ABOUT THE AT 

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as the sunshine into the trees. The winds will blow their freshness into you, and their energy, while cares will drop like autumn leaves.

John Muir (Conservationist)


Description

The Appalachian Trail, called simply the "AT" by most hikers, is the premier hiking trail in the United States, a continental-scale wilderness pathway set aside for recreational foot travel only.

The route of the AT closely follows the ridge line of eastern America's Appalachian mountain chain for 2,167 unbroken miles, beginning on the summit of Springer Mountain in northern Georgia and ending on the summit of Mount Katahdin in central Maine. As it winds its way through the mountains, it passes through fourteen states, eight national forests, six national parks, and numerous state and local parks. About 99% of the route is on publicly owned lands, and no fee is charged nor is special permission needed to hike anywhere on the trail way itself, though in some high-use areas registrations required for overnight stay and fees may be charged for use of shelters and other facilities.

The entire trail route is clearly marked with white blazes (2-inch wide by 6-inch high rectangles painted on trees, rocks, etc.), and a series of three-sided lean-tos or shelters, each spaced about a day's journey apart, closer in many areas, is available to all trail users on a first-come, first-served basis. Water is available from numerous springs and streams, and the trail route passes through or near many towns and hamlets where long-distance hikers can resupply.

More than four million people use some part of the AT annually, according to surveys, and about 2,500 hardy individuals attempt to backpack the entire Appalachian Trail in one continuous journey each year.

Purpose of the Appalachian Trail

The Board of Managers of the Appalachian Trail Conference has issued the following official definition of the AT experience, saying that: "The Appalachian Trail experience represents the sum of opportunities that are available for those walking the Appalachian Trail to interact with the wild, scenic, pastoral, cultural, and natural elements of the environment of the Appalachian Trail, unfettered and unimpeded by competing sights or sounds and in as direct and intimate a manner as possible."

This summary definition carries with it seven main ideas that the Board considered integral to the AT experience:

Definition of Thru-Hiking

THRU-HIKING a term that originated on the Appalachian Trail in the late 1960s, and refers to the act of attempting to hike the entire Trail from end to end in one continuous journey (e.g., as in “he or she is thru-hiking the AT from Georgia to Maine this summer”).

Among traditionalists, it is generally agreed that the attempt to thru-hike should be a personal effort, with the individual thru-hiker carrying everything needed for his or her journey in a backpack, leaving from one terminus and heading for the other, and, once underway, relying for daily sustenance only on food and supplies prepared before the hike and forwarded by mail and/or purchased in nearby towns and communities encountered along the way.

In 1948, Earl V. Shaffer of Pennsylvania became the first person to hike the AT continuously from Georgia to Maine. Thousands of hikers have followed in Earl's footsteps over the years, and today more than 2,500 men and women attempt to thru-hike the AT annually. Only about 1 in 10 of the people who start a thru-hike complete the journey.

About 4,000 individuals claim to have hiked the entire Appalachian Trail, either as a thru-hiker or by doing the Trail in a series of connected section hikes as "section hikers" (the actual figure is probably much less, since many make the claim but have not actually done it), each becoming what is known as a “2000 Miler” in AT hiking circles if they have hiked every mile of the Appalachian Trail between its official termini, Springer Mountain in Georgia and Katahdin in Maine.

State By State Descriptions

Maine

The AT. in Maine traverses 280 miles through a relatively thin corridor of state and federal park lands, crossing the major mountain ranges in western and central Maine. The trail corridor travels through extensive, unpopulated, privately-owned woodlands with few roads, towns, and other amenities of civilization. The Trail here is roughly divided into three segments. The eastern section, comprising 120 miles from Katahdin to Monson, is characterized by disconnected mountains. It is a section of lakes, ponds, streams, and pleasing forest growth. While hiking here is not very difficult, it is one of the most isolated sections of the Trail. The second section, from Blanchard to Bigelow Mountain, features a short, rugged stretch followed by some of the least strenuous hiking in Maine. The western section is an area of steep, 4,000-foot mountains featuring considerable ascent and descent. Opportunities for canoeing and swimming are among the highlights of the AT. in Maine, but caution should be exercised during times of high water (spring snowmelt in April and May, and after heavy rains).

The Maine Appalachian Trail Club (MATC) provides a daily hiker ferry service for hikers seeking to cross the 70 yard wide Kennebec River in Caratunk. This service is offered for hikers who prefer not to attempt the extremely dangerous fording of the river. With ATC funding, the MATC contracts this service from Rivers and Trails Northeast Inc.; they have provided reliable, free and safe ferry services since 1986.

Hikers must meet the ferry on either bank at the point of the AT. crossing, at the times listed below. A signal flag is available to call the ferry from the opposite river side. Hikers are required to wear life jackets and follow ferry operator instructions.

