When Jennifer Pharr Davis and Haley Blevins reached the Burnsville Town Square in North Carolina on May 8, they became the first people to complete the newly imagined Appalachian High Route.

The new 343-mile route connects Mount Mitchell — the highest peak on the eastern seaboard — with the Appalachian Trail — which runs nearly 2200 miles from Georgia to Maine.

Expert hiker Jennifer Pharr Davis unveils the new Appalachian High Route
Expert hiker Jennifer Pharr Davis, co-founder of the new Appalachian High Route © Jennifer Pharr Davis

The new route connects Mount Mitchell to the Appalachian Trail

The new route also links the Appalachian Trail with two other regional trails —the Mountains-to-Sea Trail and Black Mountain Trail — and was thought up by Jake Blood, co-founder of the North Carolina High Peaks Trails Association and chair of the Burnsville-Yancey Chamber of Travel and Tourism Committee. While Blood had been mulling the idea over in his head for the past 12 years, the lack of hiking-specific trails and the amount of private land in the region served as major roadblocks. 

“When you’re hiking the Appalachian Trail, you’re going over all these peaks but you only go over the third highest in the range,” said Blood. “I always thought Mount Mitchell needed to be connected to the Appalachian Trail, but trying to get [private] landowners to give you an easement is almost impossible.”

The route follows a combination of existing trails, forest roads, secondary roads and the newly identified Burnsville Connector, which is a 19-mile road walk that ended up being the missing link to the puzzle. 

Pharr Davis, who is no stranger to hiking firsts (she currently holds the women’s fastest known supported time for hiking the Appalachian Trail), was the fresh set of eyes needed to see the Burnsville Connector, which allowed the entire route to come together.

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Jake Blood and Jennifer Pharr Davis worked together to found the new Appalachian High Route
Appalachian High Route co-founders, Jennifer Pharr Davis and Jake Blood © Jennifer Pharr Davis

Details of the new route: connecting nearly all the summits

The route provides access to 50 of the 54 6000-foot summits in the Appalachians, passing through three National Park Service-managed areas, three national forests and a state park along the way. While much of the trail is in western North Carolina, it does have sections entirely in Tennessee

Before publicly announcing the project, Pharr Davis and Blood contacted land management agencies, trail maintaining clubs and trail organizations to get feedback and ensure everyone involved knew about the formation of the route.

“We thought it was important that we reach out to stakeholders and give them the opportunity to review the proposal and provide feedback,” said Pharr Davis. “And because this route [consists of] already established trails, our hope is it brings positive attention to all of the partners and places that are connected without adding additional work.”

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Jennifer Pharr Davis hiking the Burnsville Connector
Jennifer Pharr Davis hiking the Burnsville Connector, a 19-mile road walk that was the missing link to the puzzle for the new route © Jennifer Pharr Davis

Completing the vision for the original vision of the Appalachian Trail: Mount Mitchell and Mount Washington

The most historically interesting aspect of the Appalachian High Route is that it connects the highest peak in the Southeast, Mount Mitchell, with Mount Washington, the highest peak in the Northeast. The link between the two summits was the original vision of Benton Mackaye when he proposed the Appalachian Trail in 1921.

Now, hikers can fulfill the dream Mackaye came up with over a century ago.

How to hike the Appalachian High Route

Currently, Blood is working on finalizing route maps, but for those who don’t want to wait, details on the route can be found on Pharr Davis’s website. In addition to custom patches, hikers will get for completing the route, the first 12 people to hike it will also receive a special reward.

“This trail gives you the opportunity to connect to that trail you’ve already hiked or are hiking,” said Blood. “Benton Mackaye didn’t envision a single trail when he talked about the Appalachian Trail originally — he also saw connector trails that tied into the main route. So I think we’re tying back into Benton’s original vision of the Appalachian Trail.” 

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