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75 Reasons to Hike the Appalachian Trail

Offbeat  November 09 2012
 — By Jeanette Kozlowski
75 Reasons to Hike the Appalachian Trail

The longest hiking-only footpath in the world attracts adventurers of every walk of life each year. Completed in 1937, the Appalachian Trail  has undergone some pretty major changes since then. In fact, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy says that about 99% of the trail has been relocated or rebuilt! Considering the initial trail took 15 years to complete and runs through 14 states, that’s an extraordinarily large project.

To celebrate the 75th anniversary of the AT’s completion, we researched an exhaustive list of 75 reasons to hike the whole thing. The list follows the trail from Georgia to Maine. To accompany this list, we created an infographic to help visualize some of the key points. A lot of the inspiration for it came from Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods. You can check it out by clicking the link below.

Infographic: 35 Reasons to Hike the Appalachian Trail

Because the trail is so long and covers so much ground, we are sure we missed some great stuff. Feel free to share your favorite reason to hike the Appalachian Trail in the comments section of this post. So, without further ado…

Reason No. 1: It takes five months, or five million steps, to walk the entire AT end to end. If you’ve ever yearned for a real challenge, it’s at the trail’s start. [MAP POINT: Springer Mountain]

Reason No. 2: Out of the 2 to 3 million who hike a section of the trail each year, only 704 people were recorded to have hiked the entire trail in 2011. [MAP POINT: Springer Mountain]

Reason No. 3: Along the trail roughly every 10 miles there are more than 250 campsites called shelters or “lean-tos.” The one at Blood Mountain happens to be one of the oldest! [MAP POINT: Blood Mountain]

Reason No. 4: After miles of deprivation, it’s time to indulge. Pick up a sandwich, slice of pizza or even some ice cream at Walasi-Yi Inn, the first “outpost of civilization” for northbound hikers. [MAP POINT: Neels Gap]

Reason No. 5: Do laundry for a small fee at Walasi-Yi Inn. The average AT thru-hike costs $3,500-$4,000 (including town stays, restaurant meals and replaced gear.) [MAP POINT: Neels Gap]

Reason No. 6: Experience the Deliverance­-like creep of Hiawassee, Ga., as described by Bill Bryson in A Walk in the Woods, and spend the night in a nondescript motel. [MAP POINT: Near Georgia-North Carolina border on GA side]

Reason No. 7: Rainbow Springs Campground is called an oasis with its welcoming showers and a store. [MAP POINT: Near Georgia-North Carolina border on GA side]

Reason No. 8: The Fontana Dam Shelter, a.k.a. the Fontana Hilton, has loads of amenities like toilets that flush, an all-you-can-eat buffet and a post office. [MAP POINT: Fontana Lake]  

Reason No. 9: Sunrises at Clingman’s Dome. The trail’s highest point is a little less than 6,700 feet out of more than 350 peaks on the AT. [MAP POINT: Clingman’s Dome]

Reason No. 10: The majestic Smoky Mountains. Botanists have called it “the finest mixed mesophytic forest in the world.” [MAP POINT: Smoky Mountains]

Reason No. 11: The Smokies have 1,500 types of wild flowers, a thousand varieties of shrubs, 530 mosses and lichen and 2,000 types of fungi. They are home to 130 native tree species; whereas all of Europe has 85. [MAP POINT: Smoky Mountains]

Reason No. 12: Great Smoky National Park has 800 square miles of dense forest and 71 miles of intense hiking. [MAP POINT: Great Smoky Mountains National Park]

Reason No. 13: Max Patch Bald, the Crown Jewel of the AT, contains the most astounding views. On a clear day, you can nearly see across eastern Tennessee. [MAP POINT: Max Patch Mountain]

Reason No. 14: Hot Springs, N.C., has just that—hot springs! A dip into the steamy mineral baths costs between $13 to $44 at Hot Springs Resort and Spa. [MAP POINT: Hot Springs, N.C.]

Reason No. 15: Big Bald offers 360-degree panoramic views of the Smokies, Mount Mitchell and Unaka Mountain. [MAP POINT: Big Bald]

Reason No. 16: Near trail towns “trail magic” tends to happens. It is when strangers assist hikers in random acts of kindness such as a free home-cooked meal. [MAP POINT: Erwin, Tenn.]

