail.
Passing through fourteen states and a variety of terrain elevations, the Appalachian Trail contains an incredible amount of flora and fauna, including around 2,000 rare or endangered species of plants and animals. Animals common to the trail include black bears, deer, elk, and moose. Tree varieties include spruce, oak, white pine and tulip trees.
The Appalachian Trail boasts over 200 shelters maintained by volunteers, spaced less than a day’s hike apart. Most are nearby a water source and some provide outhouses. At some shelters, hikers are treated by volunteers to homemade food. Other hikers report shelters with collections of paperback books, or stores of canned food in case of emergencies. Unfortunately, the shelters are often nesting places of rodents, and infestations of mice or rats are not uncommon.
Hikers on the Appalachian Trail are described as either “section hikers” or “thru-hikers”. Section hikers do pieces of the trail at a time, sometimes with the goal of eventually hiking each area. Thru-hikers attempt to cross the entire trail in one season. The first documented thru-hike was in 1948, by a Pennsylvania man named Earl Shaffer. He completed the trail in 124 days, and would go on to write Walking with Spring, a book about his experience.
The majority of thru-hikers are unable to complete the trail. In the late 1990s, noted author Bill Bryson attempted a thru-hike of the trail and completed only 500 miles (804 km.) His experiences, recorded in the book A Walk in the Woods detail life on the trail, its history and the environmental challenges facing the A.T. today.
If you are interested in hiking the Appalachian Trail, conduct careful research to make sure this is the trip for you. The trail is physically demanding, climbing to over 6,000 feet (1.8 km) and traveling across rugged and difficult terrain. Although the trail is a relatively safe place, the hiker must be aware that they are in a natural, uncontrolled environment. It is highly recommended that you travel with detailed maps, survival gear, and a hiking buddy. Properly prepared, hiking the Appalachian Trail can be a unique adventure full of beauty and surprises.