The Appalachian National Scenic Trail, lovingly known as the AT, is an approximately 2,200 mile footpath that runs from Northern Georgia to Central Maine following the Appalachian Mountain chain up the east coast of the United States. In it’s course it crosses 14 states, 6 national parks, 8 national forests and numerous state and local parks. Marked by a series of approximately 165,000 white rectangles painted on trees along the way and taking about five million footsteps to walk it’s entire length, the trail is a relic of American wilderness that challenges and inspires all who set foot on it.
The trail was completed in 1937, sixteen years after being first proposed by forester Benton Mackaye. The AT was officially designated a National Scenic Trail in 1968, it was America’s first. It has become and iconic institution in American culture and is the most hiked trail in the world drawing hundreds of thousands of hikers onto some portion of it. First hiked end to end by a Pennsylvania man named Earl Shaffer in 1948, the AT now draws a few thousands of these “thru hikers” every year with nearly 10,000 people claiming to have completed the entire distance.
Starting at Springer Mountain in Northern Georgia, the trail wanders north over steep, tree covered mountains to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the Tennessee/North Carolina border. Crossing the trails highest point at Clingman’s Dome, the trail wanders the bald mountains of the region until it enters the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and West Virginia. Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia represents the trail unofficial half way point and houses the Appalachian Trail Conservency, the governing body of the AT. Leaving the south the trail crosses the Mason Dixon line near the Maryland/ Pennsylvania border and enters the Mid Atlantic region which is characterized by large, exposed rocks and rolling hills. New Jersey, New York and Connecticut represent some of the trails easier hiking and are the least wild states along the trail. Crossing Bear in Connecticut represents a shift into another region: New England. Distinguished by the appearence of alpine environments and high peaks, Massachuesettes, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine represent the final leg of a long journey north. The White Mountains of New Hampshire and the mountains of Southern Maine are the most challenging miles of the trails entire length and offer some it’s finest scenery. In the Maine the trail passes many glacial lakes before finally ending on the most dramatic precipous of it’s enture 2,200 miles: Baxter Peak on Katahadin. Along the way a hiker will cross countless rivers and climb over 515,000 vertical feet, equivalent to climbing from Sea Level to the top of Mount Everest over seventeen times. Sleeping trailside most nights, in either a tent or one of the many three sided shelters along the way, hikers may spend up to six months on the trail
If you are interested in our first hand account of a trip along this storied trail please check out the daily journals Matt kept during his 2008 thru hike.