The Appalachian Trail is a 3,190-mile hiking trail that spans 14 states from Georgia to Maine. It is considered one of the world’s most popular and challenging long-distance hiking trails.
In this article, we’ll explore the history of the Trail, what to expect when hiking it, and the unforgettable experiences that come with completing this incredible journey.
Brief History of Appalachian Trail
Benton MacKaye, a Massachusetts regional planner, is credited with starting the movement to establish the Appalachian Trail when he published an article calling on its creation in 1921—the first part of the Trail opened in New York in October 1923. The Appalachian Trail Conference (established by MacKaye), federal agencies, and the Civilian Conservation Corps worked together to complete the Trail until 1937, with the help of volunteers from hiking groups and other organizations. The path’s segments have been relocated multiple times, both to improve the aesthetic quality of the Trail and as a result of natural calamities, road construction, and land development.
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (formerly the Appalachian Trail Conference) volunteers manage the hiking path. The Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail was one of the two inaugural units of the National Trail System established by the United States Congress in 1968. Almost the entire Trail is on public land.
Description of the Appalachian Trail
The Appalachian Path starts from Springer Mountain to Mount Katahdin in Maine. Virginia, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, New Hampshire, and Maine are among the 14 states traversed by the Trail.
The landscape along the Appalachian Path is diverse and ranges from rich forests to rocky outcroppings. Hikers can anticipate coming across soak risings and plummets and challenging climate conditions, including rain, snow, and tall winds. The Trail also offers dazzling views of the surrounding scenes, with vistas extending for miles.
The trail is home to a variety of wildlife, including dark bears, deer, and raptors. Hikers may also come across small animals such as squirrels, chipmunks, and rabbits.
There are a few notorious points of interest along the Appalachian Path, including the Awesome Smoky Mountains, the Shenandoah Valley, and the White Mountains. These points of interest allow explorers to experience breathtaking views and interesting normal highlights.
The Appalachian Path is a well-known goal for explorers worldwide, offering a challenging and fulfilling experience for those seeking to investigate the characteristic excellence of the eastern United States.
Ways to Get There
There are a few ways to get to the Appalachian Path, depending on where you want to begin your hike. The path passes through 14 states, so there are numerous access points. The most well-known access points are in Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Vermont, and Maine.
Hikers can get to the path by car, bus, or train. A few well-known beginning points, such as Springer Mountain in Georgia or Katahdin in Maine, require a car to reach. Others can be accessed by public transportation or shuttle services.
Details on hiking Appalachian Trail
When to Go: Weather and Season
The Appalachian Trail’s ideal hiking seasons are late spring and early fall, but the Trail is available all year, and every season has something unique to offer.
Spring is a beautiful season to walk, but remember that spring weather doesn’t reach the Appalachian Trail’s high mountaintops and ridges until mid-April or May–or even later in northern New England. During the customary “spring break” time in March and early April, the entire Appalachian is typically still in the grip of winter. However, once spring arrives, it may be a lovely time to trek, with wildflowers in bloom and more expansive views until the leaves close in.
Summer can be scorching, so beginning early in the day, when it’s cooler and before any afternoon thunderstorms, is a good idea. Vermont’s earliest recommended time is June, particularly at higher elevations. In Maine and New Hampshire, ideal hiking conditions don’t begin until July; August can be even better, with fewer bugs, although trails are more busy.
Hiking is delightful in the fall when temperatures are cool and autumn colors begin to emerge. In many places, September is relatively uncrowded. Although October is the best month for fall colors, low temperatures, and snow are possible at high elevations in the South by the end of the month. The first snows in New Hampshire and Maine usually fall in September at higher elevations.
On a sunny day in late fall, a pleasant hike with more views after the leaves are off the trees is possible, but be cautious of fresh leaves and acorns on the ground. Prepare for hunting season by wearing bright orange and taking other precautions.
Winter may be spectacular, with the clearest skies of the year; many sights blocked in summer by the Trail’s green woodlands become visible. Bugs have vanished, and solitude has become much more accessible. However, hiking in the winter necessitates extra vigilance, safeguards, planning, and equipment. From November to early April, any stretch of the Appalachian Trail might see snow or ice, with snowfall occurring earlier and later at higher elevations in the South and New England. Remember that daylight hours are also drastically reduced.
When hiking the Appalachian Trail, you have three accommodation options: camping, shelters, and in-town housing. While trekking in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, an alternative becomes accessible in the shape of work-for-stays in the High Huts.
The most common sleeping option is to select a designated campsite from those provided in whichever guide you use. Most of the shelters along the Trail have designated camping spaces. Shelters, especially in the first several months of the Trail, tend to be highly crowded, as do the surrounding campsites. Those looking for a more quiet place may decide to camp in areas distant from shelters.
Another excellent choice for a place to sleep at night is a shelter. They are typically three-sided lean-to buildings, although some elaborate shelters along the way are multi-level, fully enclosed with a door, and even a fireplace in some cases. Shelters are typically ten miles apart; however, there are instances when they are nearly thirty miles apart. Shelters can be located right off the Trail or down a side trail.
Lodging in Town
There are numerous choices to stay in town; hotels, motels, and, on occasion, Airbnb. The number of available accommodations undoubtedly determines the size of the town. Most guidebooks will advise you of these alternatives, but smartphones are also great for quick research in this area. Hostels are spaced along the Trail and, in many cases, can be reached without requiring a hitch into town. Some are just alongside the route. Hostels are ideal for mailing mail, resupplying, pausing for a meal, etc. Many hostels include shared bunk beds, inexpensive showers, and laundry services.
