The Appalachian National Scenic Trail, memorialized in Bill Bryson's “A Walk in the Woods” is one of the longest and most famous hiking trails in America. It stretches along the Appalachian Mountain Range from Maine all the way down to Georgia. Between 2 and 3 million visitors tackle some portion of the trail each year. Here is why you should join them:
The Appalachian Trail is 2,200 miles long, and takes 5 months to hike from end to end. This obviously takes some serious planning and training, and 70% of hikers don't even complete the journey!
Fortunately, you don't have to tackle the entire trail, there are hundreds of easy access points so you can get a taste of adventure with just a few weeks, a few days or even a few hours to hike. Check out the Appalachian Trail Conservancy to find a hike that meets your location, distance and difficulty specifications.
The trail is not just a hiking path; it's a historical landmark. First conceived in 1922 as a “super trail” that would stretch down the East Coast, this great thoroughfare wasn't officially established until 1948. It passes through a variety of historical locations including along the C&O Canal and through Harper's Ferry, West Virginia.
The Appalachian Trail passes through a variety of interesting “trail towns” including Hot Springs, North Carolina, Damascus, Virginia and Hanover, New Hampshire. Some of these towns are historical, some are exciting and some are just quaint. Most trail towns are very used to hikers passing through, and offer accommodations and services for travelers. Your might even encounter some generous locals, known as “trail angels.”
One of the major purposes of the AT is to encourage conservation, and the trail passes through some of the most beautiful slices of wilderness on the East Coast including the Great Smoky Mountains to Shenandoah National Park, and the Delaware Water Gap.
Hiking so far outside of civilization means lots of opportunities to see a variety of wildlife. In addition to a huge assortment of trees and plants, the trail is home to black bears, elk, skunks, raccoons and deer. Further north you may even spot a moose.
Hiking the Appalachian Trail is the ultimate way to unplug. Not only are their no outlets, there's probably no reception in most places anyway. Some hikers bring a satellite phone in case of emergency, but for the most part you will be disconnected. Enjoy it!
Many people choose to hike the Appalachian Trail alone but if you spend a significant amount of time on the trail you are bound to befriend some fellow hikers. If you camp at one of the 250 shelters along the trail you will probably find yourself with company at least some of the time. AT hikers are known for their special lingo and for giving out nicknames to fellow travelers.
Some parts of the trail are easier than others, but hiking any major section of the trail is a major achievement. If you combine all the changes in elevation along the route, hiking the entire trail is the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest - 16 times! Even if you only do a small part, give yourself a pat on the back: getting away from the world and reconnecting with nature is a rare and special feat in this day and age.
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Stephanie Yoder is a girl who can't sit still! Since graduating college in 2007 she has either been traveling or planning to travel. She's lived on four continents and visited everywhere from the Great Wall of China to the Great Barrier Reef. She now writes and travels full time, blogging about her adventures on Why Wait To See The World? (formerly Twenty-Something Travel). Follow Stephanie on Twitter or visit her on Facebook.
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