“The green tunnel is best for hippies and post-grads who want to be able to cell-phone in a pizza delivery from a trailside hut—to share with their two new buddies, Grasshopper Pie and Mrs. Happy Shorts,” says Senior Editor Shannon Davis. “For a country-spanning trip with real adventure? Try the Continental Divide Trail.”
Since 1936, 11,000 hikers have completed the pilgrimage from northern Georgia’s Springer Mountain to Mt. Katahdin in Maine. Indeed, easy resupply makes it an everyhiker trail: “Coming of Age on the Appalachian Trail” (April/May 1981) charted a family thru-hike that included a six-year-old! It’s the only path in the country that’s equally loved for its scenery and social life. From the AT’s incomparably dedicated trail-maintenance volunteers, to the Trail Angels who reward thru-hikers with unexpected gifts of food, rides, and shelter, to the thru-hikers themselves—who christen each other with kitschy nicknames and form lifelong friendships—the AT represents more than a route: It’s a rite of passage.
The traditional northbound route begins with the cruelly steep climbs of the southern Appalachians (456 miles). Once you cross over into Virginia, you won’t see your next state line (West Virginia) for 544 miles. This is a burnout zone, a phenomenon called the Virginia Blues, where many hikers drop out. But once you cross into New England, just 734 miles remain—and they include the most thrilling segments of the whole journey.
Shuttle The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) maintains a list of shuttle service providers (304-535-6331).
Map/book With white blazes marking every path and junction, maps aren’t strictly necessary; get the ATC’s Data Book and Thru-Hiker’s Companion ($7 and $15, atctrailstore.org).