By Karen Hendricks – I’ve been fascinated by the Appalachian Trail since my elementary school days, when I created my first ever science/research fair project on the A.T. So when I recently had the chance to write a magazine article on “the most popular hiking trail in America,” I jumped at the chance and was fascinated all over again, some 35 years later.
What is it about this natural and national treasure that draws people, recreational hikers as well as dedicated thru-hikers (those who hike the entire trail from Maine to Georgia)?
It was my privilege to interview Ed Riggs of Gettysburg, who recently completed a thru-hike of the A.T. His inspiring answers to the above questions are woven into the article.
Click here to read “An Appalachian Adventure: Happy trails await hikers on the Appalachian Trail” published in the July/August issue of Celebrate Gettysburg magazine. Many thanks to photographer Noel Kline and A.T. through-hiker Ed Riggs for the inspiring photography!
Take a Hike! Experience a day hike on the A.T.
The halfway point of the entire A.T. is located here in central Pennsylvania, in Pine Grove Furnace State Park, Cumberland County. The Appalachian Trail Museum is located almost exactly at this midpoint, telling the story of this natural and national treasure. The museum is an excellent place to begin an Appalachian-themed daytrip and hike.
One of the A.T’s most accessible and popular day hikes in central Pennsylvania leads hikers to Pole Steeple, a outcropping of rocks offering hikers a view of Mountain Creek, its valley, and Laurel Lake. According to Appalachian Trail Museum Manager Joe Harold, hikers can depart directly from the A.T. Museum on the 6-mile hike (round trip, moderate difficulty):
Start at the A.T. Museum or the Furnace Pavilion parking lot (right next to the museum). Follow the A.T.’s white blazes north on the trail. The trail starts out flat and paved. Pass Fuller Lake and continue on Old Railroad Bed Rd. The A.T. is well-marked when it leaves Old Railroad Bed Rd and takes a right turn up Piney Mountain. Hike another 1.5 miles until you see a sign for Pole Steeple and blue blazes heading to the left. Follow that to the overlook. To continue a loop hike, continue following the blue blazes down a steep hill to Laurel Lake. When you reach the road, turn left, passing a nice spring and follow the Old Railroad Bed Rd back to the park gate and retrace your steps back to your car.
Enjoy a collection of my photos below, from the museum and my own recent adventures on the A.T. as I researched this story. Click on any photo to open a slide show… enjoy!
- For more info on Ed Rigg’s personal experiences on the A.T, check out his article, “One Day at a Time,” published in the magazine A.T. Journeys.
- “The 46 miles that go through the Cumberland Valley region are some of the flattest parts of the A.T.,” according to Aaron Jumper, communications coordinator, Cumberland Valley Visitors Bureau. “For day hikers, it’s not too mountainous or treacherous—it’s a good opportunity to get on the trail and spend an afternoon outdoors.”
- There’s a tradition at the half-way point of the A.T. The “half-gallon challenge” encourages thru-hikers to eat one half of a gallon of ice cream in one sitting, at the Pine Grove General Store, close to the A.T. Museum.
- This summer, the A.T. Museum debuts a children’s exhibit to encourage the next generation of hikers and nature lovers. “It’s a mini version of the trail, taking children through all 14 states,” Harold explains. Fun facts and colorful paths introduce children to the A.T.
- In celebration of the centennial of the National Park Service, “The A.T. Hike 100 Challenge” encourages people to complete 100 miles of hiking during 2016—with at least one hike taking place on the A.T. Details, including cool swag you can snag: https://www.nps.gov/appa/
- The movie “A Walk in the Woods,” released in 2015, starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte, tells the story of two men attempting to hike the A.T. Movies such as this are credited with spikes in A.T. visitation.
- It’s estimated that 3 million people visit the trail every year.
- The A.T. is managed through a partnership between the National Park Service, USDA Forest Service, the nonprofit Appalachian Trail Conservancy, state agencies and other public and private groups.
- The A.T. is dubbed the “footpath for the people” by the National Park Service.
- Virginia is home to the largest section of the trail (550 miles); West Virginia has the shortest stretch of trail (four miles).
- Maryland and West Virginia are considered the easiest states to hike; New Hampshire and Maine are considered the most challenging.
- The net elevation of the entire A.T. is equivalent to climbing Mount Everest 16 times.
- Between 2,500 and 3,000 people attempt thru-hikes every year; about 1 in 4 are successful. This means about 750 people complete the entire trail annually.
- Hikers can burn up to 6,000 calories a day hiking on the A.T.
- Most thru-hikers walk north, starting in Georgia in spring and finishing by fall in Maine.
- The average hiker completes the journey in six months.
- Thousands of volunteers spend 220,00 hours maintaining and contributing to the trail annually.