The Appalachian National Scenic Trail covers over 2,000 miles and passes through 14 states. The trail is credited to Benton MacKaye, a regional planner based out of Massachusetts. He promoted its creation in 1921. Joint efforts for its construction continued for more than a decade with the help of federal agencies, the Civilian Conservation Corps, and the Appalachian Trail Conference.

Today, the trail attracts more than 3 million visitors annually. But only 3,000 or so attempt to trek the entire route. They’re known as “thru-hikers”. And out of those, only one of three will make it. The trail is challenging for hikers who need to get used to long-distance hiking or navigating rugged terrain. Read on to learn more about the course and how you guide from start to finish.

The Appalachian Trail: Start to Finish

If you want to complete the entire hike, most start from Springer Mountain in March or April. So, although the slogan for the walk is “Maine to Georgia,” people usually start the other way around.

The mild climate makes starting in Georgia more sensible. But another reason is that the most challenging section of the trail is situated in New Hampshire and Maine. Hikers must be in good condition to deal with the terrain and elevation.

The trail follows the eastern ridge of the Appalachian Mountains. Note that hiking more than 2,000 miles will take quite a long time, anywhere from five to seven months. You’ll have to be prepared and committed. 

Georgia

The Appalachian Trail - Georgia

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You can access the Appalachian Trail in southern Fannin County at Springer Mountain on FS Road 42 when ready. A short hike from the parking lot will get you to the summit. The trail spans more than 78 miles. It’s rated 2-7, easy to challenging. You won’t find farmland here. Most of the course runs through the wilderness. 

The highest section you’ll hit is Blood Mountain, which stands at more than 4,400 feet. It can be freezing and crowded as many “thru-hikers” start their trek to Maine while on spring break. Snow is possible, and temperatures can drop to single digits.

North Carolina

Appalachian Trail - North Carolina

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Expect the North Carolina section of the trail to take you to high summits, including the 6,643 Clingmans Dome, the highest peak on the course. This part of the trail spans more than 96.4 miles. The path does run along the Tennessee/North Carolina border for another 220 additional miles. The sections of the trail range from easy to challenging. Note that you’ll need a permit for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Tennessee

Appalachian Trail - Tennessee

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The trail runs about 75 miles in Tennessee. You’ll reach high elevations here, some above 6,000 feet. This section is designated as the National Scenic Trail.

Virginia

Appalachian Trail - Virginia

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More than a quarter of the trail’s length runs through Virginia, spanning more than 530 miles. The track also cuts through the mountains of Shenandoah National Park. This section is designated as excellent for beginners because it is well maintained and climbs are not high, at most 500-1,000 feet.

West Virginia

Appalachian Trail - West Virginia

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West Virginia’s section is only a little more than 25 miles. But a lot of people stop at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. There, you can have your photos taken and log your travel. You’ll also pass through the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, the site of notable Civil War battles.

Maryland

Appalachian Trail - Maryland

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You’ll pass through various historic sites in Maryland. This part of the trail is about 41 miles and is home to the Washington Monument. You can set up camp here, but it’s only allowed in designated sites. Note that it can be very hot if you’re passing here through the summer.

Pennsylvania

Appalachian Trail - Pennsylvania

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Pennsylvania showcases beautiful landscapes across this 229-mile path. You’ll also pass through some more historical landmarks before reaching the elevated point among Kittatinny Ridge. Note that there are lands here managed for hunting. There might be better times for the hike than fall.

New Jersey

Appalachian Trail - New Jersey

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This is not a challenging section (72miles), but you’ll cross varying landscapes, from wetlands to forests to woodlands. Elevation changes are moderate. You can camp but only in designated sites. Campfires are not permitted. Practice Leave No Trace.

New York

Appalachian Trail - New York

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While in New York, you’ll travel 93 miles and pass through Bear Mountain. It’s only 124 feet high. It’s not difficult, but the trail crosses through rocky areas that can be slippery when wet. Shelters are also far apart, and camping is restricted to certain zones. Campfires are also prohibited.

Connecticut

Appalachian Trail - Connecticut

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You’ll trek through the upstate part of Connecticut. This part of the trail spans a little over 50 miles. It’s pretty beautiful: expect breathtaking views of waterfalls and the forest foliage, especially in autumn.

Massachusetts

Appalachian Trail - Massachusetts

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As you walk through Massachusetts, take in the beautiful scenery from the mountains to river walks. There’s a lot to see during this 90+ mile walk span.

Vermont

Appalachian Trail - Vermont

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This section of the trail spans 150 miles and ascends from 400-4,000 feet. Some areas of the course might be difficult for beginners. You’ll pass through the lush forests of the Green Mountains. Be sure to avoid the mud season, which runs from April to May.

New Hampshire

Appalachian Trail - New Hampshire

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Hiking through this part of the trail inspires a sense of accomplishment, given the spectacular views and awe-inspiring landscape. You’re likely to encounter a wide range of wildlife along the way. Some of the most likely ones you’ll see include moose, deer, raccoons, bobcats, and black bears. Deer, as well as coyotes, are also common.

Maine

Appalachian Trail - Maine

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The last part of the trail spans over 250 miles. Easy in some parts and difficult in others, the rating ranges from 2-10. It is scenic, challenging, and very fulfilling. This part of the trail is said to possess the “wildest feel” of any other factor. You’ll likely encounter a range of wildlife and lovely, pristine lakes. 

You’ll also pass through the Kennebec River. Note that you can’t cross the river on foot. Water levels rise rapidly and unexpectedly. You can access a ferry service in the form of a canoe. The hardest part of the trail is also here: Mahoosuc Notch. Expect to squeeze through boulders and climb over large rocks in this section.

You’ll end at Mount Katahdin. A wooden sign surrounded by rocks will mark the trail’s end. Expect to wait while people take photos with the sign. You can return to civilization and rest your weary legs after going down Abol Slide or Roaring Brook.

Mount Katahdin

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The Appalachian Trail 

Whether you’re looking to embark on a long adventure or take on a section of the hike, the Appalachian Trail has much to offer. Just make sure you prepare for your walk, considering things like the weather and hunting season, and make sure you have your reservations and permits ready. Check out our guide to make everything you need for a safe and exciting trip. You might also want to visit the Appalachian Trail Conservancy to get additional information about planning your trip. Happy hiking!

Resources

https://www.britannica.com/place/Appalachian-National-Scenic-Trail

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