A Brief Description and History of the Appalachian Trail

America has many long walking trails, spanning from a few dozen miles to a few thousand miles. The oldest recognized long trail is the Appalachian Trail, which spans almost 2,200 miles along the Appalachian Mountain Range in the eastern United States. It is a continuous walking path from Georgia to Maine marked by semi-frequent white ‘blazes,’ in most cases a 3-4″ vertical brush stroke of white paint on trees, rocks, or whatever may be bordering the path.

The Appalachian Trail was conceived in 1921 by regional planner Benton MacKaye, and in 1925 work began to connect existing trails. The trail was completed in 1937 under the leadership of Myron H. Avery. In 1938, a hurricane destroyed sizable portions of the trail in New England. Due to this damage and World War II, the trail was not officially opened again until 1951.

The first claimed thru-hike (hiking from one terminus to the other continuously) came in 1948 by Earl Shaffer. This claim has been highly criticized due to damaged portions of trail and further shortcuts taken by Shaffer.

The first thru-hike by a woman was claimed by Emma Rowena Gatewood in 1955. Known as ‘Grandma Gatewood,’ the 67 year old completed the trail with a shoulder sack instead of a backpack and Keds instead of boots. She then completed the trail two more times at 72 and 75 years old.

In 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the National Trails System Act into law, opening the door for the Appalachian Trail to become a federally protected part of the National Parks System.

Today, the trail is open for day hikers, overnighters, section hikers (those on a multi-day trip that do not plan to complete the trail in one trip), and thru-hikers. There a few recognized ways to become a thru-hiker:

  • NOBO – Hike the trail ‘northbound’ from Springer Mountain in GA to Mount Katahdin in ME. This is the most popular way to complete the trail, and hikers often depart in March and complete the trail in mid-fall.
  • SOBO – Hike the trail ‘southbound’ from Mount Katahdin in ME to Springer mountain in GA. A less popular way to take the trail, hikers often depart in June after snow melts in the north and complete the trail in late-fall. We will be hiking SOBO for our thru-hike.
  • Flip-Flop – Start from the middle and hike to one terminus, then return by car or plane to the middle and hike to the other terminus. This can also be done from terminus to middle. This is a good option if the hiker wishes to avoid the ‘hiker bubbles’ (large group of hikers generated by the usual SOBO and NOBO hiking seasons).

Shelters are spaced every six to ten miles along the trail to aid during serious weather. Shelters are helpful in a pinch, but can appear in various states of disrepair. Additionally, it is not uncommon to find assorted species of ‘mini-bears’ (squirrels, chipmunks, and mice) inside the shelters as many misinformed people like to bring food into the shelters with them when they sleep.

We hope to post again in the next few days. Our next topic will be ‘Why We’re Choosing to hike the Appalachian Trail.’ Thanks for reading!

Additional resources on the Appalachian Trail:

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