The Appalachian Trail (AT) is the first long distance trail in the U.S. It covers 2,192 miles passing through fourteen states (map). It starts at Springer Mountain in George and follows the spine of the Appalachian Mountains up into Maine and finishes at Mt. Katahdin. Although it is the shortest of the three main long trails, it is considered the most difficult by many. The AT has very steep climbs and descents. In some places ladders or cables are in place to pull up on. There are boulder fields that require scrambling up and over. The highest point on the AT is Clingmans Dome, TN at 6,643 ft and the lowest is Bear Mountain State Park, NY at 124 ft. Despite the AT’s mountains not being tall, the trail has a massive elevation gain/loss ~515,000 ft. That is more than either the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) or the Continental Divide Trail (CDT).
Many of the animals found along the AT are common to most people: deer, raccoons, mountain lions, squirrels, and black bears. The more uncommon animals that would be exciting to see would be moose, feral pigs, armadillos, fishers and muskrats. The two animals we will have to be on the lookout for is the Copperhead and Timber Rattlesnakes. We are use to rattlesnakes but copperheads are new to us.
Unlike the other two prominent long trails, the AT has many shelters and lean-tos. There are over 250 of them along the length of the AT. They average one shelter every eight miles. These buildings can be three sided with one open face or a fully enclosed structure. Some have floors and others just dirt, but most all of them have raised sleeping platforms. They give hikers a good place to get out of the rain and warm up. However we have also heard that they are ridden with mice.
The AT passes through the Shenandoah and The Great Smoky National Parks as well as numinous state parks and national forests.
There are many more towns along the AT than the other two long distance trails. So many in fact that we will have the same number of food drops on the AT as the CDT, yet the AT is nearly 700 miles shorter. Three and four day food drops will be normal. The longest stretch is nine days while the shortest is one. Many of the towns are very small with limited amenities. Many historical Civil War battle sites are alone the Appalachian Trail. Harper’s Ferry is the best known one, however Shenandoah Valley, Waynesburo, Brownsville, Gathland, Turner’s Gap, and many more are encountered along the AT. We will be hiking the same areas that Civil War soldiers marched with their heavy packs.