Hiking The Appalachian Trail

The famed peaks of the Appalachian chain entice some 2,500 people to attempt the thru-hike each year.
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The famed peaks of the Appalachian chain entice some 2,500 people to attempt the thru-hike each year.

While it was designated a part of the National Scenic Trail system at the same time as its corresponding "bookend," the PCT, the Appalachian Trail (AT) could hardly be more different. Between the mile-high summit of Mt. Katahdin, Maine, and 3,782-foot Springer Mountain in Georgia, the peaks of the Appalachian chain were round and ancient before the jagged Cascades rose. And this geologic history is in line with the long cultural history of the AT. The Appalachian Mountains are not solely about wildness and wilderness; how could they be when, annually, 4 million visitors walk some portion of the AT and 2,500 people attempt the thru-hike? These mountains relate their inhabitants' history.

"Whether you're tiptoeing past crumbling tombstones in a long-forgotten cemetery or stumbling over rubble from Revolutionary War-era iron mines," says Backpacker Managing Editor Jonathan Dorn, "there's a rich cultural resonance, thanks to the people who lived in these mountains, that combines with the wild and pastoral beauty of the Appalachian range. It gives a soul to the AT that's unique."

The Appalachians may not equal the raw, savage beauty of younger, more dramatic mountains, but among the mixed forests, rock ridges, bald summits, spring flowers, and fall colors, there is beauty aplenty here.

For best information:

Appalachian Trail Conference, (304) 535-6331; www.atconf.org; www.fred.net/kathy/at/atstate.html. Ask about the official Appalachian Trail Guides for different segments of the trail.