- The Appalachian Trail is the longest “hiking-only” trail among the three National Scenic Trails known as the Triple Crown Trail: the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail.
- The Appalachian Trail stretches across most of the eastern U.S., with a total length of 2,200 miles. It begins at Springer Mountain, Georgia, and ends at Mount Katahdin, Maine.
- Hiking the Appalachian Trail is considered a “badge of honor” in the hiking community. It’s quite a feat to hike the entire trail, taking up to seven months or more.
The Appalachian Trail (usually shortened to the A.T.) is one of the most famous thru-hikes in the world. Known for its scenic beauty, distance, and wildlife, the A.T. is a bucket list achievement for many hikers nationally and internationally. Although the trail is quite famous, most people don’t know just how tough it can be! Today, we are going to take a look at some of the most interesting info about the A.T. and learn just how long it really is. Let’s find out where the Appalachian Trail starts and ends (plus a few other fun facts)!
What is the Appalachian Trail?
The Appalachian Trail (A.T.) is a long trail that stretches across the mountain range in the eastern United States known as the Appalachian Mountains. This trail is one of the longest in the world and began with an idea written by Benton MacKaye. MacKaye conceptualized a potential trail but died before anyone took up the cause. Soon after his death, however, people realized the value of such an achievement and began to map and blaze the trail themselves.
The first section of the trail opened in 1923, with the first recognized thru-hike being completed in 1936. Although the 1936 hike was the first accepted thru-hike, the trail as it is today is quite a bit different. Different groups have remodeled the trail to reduce erosion and increase scenic viewing, with the modern version of the trail being completed around the turn of the century. The recognized completion date of the original trail is said to be 1937.
Since then, the A.T. has become one of the National Scenic Trails. The Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail, along with the A.T, make up the Triple Crown Trail. Among them, however, the Appalachian Trail is still the longest “hiking-only” trail, with the others being accessible by car and horseback.
Where Does The Appalachian Trail Start and End?
The Appalachian Trail begins at Springer Mountain, Georgia, and ends at Mount Katahdin, Maine. The trail stretches across most of the eastern U.S., with a total length of 2,200 miles. The exact milage occasionally changes as they rework portions, reroute small segments due to erosions, and other small adjustments.
The vast majority of the trail is through extremely wild portions of the United States. Still, it does make intentional crossings through towns, roads, and farms. Across the trail, 14 states are traversed, including Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.
Although the official route of the A.T. is 2,200 miles and extends from Georgia to Maine, there are extensions that are widely recognized. The International Appalachian Trail is a route that continues north from Maine and heads into Newfoundland, Greenland, through Europe, and ends in Morocco. Other extensions of the Appalachian Trail include the Eastern Continental Trail (from Florida to Quebec) and a potential trail extension heading into the ancient Appalachian regions of Scotland and Ireland.
What is the best direction to go on the Appalachian Trail?
Although there is some debate as to which direction to go on the Appalachian Trail, the vast majority of people head north, starting in Georgia.
Someone hiking north on the trail is known as a NoBo (northbounder). As you may guess, someone hiking south on the trail is known as a SoBo (southbounder). The most common way to hike is from south to north, starting in Georgia. Most hikers begin their northbound route as winter is ending, hitting northern regions as it is clearly shifting from spring into summer. The peak time for NoBo hikers begins in March and ends in April, with most beginning the route sometime during those months.
Overall, the trip takes between 5-7 months, with most people completing it in 6 months total.
How many people do the Appalachian Trail a year?
The Appalachian Trail is one of the most popular trails in the United States, although few actually thru-hike the entire thing. Since the trail extends through so many states, millions of people visit segments of it each year and hike small portions of it.
Although visiting the trail is great, few attempt to actually hike the entirety of it at once. These thru-hikers, if completed, have done something that many members of the hiking community respect deeply due to its difficulty and distance.
In recent years, over 250 total individuals complete the hike annually. Of those 250 people, about 75% begin in the south and hike north, with the remaining beginning in the north and hiking south. When an individual hikes to one end and then returns back the way they came, it’s known as a “yo-yo” and is particularly tough.
