The granddaddy of all long distance trails, the Appalachian Trail traverses 14 states on its route from Georgia to Maine through the Appalachian Mountains. More than 260 shelters dot the trail, along with campsites, each spaced about a day’s walk apart. While the majority of the trail is through forest and wildlands (including some sections above the tree line), there are also many segments that cross roads, farms, and towns, making for convenient resupply.
Westerners, especially, are often surprised at how challenging the terrain can be. “The AT was designed for hikers only,” says LaRuffa. “The other national scenic trails out West were designed for equestrians too, so they don’t go above a 10 percent grade and use a lot of switchbacks. This is straight up, and straight down.”
With this in mind, the AT speed record holder, Jennifer Pharr Davis has advice on making it to the end: “You have to be stubborn, and yet highly adaptable. It’s this balance of not giving up, not wanting to quit, not going home, and being able to handle the unexpected challenges that try to force you off the trail, like your boot that’s killing you, or a wildfire in the way.”
Time to Complete: 5-7 months
Terrain: Strenuous with a lot of abrupt ups and downs without switchbacks.
Best Segment You Can Do In a Day: McAfee Knob (7.2 miles round-trip) is a forested trail in Virginia that leads to the most photographed overlook on the Appalachian Trail.
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