Reason No. 17: At 6,285 feet above sea level, the Roan High Knob is the highest shelter on the AT. Experience Christmas snow year round! [MAP POINT: Roan High Knob]

Reason No. 18: Hike underneath Laurel Falls, a popular 75-foot waterfall with an upper and lower section. [MAP POINT: Laurel Fork Gorge]

Reason No. 19: Pass through Damascus, Va., (a.k.a. Trail Town USA) in mid-May and experience a six-day hiking festival called Trail Days. [MAP POINT: Damascus, Va.]

Reason No. 20: At 5,729 feet, stand atop the highest natural point in Virginia, Mount Rogers. [MAP POINT: Mount Rogers]

Reason No. 21: Forget bears! Wild ponies are known to nab hiker food near Thomas Knob. [MAP POINT: Edge of Grayson Highlands State Park]

Reason No. 22: During June and July, there are breathtaking blooms of rhododendron and azaleas in this region. [MAP POINT: After Grayson Highlands State Park]  

Reason No. 23: Pass by an oval-shaped bowl of more than 20,000 acres that looks like a volcanic crater near Chestnut Knob. [MAP POINT: Near Burkes Garden]

Reason No. 24: Combined in 1995, Jefferson National Forest and George Washington National Forest contain 1.8 million acres of public land—one of the largest blocks in the eastern U.S. [MAP POINT: Jefferson National Forest]

Reason No. 25: Feeling lost already? Look for one of 160,000 white blazes on trees that are six inches by 2 inches in size. These mark the path of the AT. [MAP POINT: Anywhere]

Reason No. 26: Take a picture at the most photographed spot on the AT with a 270 degree panoramic view of the Catawba Valley. [MAP POINT: McAfee Knob]

Reason No. 27: Nearby Peaks of Otter features three mountains in a triangular pattern with a lake in the triangle’s center. [MAP POINT: Peaks of Otter]

Reason No. 28: Catch the best view in Virginia at Spy Rock, an old Confederate army lookout, with a 360-degree view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. [MAP POINT: Between Reeds Gap and Rockfish Gap in Montebello, VA]

Reason No. 29: Bear sightings are uncommon on the AT, except in certain parts of Shenandoah National Park. At one per square mile, it’s said to have the highest density of black bears in the world. [MAP POINT: Shenandoah National Park]

Reason No. 30: Cheeseburger sightings are also common. In fact, there are five places to eat in and around Shenandoah National Park, including three restaurants. Perfect for when you’ve had enough of “roughing it.” [MAP POINT: Shenandoah National Park]

Reason No. 31: The AT has a novice section! Parts of the trail near the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Skyline Drive are considered the best for beginner hikers. [MAP POINT: Skyline Drive]

Reason No. 32: Prehistoric periods of human habitation as far back as 2000 B.C. have been uncovered at Big Meadows. [MAP POINT: Big Meadows]

Reason No. 33: Native Americans were the first to use Ashby’s Gap as a trail. It later played a role during the Civil War for both the Confederate and Union armies. [MAP POINT: Ashby’s Gap]

Reason No. 34: Harpers Ferry is the “psychological midpoint” on the AT and is headquarters to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. [MAP POINT: Harpers Ferry, W.V.]

Reason No. 35: Pass the base of the first completed monument dedicated to George Washington. Built in 1927, the stone tower is 34 feet tall. [MAP POINT: Washington Monument State Park]

Reason No. 36: Stop in Greenbriar State Park with its 165 campsites and “luxurious” bathhouses with steamy hot showers. [MAP POINT: Greenbriar State Park]

Reason No. 37: Test your hiking skills in Pennsylvania, known to some as “rocksylvania” for its jagged rocks littering the trail. [MAP POINT: Border of Maryland and Pennsylvania]

Reason No. 38: Thru-hikers compete in the “half-gallon challenge” upon reaching Pine Grove Furnace State Park’s general store. This daunting task includes a half gallon of ice cream and a wooden spoon! [MAP POINT: Pine Grove Furnace State Park]

Reason No. 39: Toms Run Shelters have two lean-tos, a rare occurrence on the trail. The double shelter prevents overcrowding. [MAP POINT: Between Carisle and Boiling Springs]

Reason No. 40: The river town Duncannon is well known for its views from Hawk Rock and its hospitality. [MAP POINT: Duncannon, PA]

