March 2019 marked the 96th anniversary of the opening of the first section of the Appalachian Trail which ran from Bear Mountain, New York, to Harriman State Park in Arden, New York. The brainchild of forester Benton MacKaye, the Appalachian Trail, or the “A.T.” as it is widely known, started out as an idea for a regional planning project in which a series of trails would connect to make one long, spectacular trail. Shortly after that original section of the trail opened, MacKaye proposed a two-day conference to be held in Washington, D.C., out of which the Appalachian Trail Conservancy was born.
The A.T. spans 14 states from Georgia to Maine, with Virginia playing host to the longest stretch of trail at just a bit over 550 miles and West Virginia having the shortest stretch at only 4 miles of trail in total. The highest point along the trail can be found in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park atop Clingmans Dome.
The map, shown below, comes from RG 79: Maps of the National Park Service, 1785-2006. This map helps provide some visual idea of the truly massive length of this trail as one can trace the path from Georgia up through Maine.
Over the years, the number of people attempting a thru hike has increased dramatically, though most who make the attempt are, for one reason or another, unsuccessful. In 2016, over 3,300 people began the trek with the intent of going end to end, but only 685 reported completing the journey. Approximately 1 in 4 of the thru hikers are women. Most hikers take the south-to-north route and begin in late March to mid-April so that they can arrive at Katahdin Mountain prior to Baxter State Park closing on October 15th. Hikers going north-to-south tend to begin in late May to mid-June due to weather conditions in the northeast, but it is strictly hiker preference.