Appalachian Trail

Appalachian Trail marker in central Pennsylvania near Hawk Mountain.

Appalachian Trail

Appalachian National Scenic Trail

The Appalachian Mountains form the main ridge of the eastern United States, and along that ridge, for over two thousand miles, winds a trail of natural wonder and historic import that each time you tread one mile, you can almost hear the footsteps of Daniel Boone or an Iraquois Indian rustle through those same deeply wooded peaks. Each year millions of visitors have that same experience, and while it's only a small percentage of those that travel its entire distance at one time, or even over a lifetime, each mile of this special trail is worth a visit for those that have only a percentage of the time it would take to visit all those miles.

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Harpers FerryJefferson's Rock, Harpers Ferry

Appalachian Trail Then

Just one view below shows what lies along the side of the Appalachian Trail. The trail runs directly through Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, and the town itself. It winds along the canal, crosses the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers below, and comes with a view of Jefferson's Rock, the spot where Thomas Jefferson stood during those heady early USA days.

Whether you are at its northern entrance in Maine at Mount Katahdin, near Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in the Pennsylvania hills, down in the history of Harpers Ferry where Thomas Jefferson has his rock, in the mountains of the Cherokee in North Carolina and Tennessee, or at its southernmost point in Georgia at Springer Mountain, there are natural vistas to marvel at and history around every corner. Take the time to visit a mile this year, or maybe more than a few. You'll be glad to have missed that last mall and witnessed what nature looks like unfettered by a neon sign. They've got cool wood signs here. For some, including us, we think of the trail as having a history much longer than its actual length, and it does, when you consider what happened in these woods for the centuries leading up to today. But as a practical matter, the trail did not come into being until Benton MacKaye, a forester, thought of the trail in the early 1920's with the first portion of the trail opened in New York from Bear Mountain to Arden. The trial was completed to Sugarloaf Mountain in Maine by 1937. It was not until the National Park Service and trail volunteers mapped a route in 1971 that a permanent route was marked.

Photo above: Tourist photograph of Jefferson Rock, high above the town, July 31, 1890. Courtesy Historic Photo Collection, Harpers Ferry National Historic Park. Below: Photo above: Fall scene in the Great Smoky Mountains. Photo courtesy National Park Service.

Great Smoky Mountains

Appalachian Trail Now

You can get to the trail at over 500 places, including two train depots at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia and Pawlings, New York. If you are one of the few thru-hikers (around 10,000 total over the years) who complete the entire trail, congratulations. For the others who want to visit a section of the trail and the history nearby, congratulations as well. You, too, walked the Appalachain Trail, even at a smaller percentage. Good things come in small packages, too. But it would be pretty neat if you were one of those 10,000, now wouldn't it.

Today all 2,175 miles of the trail are maintained by thirty hiking clubs and partnerships along the east coast, and coordinated by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. The trail weaves through many state parks and national parks, including Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, Harpers Ferry National Historic Park, Shenadoah National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The northernmost trailhead is located in Baxter State Park in Maine near the newly created Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. The highest point is 6,643 feet. The southernmost trailhead is located at Springer Mountain, Georgia.

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Shenandoah National Park

Appalachian Trail

Things You Should Not Miss

1. If you're taking the time to hike the pathway of the Appalachian Trail, we don't have to remind you of this, but if you're a casual walker of a mile along the way, we'll remind you a bit. Take the time to smell the roses or whatever flora and fauna abound nearby. This is your break from the hectic. Slow down and smell it. Hayfever sufferers beware.

2. Harpers Ferry - Take some time in your hike, particularly if you're not going thru the entire length, to witness some history. You'll be walking right through the park and town, where each building within the park itself serves as a museum on some topic concerning Harpers Ferry, John Brown, and the Civil War. Park museums include the John Brown Museum, John Brown's Fort (accessible through park ranger tour), a Civil War Museum, African American Museums, a Natural History Museum (Wetlands Exhibit), Industry Museum, A Place in Time Museum, and other park buildings such as an Apothecary Shop, bookstores, etc.

3. Even prior to the Katahdin Woods and Water National Monument was created by President Obama, Baxter State Park was a treat to visit. It was created by the donation of former Governor Percival P. Baxter and others between 1931 and 1962. It is run by a private authority and there are limits to the amount of users that can go here at one time. It's actually the home of Mount Katahdin.

Photo above: Fall in Shenandoah National Park. Courtesy National Park Service.

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