February 28, 2017 / Comments Off on What is the Appalachian Trail?

What is the Appalachian Trail?

[This post is rated “B” for Beginner]**

In my last post I reported on my decision to attempt to walk the entire Appalachian Trail (or, the “AT”) in 2018. A beginner or “Day Hiker” (see “Rating System” below) though is likely to ask, “what is the Appalachian Trail?”

images-1Many, especially those in the eastern United States, are generally familiar with the AT.  Yet, although twenty-five percent of the entire AT lies in the Commonwealth of Virginia (where I reside), many people I run across have scant knowledge of the Appalachian Trail.  So, again, it seems appropriate to ask, what is the Appalachian Trail?

Sometimes called “America’s Trail” or “America’s Footpath,” the Appalachian Trail is, in fact, a national park consisting of a narrow swath of land twisting its way down the east coast – from Maine to Georgia.  Responsible for managing the Trail, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (the “ATC”)* describes the AT in its Appalachian Trail Management Principles as follows:

The Appalachian Trail is a way, continuous from Katahdin in Maine to Springer Mountain in Georgia, for travel on foot through the wild, scenic, wooded, pastoral, and culturally significant lands of the Appalachian Mountains. It is a means of sojourning among these lands, such that the visitors may experience them by their own unaided efforts.

In practice, the Trail is usually a simple footpath, purposeful in direction and concept, favoring the heights of land, and located for minimum reliance on construction for protecting the resource. The body of the Trail is provided by the lands it traverses, and its soul is the living stewardship of the volunteers and workers of the Appalachian Trail community. 

While those “intermediate” or “expert” hikers have certainly heard of the AT, many will not be aware that the Trail is formally known as the “Appalachian National Scenic Trail,” as a result of the National Trails System Act, signed into law by Lyndon Johnson in 1968.  Not only did that legislation identify the AT as a “National Scenic Trail,” but it established the Appalachian Trail as a linear national park and authorized funds to surround the entire route with public lands and to protect it from incompatible uses.


The Appalachian Trail runs approximately 2,200 miles in length from Georgia to Maine, passing through fourteen states, six national parks, eight national forests, and numerous state parks. Its precise distance changes almost every year due to re-measurements and trail relocations. In 2014, for instance, 3.9 miles were added to the official length, extending the AT’s distance for that year to 2,185.3. (In 2016 and 2017 the official measurement was 2,189.1.)

Hopefully, the ATC will find a few shortcuts for me in 2018 and the official distance will be less than it has been the last two years.  🙂

Please follow this planned adventure as I use the year prior to starting the trip to discuss planning for my thru-hike as well as the history, personalities, and events about the Trail. (If you have not already, you can sign up at the right to receive an email whenever a new post is made).

Please feel free to pose whatever questions you may have about this planned journey in the “Comments” section below any post.

Finally, please share this site with others who might be interested in the Appalachian Trail or with my plan to attempt a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail.


*The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (the “ATC”) is a non-profit membership organization entrusted with protecting and maintaining the Appalachian Trail. I will use my thru-hike to try to help raise funds for the ATC.  See Support.

** Rating System.  Due to the difference experience level people have with the AT, I will “warn” people at the beginning of a post as to whether I consider the information “Basic” or “Beginner” level – for those essentially new to all things Appalachian Trail.  I like to think of Beginners as “Day Hikers.”  (Follow along and by the end of my hike you will be completely literate about the AT and thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail.)  The other “ratings” will be “I” for “Intermediate.” and “E” for “Expert.”  I like to think of those with Intermediate knowledge as “Section Hikers” and those with Expert knowledge as “Thru-Hikers.”  [For instance, a Beginner will not yet know to what Section Hiker or Thru-Hiker refers.  More about Section Hikers and Thru-Hikers in a future post.] appalachian_trail_map

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Last modified: December 27, 2017