10 Breathtaking Appalachian Trail Facts

Hiker walking along cliff with view on Appalachian Trail, Maine

Cavan Images / Getty Images

The Appalachian Trail is a world-famous hiking path that stretches more than 2,000 miles through the forests, farmland, and mountain ranges of the Eastern United States, from Maine to Georgia. It attracts an estimated 3 million hikers per year, though only about 4,000 attempt — and even less complete — the entire trail. The AT, as it's colloquially known, was built by private citizens and is maintained by volunteers, but the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and various state agencies now manage it. 

The AT was the country's first national scenic trail, established decades before the comparably popular Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and Continental Divide Trail (CDT) to the west. Prior to the '80s, less than 1,000 people had completed it, but attempts of the 2,000-mile feat spiked in the '90s — around the time of Bill Bryson's iconic AT-centered memoir, "A Walk in the Woods." Learn more breathtaking facts about the extensive and culturally significant trail.

The Appalachian Trail Is 2,193 Miles Long

A small, green snow covered sign points to the Appalachian Trail in the White Mountains of New Hampshire
A small, green snow covered sign points to the Appalachian Trail in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Jose Azel / Getty Images

White blazes, painted six inches long and two inches wide on rocks and trees, guide hikers through 15 states, eight national forests, six national parks, and several highland systems. Although it's one of the most well-known long-distance trails in the U.S. — along with the PCT and CDT — it's merely a third of the length of the country's longest, the 6,875-mile Great Western Loop. However, it is the longest marked trail in the U.S. and the longest hiking-only footpath in the world.

It Stretches Along the Entire Eastern US

The AT's southern terminus is Springer Mountain, Georgia, and its northern terminus is Katahdin, Maine. The path travels through Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine — hitting 10 out of the original 13 colonies.

It Was Completed in 1937

Sunset from summit of Baldpate Mountain, Appalachian Trial, Maine.
Sunset from summit of Baldpate Mountain, Appalachian Trial, Maine. Cavan Images / Getty Images

The trail was conceived in 1921 by forester Benton MacKaye. The first section of the trail, between Bear Mountain and Arden, New York, opened two years later. Shortly after, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy was founded, but MacKaye soon left the organization over conflicting views on commercial development along the trail. The full path opened in 1936, but much of the original route has been relocated and rehabilitated since then.

It's Now Maintained Entirely by Volunteers

The AT is one of the largest, longest-running volunteer conservation operations in the world. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy is composed of 31 designated clubs that together spend approximately 240,000 hours a year maintaining the trail, building and repairing structures, monitoring rare plants and invasive species, protecting the 250,000-acre corridor, and more.

The AT's Highest Point Is Clingmans Dome

View of Great Smoky Mountains from Clingmans Dome
View of Great Smoky Mountains from Clingmans Dome.

carlosalvarez / Getty Images

Passing through the Appalachian Mountains, the Smoky Mountains, White Mountain National Forest, and more, the AT traverses about 450,000 feet of elevation changes. Clingmans Dome is the highest point of the entire trail at 6,644 feet, and is located on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The AT either passes over or provides close access to the tallest peaks in seven states.

It Takes Five to Seven Months to Hike the AT

According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, it takes the average thru-hiker between five and seven months to walk the full distance. Northbound hikers usually set off from Georgia from late March to mid-April. Southbound hikers can begin later — from late May to mid-June — because the weather on the southern portion of the trail is much milder late in the season. Hikers usually start at a 10-miles-a-day pace and work their way up to 12 to 16. 

The Fastest Was About 41 Days

Appalachian Trail Approach sign, Georgia

kellyvandellen / Getty Images

In 2018, Belgian ultrarunner Karel Sabbe smashed the previous speed record of 45 days, 12 hours, and 15 minutes. His time was 41 days, 7 hours, and 39 minutes. Sabbe also holds the speed record for hiking the PCT, which he achieved in 52 days, 8 hours, and 25 minutes. On both accounts, Sabbe beat a record previously held by Washington-based speed hiker Joe McConaughy.

About 20,000 People Have Completed It

The AT is nearly a century old and only about 20,000 people have reported hiking it in its entirety (within a 12-month period). In the trail's first two decades, it saw only about 10 "2,000-milers." Now, about a quarter of the roughly 4,000 people who attempt it every year make it the full distance. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy says people from about 50 different countries have completed it. Most are in their 20s, but ages range from teenaged to 82.

Most People Hike Northbound

The summit sign on Maines Mount Katahdin seen at sunrise.
The summit sign on Maines Mount Katahdin seen at sunrise. Chris Bennett / Getty Images

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy's 2019 data reveals that only about 8% of people who attempt to hike the full trail start from Maine. That's because the northern section is the most physically challenging portion. The northern terminus itself kicks off with perhaps the hardest climb of the entire path — Mount Katahdin, 5,269 feet high. Southbound hikes, however, have a slightly higher success rate.

Ticks Are the Most Dangerous Animals on the AT

The AT is home to black bears, bobcats, and venomous snakes (of the rattlesnake and copperhead variety), but the most dangerous of all are ticks. The sly parasites are rampant in the forests of the northeast, and many of them carry Lyme disease. It can take up to 30 days after being bitten to feel symptoms, including fever, headache, fatigue, and skin rashes. In a 2014 study, 9% of AT hikers reported being diagnosed with it. The good news? Unlike a rattlesnake bite, Lyme disease is rarely life-threatening.

View Article Sources
  1. "2,000-Milers." Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

  2. "Volunteer." Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

  3. Knoll, Judith M. et al. "Appalachian Trail Hikers’ Ability To Recognize Lyme Disease By Visual Stimulus Photographs." Wilderness & Environmental Medicine, vol. 25, no. 1, 2014, pp. 24-28., doi:10.1016/j.wem.2013.09.009