A High Level Overview of the AT
If you live on the East Coast of the United States, and like to hike and camp, you undoubtedly know about the Appalachian Trail (AT) at some level; you may have even hiked a section of it. But since it’s so big how do you really sort out what you want to see? Where to hike or camp to see it? And how to go about planning and taking your trip? We’re lucky enough to live near 6 of the States that the AT traverses (and are within reasonable driving distance of 3 of the other states) so here’s some information that we have complied over the years to help us with our AT adventures.
First off, some background information about the Appalachian Trail. As the world's longest “hiking only” trail, the AT is approximately 2,192 miles (3,527 km) of footpaths along the ridge crests and major valleys of the Appalachian Mountains - from Katahdin (Baxter Peak) in Maine to Springer Mountain in northern Georgia – crossing the boundaries of 14 States as it meanders along the East Coast.
The States that contain some part of the AT are:
Conceived in 1921, built by private citizens, and completed in 1937, today the AT is managed by the National Park Service, US Forest Service, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, numerous state agencies and thousands of volunteers in thirty hiking clubs performing trail maintenance. The AT was designated as the first National Scenic Trail by the National Trails System Act of 1968, covers ~250,000 acres (1,000 km²), sees approximately 3 million visitors each year and would take an average person 165 days to thru-hike (although Joe “Stringbean” McConaughy, a speed hiker, hiked it in 45 days, 12 hours, 15 minutes in 2017 – a feat that we don’t recommend).
If you hike the entire AT you would cover approximately 464,500 feet in vertical elevation as you went up and down along the trail.
To keep people on the trail the AT is marked for daylight travel in both directions using a system of “white blazes”, rectangles of white paint approximately 2 inches wide and 6 inches high on trees and other objects such as posts and rocks. There are ~165,000 white blazes on the trail.
If you’re serious about planning a hike along the AT then here are the primary resources that you might want to consult for maps, hiking/camping information, weather, fees, rules, required gear and all other manner of vital information:
Appalachian Trail Conservancy
National Park Service
National Park Foundation
WhiteBlaze.net - a community of Appalachian Trail Enthusiasts
Appalachian Mountain Club
Appalachian Trail Distance Calculator
Appalachian Trail Mileage Chart
If you’re in New England, like we are, another great resource is the Appalachian Mountain Club's Boston Chapter’s website – especially the page for their Hiking/Backpacking Committee:
Appalachian Mountain Club's Boston Chapter
Appalachian Mountain Club's Boston Chapter Hiking/Backpacking Committee
Finally, here’s Backpacker Magazine’s write-up about the Appalachian Trail and the definitive book about the Appalachian trail “Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers' Companion – 2019. They both have lots of great information about what to expect and how to go about hiking the AT – especially if you are planning a thru-hike of the entire AT.
Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers' Companion - 2019
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