The Appalachian Trail is also known as the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, or A.T. is a long-distance hiking route in the East of the United States that has a length of about 2,180 miles. It extends from the Springer Mountain, in the state of Georgia, to Mount Katahdin in Maine. It also passes through the states of North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire.
In Canada, it connects with the Appalachian International Trail, whose length is of 1926 miles, that unites Monte Katahdin and the Strait of Belle Isle (North of Newfoundland) on the coast of the Atlantic.
The maintenance of the trail is done by some thirty hiking clubs and numerous associated companies. It is managed by the National Park Service and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. The Appalachian Trail (AT) is well known in the United States and Canada because of the many hikers that dream, at least once in their lives of hiking the AT. Those who achieve it – very few – are considered great sports figures. They are called thru-hikers.
The trail was created by Benton MacKaye, a forest engineer who, in 1921, conceived a grand tour that would unite, for the inhabitants of large cities, a series of farms, work camps, and wild areas.
In 1929, retired judge Arthur Perkins and a young associate of his, Myron Avery, join Ned Anderson, a farmer from Connecticut, to map and extend the trail from Dover (New York State) to Kent (Connecticut) and then to Bear Mountain, on the border with Massachusetts.
The idea of a coherent path was published in 1921 by Benton MacKaye. Along the way, hostels, nature conservation stations, and even self-sufficient communities will be established. In 1925, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) was founded as a non-profit organization that still exists today. The final destination was the connection of the highest points in the east: Mount Mitchell and Mount Washington.
In 1948, Earl Shaffer was the first to walk the Appalachian Trail in one season, a so-called thru-hike, traveling from Georgia to Maine, northbound. Later, he did so in the opposite direction, so he was the first to walk the AT in both directions. 50 years after his first thru-hike, at the age of 80, Earl Shaffer repeated his thru-hike. This makes him the oldest thru-hiker on the Appalachian Trail.
Although encounters with bears are rather rare, it is recommended to stow your food in a bear-proof canister on the trail and keep it out of reach of bears at night. There are several species of venomous snakes on the trail, including the Rattlesnakes and the Copperheads. Both are more likely to be found in dry, rocky sections of the trail but for most hikers, ticks, mosquitoes, and black flies are the biggest issues.
The Appalachian Trail is marked in its entire length by white color markings, which have a width of about 2 inches and a height of about 6. By-ways, alternative routes, viewpoints, and car parks are provided with similar blue color markings.
The trail has over 250 shelters and campsites that are available for hikers. Shelters, whose names vary from place to place, are generally a three-sided structure with a wooden floor, although some shelters are much more elaborate. Shelters are usually spaced a day’s walk or less with most often a water source and with a rough toilet.
The Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) for example, operates a system of eight private shelters on 56 miles of trail in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. These are significantly larger and offer full-service accommodations with meals during the summer months. The Fontana Dam in North Carolina is nicknamed the “Hilton Fontana” because of the variety and importance of amenities (toilets, proximity to a post office and a restaurant).
Shelters are usually self-service, especially in the offseason. They are usually maintained by local volunteers and almost all the shelters have one or more ways to keep food out of reach of any animals.
The Appalachian Trail is relatively safe. Most injuries or incidents are comparable to outdoor activities. Most of the risks are related to weather conditions, human error, plants, animals, diseases and human activities along the path.
The Appalachian Trail is so well-marked and heavily traveled that you’re not likely to need a compass. However, map and compass — along with the knowledge of how to use them — are usually recommended for long-distance trails.
You could even get by without maps on the Appalachian Trail, but it is really best to have them. They have contour lines help you visualize the topography to plan the day’s hike, and they show the locations of water and shelters.
Additional resources on the Appalachian Trail