Appalachian Trail History

The Appalachian Trail (the Trail, the AT) is a National Scenic Trail following the crest of the Appalachian Mountains over 2000 miles from Springer Mt in Georgia to Mt Katahdin in Central Maine. The Trail passes through parts of 14 states and includes more than 90 miles of elevation change over its full course.

Initially thought impossible by many of the AT’s planners, in 1948 the entire length of the Trail (then 2044 miles) was first hiked in a single season (“thru hiked”) by a recently demobilized Pacific War veteran name Earl Shaffer. Several thousand people have followed in Earl’s steps, and even more have completed the Trail over a period of years (“section hiking”). In 1998 Mr. Shaffer, nearly 80 years old, again hiked the entirety of the trail.

Trail hikers who attempt to complete the entire trail in a single season are called “thru-hikers”; those who traverse the trail during a series of separate trips are known as “section-hikers”. Rugged terrain and cold weather during the spring and fall make thru-hiking difficult. Most thru-hikers walk northward from Georgia to Maine, and generally start out in early spring and follow the warm weather as it moves north. These “north-bounders” are also called NOBO (North Bound) or GAME (Georgia(GA)-to-Maine(ME)), while those heading in the opposite direction are termed “south-bounders” (also SOBO or MEGA).

The trail has more than 250 shelters and camp sites available for hikers. The shelters, sometimes called lean-tos, are generally open, three-walled structures with a wooden floor, although some shelters are much more complex in structure. Shelters are usually spaced a day’s hike or less apart, most often near a water source (which may be dry) and with a privy. They generally have spaces for tent sites in the vicinity. Shelters are generally maintained by local volunteers.

The trail crosses many roads, thus providing ample opportunity for hikers to hitchhike into town for food and other supplies. Many trail towns are accustomed to hikers passing through, and thus many have hostels and hiker-oriented accommodations. Some of the most well-known trail towns are Monson, Maine; Harpers Ferry, West Virginia; Damascus, Virginia; Hot Springs, North Carolina; Erwin, Tennessee; Duncannon, Pennsylvania; Port Clinton, Pennsylvania; and Hanover, New Hampshire. In the areas of the trail closer to trail towns, many hikers have experienced what is sometimes called “trail magic,” or assistance from strangers through kind actions, gifts, and other forms of encouragement. Trail magic is sometimes done anonymously. In other instances, persons have provided food and cooked for hikers at a campsite.

The Appalachian Trail at a Glance

• Is the nation’s longest marked footpath, at 2185.3 miles in 2014
• Touches 14 states
Georgia has 75 miles of the trail
North Carolina has 88 miles of the trail
Tennessee has 293 miles of the trail
Virginia has 550 miles of the trail
West Virginia has 4 miles of the trail
Maryland has 41 miles of the trail
Pennsylvania has 229 miles of the trail
New Jersey has 72 miles of the trail
New York has 88 miles of trail
Connecticut has 52 miles of the trail
Massachusetts has 90 miles of trail
Vermont has 150 miles of the trail
New Hampshire has 161 miles of the trail
Maine has 281 miles of trail

The Appalachian Trail:
• Is maintained by 30 trail clubs and multiple partnerships
• Lowest elevation: 124 feet – near the Trailside Museum and Zoo at Bear Mountain, New York
• Highest elevation: 6,625 feet – on Clingmans Dome in Tennessee
• There are 165,000 blazes along the length of the Trail.
• More than 10,000 people have reported hiking the length of the Trail.
• It takes approximately 5 million footsteps to walk the entire length of the Trail.
• More than 6,000 volunteers contribute about 200,000 hours to the Appalachian Trail every year.

Sources: Boo Hoo, AT Conservancy,

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