Appalachian Trail – Most Well-known in National Trail System
Okay. The Appalachian Trail is the most well-known trail in the U.S. National Trail System. Though the current trail is approximately 2170 miles in length, those who hike the whole thing are called “2000-milers.”
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That term was coined in the late 1970s at a time when the group of hikers who completed the entire trail was expanding rapidly. According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, only 59 people reported completely hiking the entire trail from the years 1936 to 1969. Then in the ‘70s alone, 785 hikers reported completions. From there, things really took off! So far in the 2010s alone, a decade record 6,342 hikers report completing the A.T. at least once. That caps off a grand total, to date, of nearly 18,000!
How Do You Become a 2000-miler?
Becoming a “2000-miler” does not mean you started in Georgia or Maine and hiked the trail non-stop. The people who do that are called “thru-hikers.” Each year thousands set out to thru-hike, but fewer than one in four make it. Most “2000-miler” complete Appalachian Trail hikers accomplish the feat by hiking a section at a time – that’s why they are called “section hikers.” Their complete hikes can be accomplished over as many sections and as many years as needed to complete the trail.
For the one in five thru-hikers who complete the hike in one continuous shot, it takes an average of 165 days (that’s approximately 5 ½ months). The record for the fastest A.T. thru-hike is 46 days, but some hikers have taken as long as a full year. Thru-hikes have been completed by a few people up into their 80s.
Official records on hiking the A.T. are kept by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. There are actually 31 maintenance clubs who take care of the A.T. They do everything from maintaining existing trails and painting blazes to excavating trail reroutes and building new camping shelters.
YOU Can Hike the Appalachian Trail – Tomorrow!
All of these numbers, accomplishments, and records can make the Appalachian Trail seem foreboding our out of reach to the average American camping family, but nothing can be further from the truth. The Appalachian Trail – in fact, all of the trails in the National Trail System – are there for the enjoyment of and access by everyone. No one says you have to hike the whole thing – let alone thru-hike it! Get out there and explore. Dip a toe with a day hike!
It’s estimated 2-3 million people take at least a day hike on a portion of the Appalachian Trail each year. There are thousands of access points perfect for making hikes of even a few hours. On average the A.T. crosses a road about every four miles.
According to the National Park Service, there are an estimated 165,000 white trail blazes marking the A.T. over its length. That’s an average of one for every 70 feet of trail! Don’t underestimate the value of those blazes – they make it easy for anyone from the thru-hiker to the day-hiker to know for sure they are on the Appalachian Trail. Its official blaze is a vertical white rectangle six inches tall by two inches wide.
The most important thing to remember is the A.T., and all the trails in the National Trail System, are yours to enjoy however you decide to do it. But please, always try to leave any trail you’re hiking a little better and a little cleaner than you found it.