The Appalachian National Scenic Trail spans 2,180 miles across 14 states from Georgia to Maine. It is a “public footpath,” and was devised and built by private citizens between 1921 and 1937. It runs through some of the most beautiful mountain scenery in the eastern United States including two national parks, a couple of smaller national park units, national forests, dozens of state parks and even some private land. The trail is maintained by 31 private “trail clubs” and managed by the National Park Service, National Forest Service and the non-profit Appalachian Trail Conservancy.
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ILNP Park Review
Our Visit I’ve never traveled any great distance on the Appalachian Trail, but I’ve intersected it and hiked a mile or two during trips to Great Smoky Mountains NP, Shenandoah NP, and Harpers Ferry NHP.
Overall Impression Unlike many historic trails managed by the National Park Service, the Appalachian Trail was born not out of necessity but out of man’s desire to escape urban life and reconnect with nature. The trail is close enough to urban areas to be accessible, but the trail itself avoids large cities and sticks to the wooded hills and hamlets making it a wonderful escape for those willing to walk its path, whether for a mile or 2,000 miles.
Visiting First, let me clarify that this review is about visiting the Appalachian Trail and not hiking its length–there are far better references available if you’re making a multi-day or multi-month excursion. More than 2,000,000 people a year visit the trail, but only around 1/10th of 1 percent of those complete it’s 2,180 mile length. The easiest way to visit the trail is to combine it with a trip to one of the many parks along its length. In the three parks where I intersected the Appalachian Trail, I found it well marked on all maps. The sections of the trail in Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah ran through woods and hills and intersected with other park trails. The section of the trail through Harpers Ferry was more of a trek through a hamlet and included the crossing of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers alongside a road and railroad. Harpers Ferry is also significant because it’s around the midpoint of the Appalachian Trail, and it’s an area where hikers can visit three states on the trail in one day (Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland).
No matter where you visit the Appalachian Trail, take at least 20 minutes and hike a bit of its length to enjoy the solitude and spend some time contemplating that the trail you’re on is more than 2,000 miles long. This is particularly easy in Shenandoah if you have another driver as the trail parallels Skyline Drive throughout much of the park. In these parks, the Appalachian Trail is often used as part of a shorter trail to a nearby scenic feature making for an easy and often rewarding out-and-back hike.
Suggestions If you have some extra food or cold, refreshing beverages with you, consider taking some onto the trail and offering them to through hikers. You should be able to tell the day trekkers from those making a lengthy journey, and from what I’ve read, many appreciate the generous offer. If you do want to learn more about what it’s like to hike the entire trail, I recommend the book Hiking Through by Paul Stutzman as he weaves together funny stories alongside serious ones and includes a lot of details that help you really understand what the experience is all about.
Other Nearby Attractions Great Smoky Mountains NP (TN, NC), Shenandoah NP (VA), Harpers Ferry NHP (VA, WV, MD), Delaware Water Gap NRA (PA, NJ), and too many state parks and national forests to mention
Official NPS Website Appalachian National Scenic Trail
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