The Appalachian Trail, affectionately known as the AT among hiking enthusiasts, was the idea of Benton MacKay. He envisioned a rural trail connecting hotels and spas, giving people a way to escape the increasing hustle and bustle of urban life in the eastern U.S.in the 1920’s.
The first part of the trail was completed on Oct 7, 1923, connecting Bear Mountain and Arden in New York.
A year and a half later, in March of 1925 the Appalachian Trail Conference was formed and over time evolved into what is now The Appalachian Trail Conservancy.
For several years, progress was slow, but in 1929 Myron Avery took up the cause and things really started to happen.
All was not smooth sailing, however, as Myron Avery and Benton MacKay clashed over the direction of the commercial development of the trail. In the end Avery’s vision of a simple hiking trail won out, creating an ongoing rift between him and McKay.
Avery was the first person to hike the entire trail, in sections. It wasn’t until 1948 when Earl Shaffer became the first person to hike the whole trail in one season. With nothing more the gas station maps to guide him, he became the first thru hiker. His trip is chronicled in his book Walking with Spring.
People have been attempting to thru hike the AT every year since then, with only about five percent of the roughly 3,000 who begin each season completing the feat.
The Appalachian Trail is a continual work in progress, changing slightly every year as more land is acquired and improvements are made. For more information, check out AT Vital Statics or the Appalachian Trail section of our Links & Resources.
Also, check out Tom’s reading list of great books about the Appalachian Trail.
Length: 2,181 miles, more or less
Location: The trail runs along the spine of the Appalachian Mountains from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. Along the way it passes through fourteen states: Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.
Highest point: Clingmans Dome on the Tennessee-North Carolina border – 6,643 feet
Lowest point: Bear Mountain bridge, New York – 124 feet