The Appalachian National Scenic Trail, generally known as the Appalachian Trail or simply The A.T., is a 2,174-mile (3,500-km) marked hiking trail in the eastern United States, extending between Springer Mountain in Georgia (U.S. state)|Georgia and Mount Katahdin in Maine. The exact length of the Appalachian Trail is not known, as periodic changes and maintenance to the trail alters the trail's length, making an exact figure difficult, if not impossible, to ascertain. Along the way, the trail also passes through the states of North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire. The path is maintained by thirty trail clubs and multiple partnerships.
Trail hikers who are attempting to complete the entire trail in a single season are termed thru-hikers; those who traverse the trail during a series of separate trips are known as "section-hikers." The trail's rugged terrain and cold weather conditions during the spring and fall make thru-hiking an extremely demanding experience. Only about 20% of those who make the attempt actually report to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy that they have done so, and it is widely acknowledged that a great percentage of those who report a completed thru-hike have actually skipped portions of the Trail. Therefore, the actual percentage of those who succeed in thru-hiking the entire AT is quite small. Completion of the trail generally requires five to seven months, although some have done it in as little as three months, and several "trail runners" have completed the trail in less time. Trail-runners almost always tackle the AT with automobile support teams, generally without backpacks, and frequently without camping or overnighting in the woods. (The Appalachian Trail Conservancy generally disapproves of this sort of activity as well as other "stunt" or publicity-seeking hikes; the ATC feels that such activities are inappropriate and are a degradation of the Trail's initial purpose).
Thru-hikers are classified into many informal groups. "Purists" are hikers who stick to the official AT trail, make a conscious effort to not miss any of the Trail, and do not use the side trails that can cut miles from the route. "Blue Blazers" take side trails marked by blue blazes. "Yellow Blazers" hitchhike. This last name (which may derive from yellow road stripes or the slang meaning of "yellow" for scared) generally carries a negative connotation.
Those heading from Georgia to Maine are termed "north-bounders" (also NOBO or GAME), while those heading in the opposite direction are termed "south-bounders" (also SOBO or MEGA). Northbound is the direction in which the whole route is most often attempted. Many hikers will start out in early spring and follow the warm weather as it progresses northward. Part of hiker subculture includes making colorful entries in log books at trail shelters, signed using trail names.
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy gives the name "2000 Miler" to anyone who completes the entire Trail. The ATC's recognition policy for "2000 Milers":
1. Gives equal recognition to thru-hikers and section-hikers. 2. Recognizes blue-blazed trails or officially required roadwalks as viable substitutes for the official, white-blazed route in the event of an emergency, such as a flood, a forest fire, or an impending storm on an exposed, high-elevation stretch. 3. Operates on the honor system.
Most of the trail is also open to local use. Although there are some rules and regulations that favor "thru-hikers," some believe that the emphasis on hiking the entire length of the trail is misplaced.
The trail is currently protected along more than 99% of its course by federal or state ownership of the land or by right-of-way. Annually, more than 4,000 volunteers contribute over 175,000 hours of effort on the Appalachian Trail, an effort coordinated largely by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) organization.
In the course of its journey, the trail follows the ridgeline of the Appalachian Mountains, crossing many of its highest peaks, and running, with only a few exceptions, almost continuously through wilderness.
- Official site of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (formerly Conference)
- National Park Service Trail information
- Georgia Appalachian Trail Club
- Maine Appalachian Trail Club
- Appalachian Trail in Virginia, from the state's website. Virginia hosts more miles than any other state
- Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, for Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia
- whiteblaze.net Website devoted to planning and preparing for an extended hike on the A.T.
- The Official Kennebec River Free Canoe Ferry Service
- Appalachian Trail Walk Thru
- Appalachian Trail Shelters (GPS data and maps)
Testimonials and journals
- The Appalachian Trail Home Page
- Trail Journals, Backpacking and Hiking Journals
- Ma & Pa on the Appalachian Trail
- ALDHA - Celebrating the A.T. Community, a national organization devoted to long-distance hiking and backpacking
- Backcountry.net - AT Mailing lists and archives
- Google Earth Map of over 300 waypoints on Appalachian Trail