Reason No. 41: The ghost town at Rausch Gap once hosted 1,000 inhabitants in 1860 and was abandoned by 1910 after the mine closed. Stone building foundations and a small cemetery are the only remains. [MAP POINT: Rausch Gap]

Reason No. 42: Hunt Swatara State Park’s fossil pit for 430 million-year-old Ordovician starfish fossils. [MAP POINT: Swatara Gap]

Reason No. 43: Pa. 501 is one of the few fully enclosed shelters with a skylight roof, a solar-powered shower and access to pizza delivery. [MAP POINT: Just before Port Clinton]

Reason No. 44: Still hungry? Stop by the Port Clinton Hotel for the biggest plate of fresh cut french fries (starting at $4.50) you’ll find on the trail (or even the planet). [MAP POINT: Port Clinton, PA]

Reason No. 45: During the fall, more than 20,000 migrating raptors soar by the 1,521-foot Hawk Mountain in eastern Pennsylvania. [MAP POINT: Hawk Mountain Sanctuary]

Reason No. 46: Challenge yourself with a seriously exposed rock scramble called Dante’s Inferno. [MAP POINT: Lehigh Gap]

Reason No. 47: The 16-mile stretch from Wind Gap to the Delaware Water Gap has been dubbed “where boots go to die.” This brutal section will make others seem like a breeze. [MAP POINT: Wind Gap to Delaware Water Gap]

Reason No. 48: Stroll along western and northern edges of Sunfish Pond, a serine 44-acre glacial lake. It’s the southernmost glacial lake on the trail. [MAP POINT: Worthington State Forest]


Reason No. 49: By this point you should have earned a trail name–a pseudonym given out by other hikers along the trail. Use it to sign logbooks at trail shelters. [MAP POINT: Near Poughkeepsie]

Reason No. 50: Approach the High Point Monument, a 220-foot granite and quartz tower completed in 1930 to honor war veterans. [MAP POINT: High Point State Park]

Reason No. 51: You can hike easy in New York. Its 88 miles of trail contain very little elevation change compared to other states. [MAP POINT: New York State Line]

Reason No. 52: Much as there’s a high point to the trail, there is also a low point. At 124 feet, the easy-going Bear Mountain Bridge claims that status. [MAP POINT: Bear Mountain]

Reason No. 53: Stroll by Nuclear Lake, former home to an atomic bomb research facility, where a plutonium spill occurred in 1972. The spill has since been cleaned. [MAP POINT: Pawling, N.Y.]

Reason No. 54: The Taconic Highlands features old-growth forests, waterfalls and a 17-mile stretch of the AT without a single road. [MAP POINT: Starts a Salisbury, Conn.]

Reason No. 55: The Shays’ Rebellion Monument marks where the final historic battle of the famed uprising occurred in 1787. [Near Mount Everett in Sheffield, MA]

Reason No. 56: Home of famous trail angel Tom Lavardi, who provides a water hose for thirsty hikers, a porch to sleep on and backyard to campout in. [MAP POINT: Dalton]  

Reason No. 57: The highest eminence in Massachusetts, Mount Greylock, stands tall at 3,491 feet. Reach the top for a magnificent view. [MAP POINT: Mount Greylock]

Reason No. 58: Stratton Mountain is the spiritual birthplace of the AT and Long Trail, the oldest long-distance trail in the U.S. The two trails overlap for more than 100 miles in Vermont. [MAP POINT: Stratton Mountain]

Reason No. 59: Let the Killington Ski Resort gondola transport your weary self to the summit of Killington Peak. [MAP POINT: Killington Peak]

Reason No. 60: Eighty-five percent of New Hampshire’s square footage is forest. It also has 35 peaks higher than 3,000 feet. [MAP POINT: Border of Vermont and New Hampshire just before Hanover, N.H.]

Reason No. 61: With a population of 10,000, Hanover is the first town southbound hikers pass through and the last for northbound hikers. [MAP POINT: Hanover, N.H.]