Donations to defray the cost of the service may be sent to the Maine Appalachian Trail Club, P.O. Box 283, Augusta, Maine 04330. The service operates from the Friday before Memorial Day to the Monday following Columbus Day, with two ferry times available during peak hiking season:

2000 season dates and times:
May 26 to June 29 - 10 AM to Noon
June 30 to October 1 - 10 AM to 2PM
October 2 to October 16 - 10 AM to Noon

To arrange a nonscheduled ferry crossing, you may contact

Rivers and Trails Northeast, Inc.
Steve Longley
Route 201, P.O. Box 70
The Forks, Maine 04985
Phone: (207) 663-4441

New Hampshire

The highlight of the AT. in New Hampshire is the beautiful, rugged White Mountains. Much of the Trail is above timberline, where the temperature may change very suddenly; snow is possible anytime. Travel here requires intelligent planning and an ample allowance of time. Between the White Mountains and the Connecticut River, the Trail crosses broken terrain of alternating mountains and valleys. Mt. Cube, Smarts Mountain, Moose Mountain, and the town of Hanover are the highlights of this stretch.

Vermont

West of the Connecticut River to the Green Mountains, the Trail passes through high, rugged country with abandoned, overgrown farmlands and woodlands. From Sherburne Pass south, the AT. follows about 95 miles of the Green Mountain Club's famed "Long Trail" along the crest of the Green Mountains.

Massachusetts

The Trail here leads through the Berkshire Hills. Pleasant stretches through wooded hills and valleys feature such outstanding peaks as Mt. Greylock and Mt. Everett.

Connecticut

The route through the northwestern corner of Connecticut meanders across the worn-down remnants of a once-lofty mountain range. The Housatonic River Valley to the east and the Taconic Range to the west are particularly scenic.

New York and New Jersey

From Connecticut to the Kittatinny Range in New Jersey, the Trail is much less secluded--you can see the Manhattan skyline from some spots! Harriman-Bear Mountain State Park, where in 1923 the very first section of the Appalachian Trail was completed, is a much-visited area. The route along the Kittatinny Range is rugged and more remote. The Trail then crosses the Delaware River at the picturesque Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.

Pennsylvania

The AT. follows the rim of the eastern range of the Alleghenies west to the Susquehanna River. Some 10 miles beyond the Susquehanna, the Trail crosses the Cumberland Valley and follows the northern-most extension of the Blue Ridge. About 13 miles of road walking through Cumberland Valley farm country are being reduced by relocating the Trail onto ridgelines.

Maryland

The AT. in Maryland comprises a 38-mile walk along the backbone of South Mountain, a north-south ridge that extends from Pennsylvania to the Potomac River. This section is great for three- or four-day trips. There are many pretty views and convenient access from nearby towns and highways.

West Virginia

The AT. enters West Virginia at Harpers Ferry by way of a footbridge over the Potomac River. Passing within just a quarter-mile of ATC headquarters, the Trail crosses the Shenandoah River, ascends Loudoun Heights, and straddles the Virginia-West Virginia border further south for about 25 miles.

Virginia

One-fourth of the Appalachian Trail lies in Virginia. The northernmost 50 miles are principally on lands acquired specifically for the AT. Next comes Shenandoah National Park, with 100 miles of well-graded and well-maintained trail. A variety of side trails provides excellent opportunities for one-, two-, or three-day circuit hikes. The proximity of the Trail to the adjacent Skyline Drive makes access for hiking particularly easy. Of course, the park also gets very busy during weekends and summer.

South of the Shenandoahs, the AT. follows a route roughly parallel but generally removed from the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Trail crosses the parkway only twice in 70 miles through the Pedlar District of the George Washington National Forest. In the Glenwood District of the Jefferson National Forest, the AT. crosses the parkway several more times. This is a section of mature timber, high summits, and spectacular wilderness. The Trail then travels west across the valley, through the New Castle, Blacksburg, Wythe, and Holston districts of the Jefferson National Forest. This portion of southwest Virginia affords a splendid wilderness trip. Throughout the Mt. Rogers region in southwest Virginia, the floral displays of rhododendron and azalea in June and July are outstanding.

Tennessee-North Carolina

From Damascus, Virginia, the Trail follows segments of mountain ranges in the Cherokee National Forest to the North Carolina-Tennessee state line. Here lies Roan Mountain, noted for its rhododendron gardens and far-flung views. The AT. continues southward along the North Carolina-Tennessee state line and through the Pisgah National Forest. Here the hiker is introduced to the spectacular majesty of the southern Appalachians.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, with 70 miles of Crestline Trail, features the highest elevations of the entire footpath. Beyond the Smokies comes the difficult Stecoah-Cheoah Mountain area. Next comes the outstanding Nantahala section, with 4,000-foot gaps and 5,000-foot peaks. The variety of forest growth and the beauty of the flowering shrubs, along with the many spectacular views, make this entire section of Trail truly outstanding.

Georgia

The AT. in Georgia traverses the Chattahoochee National Forest. This area features rugged wilderness hiking, with highway crossings spaced about a moderate day's journey apart.

If you need specific information about the Appalachian Trail in Georgia or about reaching the southern terminus of the Trail via public transportation, contact the Appalachian Trail Conference (info@atconf.org) or the Georgia AT. Club, P.O. Box 654, Atlanta, Georgia 30301.

Sources

Description - http://www.trailplace.com/intros/index_at.html

Purpose of Trail - http://www.trailplace.com/intros/index_at.html

Definition of Thru-Hiking - http://www.trailplace.com/intros/thruhike.html

State By State Descriptions- http://www.atconf.org/state_by_state.html