Trail Facts | Trail Hikers | Trail Terms

Benton McKay is credited with conceiving the idea of a continuously marked trail along the crest of the Appalachian Mountains. McKay wrote about his vision in an article that appeared in the Journal of the American Institute of Architects in 1921. The first section of the trail was constructed in Harriman State Park in New York in 1922; the final section was added in Maine in 1937.

The Appalachian Trail stretches 2,168.1 miles from Springer Mountain in northern Georgia to Mt. Katahdin in central Maine. As the trail winds through the Appalachian Mountains it passes through 14 states, 8 national forests, 6 national parks, and several state and local parks. The entire trail is marked with white blazes, which are 2-inch wide by 6-inch high rectangles painted on trees and rocks. Three-sided lean-tos or shelters, each about a day's journey apart, are available to all hikers on a first-come, first-served basis. However, when the weather conditions are harsh, a tent often offers better protection and warmth. Water, available from the many springs and streams along the trail, must be filtered or chemically treated. Hikers can pick up supplies and mail, shower, and do laundry in the numerous towns the trail passes through or near.

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As of March 2001, only 5,963 hike completions have been reported. The number of completed hikes reported for the year 2000 (approximately 575) is more than the number reported in any of the previous forty years. However, the likelihood of finishing this hike still remains very low. Of the 2,500 men and women who now attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail each year, only about ten percent of them complete the journey.

Following is a list of some of the Appalachian Trail record holders.

First 2,000 Miler - Myron Avery in 1936.

First Thru-hiker - Earl Shaffer in 1948. Completed a second thru-hike in 1965 and a third in 1998 at the age of 79. His third hike earned Earl the title of "oldest thru-hiker."

Youngest Thru-hiker - A 6-year old who completed his 8-month hike with his parents in 1980.

Youngest Female Thru-hiker - An 11-year old who hiked the trail with her family in 1988.

Youngest Female Section Hiker - Started as a 3-year old in 1984 and completed the trail, after 12 years of section hiking, at the age of 15 in 1997.

Oldest Female Thru-hiker - Emma Gatewood who completed the trail for the first time in 1955 at the age of 67. She added another thru-hike in 1957 and completed a section hike in 1964 at the age of 76. NOTE: Grandma Gatewood's homemade duffel bag contained the following gear: blanket, plastic sheet, cup, first aid kit, raincoat, and one change of clothes. Her "hiking boots" were a pair of tennis shoes.

Oldest Female Section Hiker - Completed the trail in 1988 at the age of 77, after 8 years of section hiking.

Multiple Hikes - Approximately 100 people have reported hiking the Appalachian Trail more than one time. About 25 people have reported hiking the trail three or more times.

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2000 Miler - Either a thru-hiker or a section hiker who has hiked the entire Appalachian Trail.

A.T. - Appalachian Trail.

Bald - A mountain with no trees on top.

Bearbagging - The practice of storing anything that smells like food or contained food (as well as the food itself) in two bags, and hanging them over a tree limb that a bear can't reach by climbing or stretching. Other items that must be put in a bearbag include toothpaste, soap, deodorant, and scented sunscreen.

Blowdown - A fallen tree across the trail.

Day Hiker - Carries very small or no backpack.

Flip-flopper - Hikes part of the trail going south to Springer Mountain, (or north to Mount Katahdin) then returns to starting point and hikes north to Mount Katahdin (or south to Springer Mountain).

MUDS - Mindless ups and downs. Usually refers to a short section of the trail that is particularly tough.

PUDS - Pointless ups and downs. Usually refers to an extended section of the trail that is particularly tough.

Purist - A hiker who decides to pass every single white blaze on the A.T. Many hikers choose to take alternate routes, marked with blue blazes, because they may offer an easier terrain or better views.

Section Hiker - Attempts to hike the entire Appalachian Trail in a series of connected hikes.

Slackpacking - Walking for a day without your backpack. Typically, someone drops you off at one place in the morning and picks you up somewhere else later in the day.

Stile - A set of steps for passing over a fence or wall.

Thru-hiker - Attempts to hike the entire Appalachian Trail in one continuous hike.

Trail Angel - A kind-hearted individual who performs a good deed (for example, gives a ride into town or back to the trail) for a hiker.

Trail Appetite - When you burn 1500 calories an hour hiking, you can eat anything you want and still lose weight.

Trail Magic - A tradition where food is prepared and served as a pleasant surprise to hikers as they come along the trail.

Trail Name - The new identity A.T. hikers assume while on the trail.

Trail Register - Usually found in shelters, hikers use these notebooks to write messages for others who will come after them.

Yogi-ing - Asking other hikers for food.

Town Gut - Temporary condition that occurs when hungry hikers spend a day or so in town tracking down all the food (pizzas, subs, burgers) unavailable on the trail.

Weekender - Out for 1 - 4 nights. Carries backpack but is usually wearing jeans or other non-thru-hiker clothing.

Zero Day - A no-hiking day.

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