Reason No. 62: At the summit of Mount Lafayette, check out remnants of a stone shelter built to house former hotel guests riding on horseback.[MAP POINT: Mount Lafayette]

Reason No. 63: Through the next 100 miles, experience more views of mountains than any other section of the trail. [MAP POINT: Pinkham Notch]

Reason No. 64: Eight spacious huts along this stretch run by the Appalachian Mountain Club offer full-service lodging and meals. [MAP POINT: NH’s White Mountain National Forest]

Reason No. 65: Hold onto your hats! The second highest wind speed ever recorded, a staggering 231 mph gust, happened on Mount Washington at 6,288 feet in 1934. [MAP POINT: Mount Washington]

Reason No. 66: With a death toll of 135 since 1849, Mount Washington is also one of the most murderous mountains in North America and is “home to the world’s worst weather.” Good thing a Cog Railway trail can take you straight to the top. [MAP POINT: Mount Washington]

Reason No. 67: Maine has 283 miles of AT with more than 100,000 feet of climb—the equivalent of three Everests. [MAP POINT: Just before Goose Eye Mountain]

Reason No. 68: The “loneliest stretch of the AT” attracts little tourism and runs from Grafton Notch through Rumford, Maine. Pass through old-growth forests of red spruce and soak up the solitude. [MAP POINT: Starts at Grafton Notch State Park]

Reason No. 69: Take a refreshing dip in “The Kettles,” a favorite swim spot near the Little Bigelow shelter. [MAP POINT: Bigelow Preserve]

Reason No. 70: Stop in at Shaw’s, the most famous guesthouse on the AT, for breakfast ($7), dinner ($12), laundry service ($5) and stay the night ($12-$56). Or just take a shower ($5). [MAP POINT: Monson, Maine]

Reason No. 71: Welcome to the real wilderness! The Hundred-Mile Wilderness is the wildest section of the trail that doesn’t cross a paved road for 99.7 miles. [MAP POINT: Abol Bridge]

Reason No. 72: White House Landing is the only lodging and supply store in the heart of the 100-Mile Wilderness. Stay the night with breakfast, shower, towel and pillow case for $39. [MAP POINT: Between Abol Bridge and Mount Katahdin]

Reason No. 73: With a long-standing philosophy of “forever wild,” Baxter State Park prohibits the use of audio or visual devices that could in anyway disturb other visitors or wildlife. [MAP POINT: a little before Mount Katahdin]

Reason No. 74: As of 2010, more than 11,000 hikers completed the trail. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy officially calls these folks “2000 Milers.” You could earn that title.  [MAP POINT: A little before Mount Katahdin]

Reason No. 75: If you finish the entire thing, not only will you be a “2000 Miler,” but you can also tell everyone you hiked approximately 2,184 miles. Bragging rights! [MAP POINT: Mount Katahdin]

Images via greggoodson.commooretrail.blogspot.comgatlinburgspaceneedle.comtgaw.wordpress.com,
hankinslawrenceimages.wordpress.comanne99.blogspot.combakersthruhike.blogspot.com.

(11) Readers Comments

  1. I really love this list. I’m 17 and have been planning on thru hiking the AT when I graduate next year. Haha i’ve been planning this trip for 3 years now and i never knew any of those things about the trail. Good stuff.

  2. You are correct. Two statistics were incorrectly combined. I have updated the post with the correct information and a link to a page about a history of 2000-milers. Thanks you for pointing this out!

  3. “Reason No. 2: Out of the 2 to 3 million who hike the trail each year, only about 10% to 15% hike the entire thing. ”
    I find it hard to believe that 200,000-450,00 hikers complete the trail each year.

  4. I enjoyed the list. It brought back memories of some of my many enjoyable hikes on the trail. Every year, I try to get out and backpack at least 40 or so miles and you’ve given me more to look forward to. Thanks for putting it together!

  5. Hi Jeanette,
    I enjoyed the list. You made me think of hikes along the AT that I did over 20 years ago and made me think about revisiting some of those spots. Thanks for allowing me to interrupt my work day with thoughts of the AT.

  6. Pingback: 75 Reasons to Hike the Appalachian Trail | A Parrothead With A Pack

  7. Just an FYI: Bill Bryson is evil and his name should not be invoked in the same sentence as the AT.

  8. Hi Brian,
    We updated the list to reflect that change. Sorry about that! Thanks for pointing it out.

  9. This list is retarded.. Half of this is false and the other half is silly, really??!!!?!?!!

    1. The adventure
    2. The people

    Really, New York was easy, you climb Killington gondola what? Cog Railroad up Washington no you hike that too, how are these reasons, stupid!!!

  10. #34. That would be “Conservancy,” not Conservatory.

  11. Pingback: 35 Reasons to Hike The Appalachian Trail | Hiking The Trail

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