The Appalachian Trail is a National Scenic Trail that meanders for 2,189 miles (about five million steps) along the Eastern Appalachian Mountains through 14 states from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. Sounds pretty legit, but I have a few facts to share that prove that the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) is truly special.
There is no other trail on Earth like the A.T.
The A.T. is not only the longest “Hiking Only” footpath in the world, but it is also the only one constructed and maintained entirely by volunteers. Ninety-nine percent of the land over which the trail is constructed is owned either by the National Park Service or the United States Forest Service. But these agencies have delegated responsibility for the construction and maintenance of the trail to volunteers belonging to 31 independent trail clubs that are coordinated by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC). During the Federal fiscal year ending September 2014, 5,167 volunteers devoted 241,936 volunteer hours towards maintaining the trail and the 262 shelters along it.
The A.T. is not exactly flat.
The lowest elevation on the trail is 124 feet at Bear Mountain State Park in New York and the highest elevation is 6,643 feet at Clingman’s Dome in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park in Tennessee. While these elevations seem to pale in comparison to the massive mountains in the western United States, the total elevation gain/loss along the length of the A.T. is approximately 464,500 feet. Therefore, someone hiking the A.T. from end to end will experience an elevation gain/loss equivalent to climbing Mount Everest 16 times.
Hiking the A.T. is not a wilderness experience.
The path of the A.T. crosses two National Parks, multiple State Parks, and many miles of National Forest lands. It also crosses roads approximately every four miles, including 16 Interstate Highways, 44 U.S. Highways, and 150 State Highways. In fact, the path of the A.T. goes through the middle of multiple towns from Boiling Springs, North Carolina thru Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, to the Dartmouth College campus in Hanover, New Hampshire. Hikers are never very far from a hotel, grocery store, deli, or beer tap.
You are seldom lonely on the A.T.
The A.T. traverses some of the most scenic mountainous, woodland, and pastoral areas in the eastern United States. However, half of the U.S. population, more than 150 million people, live within a day’s drive of the Appalachian Trail. The ATC estimates that two to three million thru-hikers, section hikers, and day hikers access the A.T. each year. Nearly 3,000 thru-hikers (hikers intending to hike the entire A.T. in one season) depart from Springer Mountain from late February to mid-April each year. The popularity of the A.T. is one of the main challenges of the ATC in planning how to reduce the ecological impact and overuse of resources caused by this overcrowding.
The A.T. is continuously evolving.
It is estimated that 99% of the original A.T. has been relocated/rebuilt since the original trail was completed in 1937. Even the southern terminus changed in 1956 when it was relocated from Mount Oglethorpe to its present location on Springer Mountain in Georgia. The length also changes each year (usually getting longer) as sections of the trail are re-routed. Older portions of the trail, as a result of narrow property easements and minimalist trail construction techniques, tend to go straight up a mountain and straight back down the other side. Many of these sections are slowly being converted to a more modern switchback design that helps to prevent erosion.
These are just a few of the things that make the Appalachian Trail a unique and special place. Please continue to follow along and I will bring you a more in-depth glimpse of this American treasure.