InTrans / Apr 18, 2016

Great American Adventures: The Appalachian Trail

Go! Magazine

Mountainsposted on April 18, 2016

Hiking the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (simply known as the Appalachian Trail or A.T.) is one of the great American adventures. The Appalachian Trail spans over 2,000 miles, passing through 14 different US states! It stretches along the eastern coast of the United States from the Springer Mountains in Georgia to Katahdin in Maine.

Also passing through 8 different national forests and 6 national parks, the A.T. is home to an array of diverse plant and animal life. Some of the animals found along the Appalachian Trail are black bears, moose, porcupines, snakes, woodpeckers, and salamanders!

The trail also serves about 3 million visitors each year (who walk at least a portion of the trail). There are a variety of ways in which you can explore the A.T.—so let’s take a hike of our own!

Take a hike!

Which hike suits your style?

There are a couple different ways to explore the Appalachian Trail that we can choose from. For starters, the A.T. has hundreds of access points, reachable from reasonable driving distances for millions of Americans living in the eastern United States. In fact, most of the trail’s visitors come for a day-hike.

But day-hiking won’t be our only option…

We could hike for multiple days if we wanted! Whether spending just one night on the trail, or hiking larger portions of the trail, “multi-day” hiking is also an option and includes any hike lasting longer than one day (but shorter than a thru-hike).

So what’s a “thru-hike?”

Thru-hiker enjoying the view
Thru-hiker enjoying the view. Photo by Jimmie Jackson, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

Thru-hiking is when you hike the entire trail—all 2,190 miles of it—in one, long, continuous journey. If we hiked the entire Appalachian Trail, the total elevation gained would be the equivalent of hiking Mt. Everest 16 times! 1

Becoming a “2,000-miler”

There are a couple different ways we can hike the entire Appalachian Trail. Those who complete the entire journey are considered “2,000-milers” and have the opportunity to be officially recognized by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

Do you have what it takes? Most thru-hikers begin in Georgia in the spring and end in Maine in the fall. The journey takes an average of six months to complete (and only one out of four people will successfully finish the journey—so be ready!)

Thru-hiker enjoying the view
Thru-hiker enjoying the view. Photo by Jimmie Jackson, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

There are a couple of alternative ways to thru-hike the trail. We could do what “flip-floppers” do, which is when you start in the middle of the A.T. to avoid unfavorable conditions such as crowds, extreme weather conditions, and eroded terrain. Flip-floppers hike the Trail in discontinuous sections but still complete the entire length of the trail within the year.

Or, we could “section-hike!” Section-hiking is a little bit different, and consists of hiking the Trail over multiple visits than span over multiple years. By hiking different areas of the Appalachian Trail over time, as section-hikers, we could complete a thru-hike gradually and at our own pace!

Camping: What we need to know

Whether we’re thru-hiking, multi-day hiking, or just exploring for the day, it’s important to pack the essentials. Hiking the Trail for the day may come easily, but we still need the appropriate clothes, footwear, food, and equipment.

Multi-day hiking—a nice middle ground—is not as intimidating as thru-hiking but requires more commitment than a day-long hike. Multi-day hiking requires more (i.e. more preparation, equipment, food, clothing, and more knowledge of Trail regulations and backcountry skills).

And of course, thru-hiking requires the utmost planning and wilderness skills. Thru-hikers can take anywhere from 5 to 7 months to complete the Trail. If we decided to thru-hike, it would be important to know points where we could stock up on supplies as well as be very well versed in camping regulations throughout the different parks and forests.

When gathering food supplies, we should pack things that are high in calories and low in water weight—like Snickers bars, Ramen noodles, and crackers—because we could be burning up to 6,000 calories per day!

Leave no trace

Perhaps the most important thing to remember when getting ready to hike the A.T. at any length, is the importance of “Leave No Trace.” The Appalachian Trail is the longest single-unit of the National Park System, and with the amount of people who explore it each year, it’s imperative to adopt hiking and camping techniques that will minimize our damage on the natural environment.

Any negative effects on the Trail may compromise the natural experience for other hikers, and more importantly for the plants and animals. The Trail is able to maintain its natural qualities as long as its users are conscious and committed in their approach to the journey. So, most importantly, let’s make sure we leave no trace.

Related links

Hiking basics:

Thru Hiking FAQ:



By Hannah Postlethwait, Go! Staff Writer

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