What is the Appalachian Trail?

The Appalachian Trail is a 2,190-mile long footpath, which stretches across the wooded, wild, and pastoral lands of the Appalachian Mountain Range located in the eastern part of the United States. Officially called the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, this hiking trail starts from the Springer Mountain in the State of Georgia and stops at Mount Katahdin in Maine. The trail traverses 14 states: (1) Georgia (2) North Carolina (3) Tennessee (4) Virginia (5) West Virginia (6) Maryland (7) Pennsylvania (8) New Jersey (9) New York (10) Connecticut (11) Massachusetts (12) Vermont (13) New Hampshire (14) Maine. Although the trail is about 2,190 miles (about 3,500 km) long, its exact length varies constantly due to regular rerouting and adjustments made to improve the experience of hikers along the path.

Brief History of the Appalachian Trail

The Appalachian Trail was the brain child of Benton MacKaye, who set forth the idea of a long trail that will link many wilderness camps and farms for people living in the city in 1921. After Raymond Torrey wrote a story about MacKaye’s idea in the New York Evening Post, the Palisades Park Trail Conference took it up. Two years after, the first section from Bear Mountain to Arden in New York was commissioned. MacKaye’s request for a conference on the Appalachian Trail led to the creation of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. The ATC has been responsible for the rapid development, rerouting and continuous maintenance of the trail since it was constituted.

Just before the first trail was completed in 1936, a veteran funded thru-hike was conducted for 121 days from Maine down to Georgia. During the hike, a substantial section of the trail was cleared and blazed by 6 Boy Scouts. This makes it easier to explore the trail as a new hiker without getting lost. The combination of diamond trail blazes and detailed maps have made it possible for thousands of hikers to plan successful hikes on various sections of the trail.

After the completion of the original trail in 1937, many new highlights with spectacular views were added including; the Roan Mountain that is located along the border between Tennessee and North Carolina; Mount Rogers, Grayson Highlands and the Pochuck Creek in New Jersey.

In 1968, the efforts of the ATC to protect the trail yielded great fruits as the National Trails System Act was signed with the Appalachian Trail designated as a national scenic trail. From that time, trail volunteers worked in partnership with the new National Park Service (NPS) to create a permanent route, which was completed in 1971. By year 2000, NPS had bought almost all the land within the trail’s span.

Unique Facts About the Appalachian Trail

Longest Hiking-Only Trail: A.T. is the world’s longest hiking-only trail and one of the longest trails with continuous markings. It has about 165,000 white trail blazes to guide hikers along its entire length. The A.T. is also the biggest and longest running conservation project managed by volunteers. The whole trail is maintained by thousands of dedicated volunteers who are have organized themselves into 31 maintenance clubs. They paint the blazes, build new shelters and take off trail reroutes.

Hikers Stay in Touch with Mountain Communities: Many small communities are located close to the Appalachian Trail, and almost every four miles, the trail crosses a community road. This makes it easy for hikers to explore the trail for a single day or multi-day hike and find their way back to a habitable community. The trail runs through the centre of many small towns and it is always within a few miles of others at any time.

The Appalachian Trail is a continuous work in progress: Almost the entire trail has been rebuilt or rerouted since it was completed in 1937 and some of the most beautiful sections of this trail were not part of the original trail. In fact, when the trail was completed in 1937, it ended at the Sugarloaf Mountain. The current end point of the trail at Springer Mountain was not designated as the southern terminus until 1956.

Presently, the highest point on the trail is the Clingmans Dome which has an altitude of about 6,643 feet (over 2,020 metres) above sea level while the lowest point can be found at the Bear Mountain State Park at an altitude of 124 feet (38 metres). The topography is quite rugged, especially in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, where hikers need to climb on rocks and boulders for many miles.