Completed in 1937, the country's longest footpath spans more than 2100 miles, crossing two national parks, traversing eight national forests and hitting 14 states from Georgia to Maine. Misty mountains, deep woods, flowery pastures and bear sightings are the rewards. Each year, roughly 3500 hardy souls attempt to hike the entire trail – only one in four makes it all the way through. But don't let that discourage you. It's estimated that two to three million people trek a portion of the Appalachian Trail annually, thanks to easy-to-access day hikes up and down its length. See www.appalachiantrail.org for more information.
- Most through-hikers start at Springer Mountain in northern Georgia and finish at Mt Katahdin in Maine's Baxter State Park.
- They begin in March or April and finish six months later. Baxter closes for the season on October 15, so hikers must arrive before then.
- Hiking the route in reverse (from Maine to Georgia) is also possible, but cold weather in the north dictates you start later (in June) when the blackflies are ravenous and the trails are wet and muddy. Either way, hikers hit the weather gamut from snow to steamy humidity.
- Campsites, lean-tos and huts are the usual lodging options. Most hikers spend about $1000 per month for food and the occasional night in a motel or lodge, plus supplies and replacement gear.
Short Hikes & Resources
- If you're short on time, gorgeous and accessible areas to get a piece of the trail include Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and Harpers Ferry in West Virginia, which is also the trail headquarters (and a short Amtrak train ride from Washington, DC).
- The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (www.appalachiantrail.org) has the lowdown on all things AT: official maps and guidebooks, an online database of day hikes organized by state, terrain descriptions by state, trail updates, hiker profiles etc. It's a fantastic resource.
- Humorist Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods (1998) is a great recreational read about the trail. It was made into a film starring Robert Redford in 2015.