The Appalachian National Scenic Trail, more commonly known as Appalachian Trail, is the longest hiking-only pathway on Earth, stretching over 2,190 miles (3,524.5 km). The trail spans 14 states: Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. Over 3 million people visit the trail annually, with over 3,000 attempting to “thru-hike” the entire route in a year. The Appalachian Trail attracts visitors from all over the world for various reasons, such as reconnecting with nature, escaping city stress, meeting new people, strengthening old friendships, or experiencing a peaceful lifestyle.
The Appalachian Trail stretches from Maine’s snow-capped peaks to Georgia’s blue mountains, with over 150 miles (240 km) of trails found inside Vermont’s borders. Vermont beckons with maple syrup, lovely ski slopes, and a peculiar (if not downright suspicious) lack of rocks on the trail. These paths, which range from easy to challenging, are characterized by Vermont’s deep, green forests and even coincide with sections of the Long Trail in Vermont, which was the United States‘ first long-distance hiking trail. But did you know that it was in Vermont that the idea of the Appalachian Trail first came up? This article will dive into Vermont’s historic trail and seven facts you probably didn’t know.
1. The Appalachian Trail’s creator purportedly envisioned it while sitting in a tree in Vermont
As hiking became more popular in the northeastern United States in the early twentieth century, some supporters of the activity began to urge the development of long-distance “super” trails. In response to this, regional planner Benton MacKaye suggested the Appalachian Trail in the Journal of the American Institute of Architects in October 1921.
MacKaye, the son of a well-known actor and playwright, claimed to have had the idea while sitting in a tree on Stratton Mountain in Vermont. He tapped his large network of acquaintances to build up support for the trail, which he envisioned as a utopian escape from urban life, complete with leisure and farming camps. However, following a fierce feud with Myron Avery, the long-time chairman of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (the organization formed at the 1925 meeting), MacKaye never had a significant role in its construction.
2. The Appalachian Trail and the Long Trail were conceived atop the same mountain
The Appalachian Trail and the Long Trail are two well-known, picturesque routes that originated on Vermont’s Stratton Mountain and have a special place in Appalachian Trail history. James P. Taylor was on the mountain in 1909 when he came up with the idea of a trail from Massachusetts to Canada’s borders, which would later become Vermont’s Long Trail. A few years later, Benton MacKaye developed the concept of extending the beautiful route over the Appalachian mountains’ ridges to the East Coast while sitting on the summit of Stratton Mountain during the construction of the Long Trail. Stratton Mountain isn’t the most spectacular vista on the course, but it’s surely one of the most significant.
The Appalachian Trail runs parallel to the Long Trail in Vermont, which begins at the Massachusetts border, just north of Mount Greylock. The two routes share a 100-mile footpath in southern Vermont, passing by renowned peaks including Stratton and Bromley. This state stands out from the pack because of its Long Trail culture and a hefty dose of A.T. history.
3. The Appalachian Trail in Vermont provides a more pleasant terrain
The Appalachian Trail in the Green Mountain State is about creating a pleasant and inspiring trail for all skill-hikers. The trail climbs from 400 to over 4,000 feet, providing challenges for novice and experienced trekkers. The Green Mountains of Vermont aren’t called that for nothing! This is part of the A.T. known for its rich and lush forests.
On Killington Mountain in Central Vermont, for the first time since Tennessee, the Appalachian Trail reaches 4,000 feet. Vermont has its share of big climbs (and many minor ones), but the terrain is generally more rolling than the states on either side. Stratton and Killington are big enough to get your heart racing without breaking your soul. Many northbound hikers find Vermont’s spongy, smooth track a welcome change from the rocky terrain of the mid-Atlantic and southern New England states. Enjoy it while you can because the trails in New Hampshire will not be as friendly.
At “Maine Junction,” just north of U.S. Route 4, the Long Trail and the Appalachian Trail split. The Appalachian Trail swings east while the Long Trail continues north.
4. Mud season is a period that many Vermonters are familiar with, trail keepers dread, and many hikers are disappointed by.
Mud season, often known as Vermont’s fifth season, is the period between winter and spring when the ground thaws and the mud is its distinguishing trait. This period varies depending on the weather, but it usually begins around the time of the snowmelt by the end of March or early April and concludes in early June.
When it comes to hiking in Vermont, timing is crucial. For example, from Mother’s Day through Father’s Day, Vermont is best avoided because of the dreaded black fly. In these parts, April and May are known as “mud season,” when spring snowmelt turns the trail into a gloopy mess. Some early season thru-hikers each year attempt the path in these conditions, but it is not recommended for your or the trail’s safety.
Hikers who attempt to walk around the large mud puddles that impede the trail incur more damage. Skirting the trail’s borders may keep you dry, but it also tramples plants, widens the pathway, and damages the ecology. Long-term, this lowers the trail’s quality by diminishing its ability to absorb water, which leads to subsequent flooding. It also makes plants’ growth more challenging. The dirt is then washed away by water and wind, exposing the rocks and roots.
5. One of the highlights of the Appalachian Trail is the fall foliage in Vermont
Hiking in Vermont is a fantastic way to observe and appreciate the beautiful fall foliage. The Green Mountain State gives plenty of opportunities to explore, from mountain top vistas speckled with every autumnal color to the reflection in the water of fiery red trees growing along the lakeside.
The leaves in Vermont begin to turn from mid-September until the second or third week of October. Over four weeks, the Green Mountains quickly transform into a vibrant crimson, burnt orange, and light yellow landscape. Going on a hiking holiday to Vermont at this time of year is the best way to experience this amazing natural phenomenon.
6. The Appalachian Mountains have been there for over a million years
The Appalachian Trail follows the Appalachian Mountains’ ridgeline. Some mountain areas are more than 1 billion years old, making it one of the world’s oldest mountains. While it is difficult to prove that it is the “oldest,” it is at the very least considered one of the world’s oldest mountain ranges. How old? The Appalachian Mountain Range is thought to precede the formation of the North American continent! The Appalachian Mountains were likely once beautiful peaks reminiscent of the Rocky Mountains. Weather, ice, and erosion have rounded the cliffs throughout the millennia, giving us the mountains we know and love today. It is claimed to include over 50 mammal species and over 60 identified mussel species. Moose, black bears, deer, coyotes, bobcats, woodchucks, porcupines, and raccoons can all be found along the famed Appalachian Trail.
7. For many years, no one tried a thru-hike
Despite being completed in 1937, the trail’s gaps were quickly reopened, including 120 miles displaced by a Virginia parkway and hundreds more miles rendered impassable by a New England hurricane. During World War II, it remained in disrepair, but at that time, Myron Avery and a few others had trekked the entire trail in portions. But it wasn’t until 1948 that a World War II veteran from Pennsylvania, Earl Shaffer, felt it would be excellent for walking “the Army out of his system.” Shaffer hiked the trail twice more during his lifetime, once in 1965 and again in 1998, at 79.
In recent years, roughly 2,500 thru-hikers have set out on the trail each spring, the majority heading north from Georgia. Almost three-quarters of them drop out somewhere along the route due to weariness, illness, and injury. However, thru-hikers do not need to be in great physical shape. When Emma Gatewood, sometimes known as “Grandma Gatewood,” became one of the first thru-hikers in 1955, she was 67 and had 11 children and 23 grandkids. Hikers as young as four years old, multiple blind hikers, and an above-the-knee amputee have completed the trail since then.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © EWY Media/Shutterstock.com
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