One final option for thru-hikers who don’t mind swapping a little elbow grease for a night of indoor warmth and rest is provided throughout a specific section of the path. This is known as a work-for-stay arrangement. The Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) erected several huts in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, primarily for weekend or section hikers to hike out and have a place for rest and a warm dinner. A thru-hiker can schedule and pay for these ahead of time. However, if you’re prepared to put forth some effort, you might be able to sleep on the floor inside for the night.
Food and Supplies
Long-distance hikers leave the Appalachian Trail to replenish at adjacent towns regularly (usually every 3-5 days). Hikers may pack food for 6-8 days or more in isolated regions such as the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the “100 Mile Wilderness” in Maine.
Many hikers buy food and supplies in cities along the Trail or at hiker-friendly businesses near the Trail. However, many communities along the Appalachian Trail are small, so your options may be limited. Ship packages to post offices, hostels, and shops near the Trail to ensure you have difficult-to-find products when you need them. In most towns, sending food ahead is the best option if you need to follow a specific diet or want to ensure that you always have healthy options. Buying food along the trip and using maildrops in smaller towns can also be effective.
Tips to know when hiking Appalachian Trail
Here are some tips to help hikers prepare for their Appalachian Trail adventure:
- Decide when to start and the direction to go. Most hikers begin from the southernmost trailhead found on Springer Mountain in Georgia because the northernmost section is considered the most challenging part of the hike.
- Travel light to help you move faster and reduce wear and tear on your body.
- Try to hike without a tent. This may not be popular, but there are over 250 shelters that serve as accommodation for you saving you the stress of carrying a tent from one place to another.
- Test new equipment. Ensure your new hiking equipment are in good condition before setting out on the hike. Appalachian is no place to test run your hike equipment.
- Be physically fit before you begin your hike—exercise in the weeks leading up to the hike to get in good shape.
- Avoid Bears. Black bears are found in the Eastern part of the U.S though they are shy and non-aggressive, it is best to avoid them to stay out of trouble. Use Bear Spray if attacked.
Every time you go outside for an adventurous activity, an element of risk is involved. It makes no difference what it is. Hiking the Appalachian Trail is similarly risky, although being reasonably safe.
To begin, we should talk about ticks because tick-borne diseases represent the greatest risk to human health when hiking the Appalachian Trail. There are several tick species in every state where the path passes; the most prevalent disease they carry is Lyme disease. You can reduce your risks of contracting this disease by wearing permethrin-treated clothing or carrying an insect repellent containing roughly 30% deet.
There are a few portions worth mentioning for their difficulty, regardless of the weather. The White Mountains match the bill, although the weather here is notoriously difficult to forecast. The Trail ascends and descends for about 100 miles through treacherous, steep, and rocky terrain to reach Mount Washington’s 6,289-foot summit.
Another difficult portion occurs in the form of Baxter State Park and the ascent of Katahdin, the Trail’s longest continuous elevation. You will also be forced to traverse some unpleasant degraded trails with excessive exposure. A minor blunder here can spell the difference between finishing your hike and needing to use a medical evacuation helicopter.
Murders on the Appalachian Trail
Since the Appalachian Trail was established almost 80 years ago, there have been 12 murders. The first occurred in 1974 when a man was slain in Georgia’s Chattahoochee National Forest.
The most recent killing occurred on May 11, 2019, when a crazed guy assaulted a group of four hikers with a knife. One guy was killed, one woman was critically injured, and the other two escaped unscathed.
There have also been reports of feral humans living in National Parks. However, most missing people are the result of accidents rather than murders.
Dangerous Animals on the Appalachian Trail
While hiking the Appalachian Trail, you’ll encounter a black bear or two. You will pass through areas with large black bear populations (especially in Georgia, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey).
While these bears are generally fearful of humans and avoid confrontation, there are a few things you should be aware of for your safety.
In ninja stealth mode, refrain from walking through the forest. A startled bear is dangerous, so make some noise while hiking. Talk to another hiker, whistle, sing a song, or pound your feet; whatever it takes to make your presence known. If you encounter a mother bear with a cub, get out of there quickly.
In general, black bears will want to devour your food and not you. Avoid any potential conflict by carefully storing your food. This can be done by packing your food in Bear canisters or a storage locker or by appropriately hanging a bag in a tree.
If the thought of a bear assault keeps you awake at night, it may be time to get some bear spray.
Although you may hear a band of coyotes calling in the middle of the night (followed by scared tingles down your spine), they pose no threat to humans and will stay to themselves. Snakes should cause you more fear.
Although snake bites are extremely infrequent in the United States (and snake bite fatality is even rarer), it is nevertheless crucial to know what to do if you come across one of the lethal species. Snakes will often only attack humans if provoked. So, if you spot a snake, leave it alone; it will disappear on its own.
The Appalachian Path may be challenging, but it is a fulfilling hiking path that gives hikers an unforgettable experience through a few of America’s most picturesque wilds. Hikers can anticipate coming across differing landscapes, dazzling vistas, and a range of natural life. With proper planning, arrangement, and regard for the environment, hikers can enjoy a secure and memorable trip on the Appalachian Trail.