Most hikers spend a day or two on the trail, but every year an intrepid thousand walk the entire 3,500-kilometer path. Throughout a typically five- to seven-month journey, these hikers face an elevation change equivalent to climbing Mount Everest 16 times.
The idea for creating the trail came from a regional planner named Benton MacKaye in 1921, but it took until 1937 for the entire path to be built. In 2017, nature enthusiasts celebrate the trail’s 80 years of guiding visitors through forests and over mountains.
It is the longest hiking-only trail in the world, according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, an organization that coordinates trail upkeep.
Black bears, salamanders, deer, porcupines and moose inhabit the forest along the trails, depending on location and season. Walking the trail, hikers see spectacular vistas atop mountains and ridges along the Appalachians, America’s East Coast mountain range.
Every year, thousands of volunteers work to keep the trail safe, well marked and beautiful. Thirty-one local clubs spend 10,000 days’ worth of time maintaining the trail, which is affectionately called the “A.T.” The U.S. National Park Service has placed the lands of the Appalachian Trail under federal protection since 1968.
“The A.T. is a place that balances me; it grounds me,” said Maureen Cacioppo in an interview with USA Today. The Florida outdoor enthusiast has hiked sections of the Appalachian Trail in seven of the trail’s 14 states. “I can reconnect with myself and Mother Nature.”
The trail has helped inspire similar projects such as the Transcaucasian Trail, under development in Armenia and Georgia, and the Via Dinarica, which connects seven Balkan countries along a scenic hiking route.