How To Hike The Appalachian Trail Part 1: What Is The Trail?

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In the world of hiking, tackling the Appalachian Trail (lovingly called “the A.T.”) is possibly the greatest achievement one can attain. Thru-hiking the A.T. is not an undertaking that should be approached lightly. The feat will take you through 14 different states and usually takes around 6 months to accomplish it. Plus, only about 20 percent of those hikers who start the trail actually make it all the way to the end. If you’ve ever considered taking on the A.T. for yourself, you’ll want to be prepared. What follows is the first of a series of articles that will highlight the Appalachian Trail and what it will take to hike the whole thing.

This first article will simply cover what, exactly, the Appalachian Trail is.

The A.T. is about 2,200 miles long and passes through Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. The majority of those 2,000+ miles will be through mountainous terrain that is both gorgeous to look at and physically exhausting!  However, you don’t have to expect any extreme heights, as the tallest peak along the A.T. is Clingman’s Dome in the Smoky Mountains, which is 6,643 feet high—far lower than many of the mountains in the Western United States.

As mentioned above, it takes successful thru-hikers an average of six months to complete the entire trail. It’s one of the longest footpaths on the planet, and most hikers average about 10 to 15 miles each day. It can be done faster, though. In fact, the record for hiking all 2,200 miles is a mere 46 days!

You can start on either end of the trail. If you begin your hike in Maine, you’ll want to start in late spring, as any earlier than that and you’ll likely be facing snow covered trails. On the other hand, if you plan to start your hike in Georgia, plan your trip so that you arrive in Maine during the summer months. You’ll face a variety of weather conditions and temperatures during your hike, so you’ll need to pack enough gear to keep you safe and comfortable but not so much that your pack weighs too much to effectively complete the hike.

In future articles, will cover more tips for hiking the A.T., including what gear you should bring and how much it will likely cost you to complete the feat.