Across the trail, many small structures exist and are known as huts, lean-tos, or shelters. They are usually spaced about a day apart across the trail and are small, three-walled structures you can throw a sleeping bag in. In larger ones, tents can fit inside.
What makes the Appalachian Trail special?
Hiking the Appalachian Trail is sort of a badge in many outdoor communities. It is long and tough, taking up to 7 months to complete. The entire time you are dirty, tired, and uncomfortable. Despite this, the ability to say you’ve hiked the majority of the east coast along mountain ridges is something noteworthy.
Aside from the honor itself, the Appalachian Trail is beautiful. Mountains, forests, snow, valleys, and wildlife are commonly seen during the trip, and they make up some of the most breathtaking scenery in all of the United States.
Additionally, there is a strong sense of community around the trail, with online groups and supports established all over the country. Hiking the trail is rarely a lonely event, and friends are often made along the way. Few will understand what it’s like to hike the trail than someone who did it with you!
What Animals Will You Encounter on the Appalachian Trail?
The trail is known for its abundance of wildlife and it is highly likely you will encounter quite a few of them during your adventure, including:
These ursines are extremely common along the trail and given their fondness for human fare, hikers are advised to carry out all gastronomic-related activities 200 meters from their campsite. All the better to avoid waking up to find a bruin scarfing down their jerky and granola bars.
North America’s most abundant cervid tends to hang around the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Smokies. If you happen to be in areas where hunting doesn’t occur, these deer might simply stare at you curiously rather than attempt to vanish into the surrounding greenery.
Species of the bushy-tailed rodent you are likely to encounter include the eastern gray squirrel and the red squirrel known for their penchants for larder and nest swapping, respectively. While squirrels generally tend to give humans a wide berth, it is worth noting that they can become infected with rabies and can bite.
Additional critters you are likely to encounter during the greatest trek of all, include copperheads, rattlesnakes, as well as foxes, raccoons, and skunks (these three mammals can have rabies, hence special precautions should be taken to give them a very wide berth).
Safety on the Trail
If you are planning to hike a portion of the Appalachian Trial, it’s fairly safe. While they are not official law enforcement officers, there are trail “ridgerunners” and “caretakers” who report to trail managers on any potential dangers. There can be crimes along the trail, so it’s important not to be too trusting of strangers, even though most people are hiking the trail for the right reasons. A good statistic–on average, only one murder takes place along the trail every four years since 1974.
Other dangers can involve severe weather, high winds, and steep, rugged terrain. The threat of being attacked or killed by bears, coyotes, or snakes is very low. Statistically, there’s only one fatal bear attack every 8-10 years. The more common threats from hiking the trail would be ticks, mosquitos, spiders, and other bugs. Bites from them could possibly result in illness, so it’s important to carry bug spray among your travel items (as well as pepper spray for larger animals or threats from humans).
Bonus: Frequently Asked Questions About the Appalachian Trail
If you are considering an attempt at hiking the A.T. you may have more questions than our article covered. Here are a few of the most frequently asked questions regarding this rewarding endeavor:
- Are there bathrooms along the trail? Every shelter positioned about a day’s hike apart has a privy of some type located nearby – many are primitive. Most hikers dig a hole in the woods.
- Which state is the easiest to hike? Maryland and West Virginia are the easiest states to hike.
- Which state is hardest? New Hampshire and Maine.
- Which state covers the most miles? Virginia covers the most – with 550 miles.
- Is there a fee to walk the Appalachian Trail? No fees, permits, or memberships are required. The A.T. does pass through numerous state and national parks, some of which require fees, permits, or reservations to camp overnight.
- How do you shower on the A.T.? Showers are rarely available. Hikers usually shower while at hostels or hotels in towns. To bathe while on the trail carry water 200 feet from the water source in a container and wash yourself away from streams and ponds.
- How many hours a day do you hike? Thru-hikes that take 5 months will likely require the hiker to start and end in the snow. That’s why most hikers walk far more than 8 hours a day – sometimes as many as 14 a day during the middle of the summer.
- Do cell phones work on the Appalachian Trail? It is highly unpredictable and varies significantly with service providers. Check online maps of coverage provided by your phone company. Reception is best on ridgelines and peaks and poor or nonexistent in gaps, hollows, and narrow valleys.
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