1. APPALACHIAN TRAIL
From/to: Springer Mountain (Georgia) to Mount Katahdin (Maine)
Distance: 3,525 km (2,190 miles)
Walk time: 165 days (around six months)
When to walk: March-September
Short description: The world’s longest trail exclusively for hiking is a six-month epic adventure, completed by only a fraction of those who attempt it. But as long-distance hiking pilgrimages go, this sits near the top of the list.
Passing through fourteen US States, the epic Appalachian Trail (AT) is visited by more than 3 million visitors annually. Unsurprisingly, few attempt the whole distance, with most following the white dashes through day-hikes and sections.
The AT was first proposed as an antidote to city life by Benton MacKaye in 1921. A former forester, he obviously found himself yearning for the outdoors again from his desk as a newspaper editor. The AT design was not completed until 1937, with maps, trail markings and routes cut by newly formed voluntary trail clubs.
This hiking trail was also the inspiration for the Pennine Way in northern England.
It reaches south-north from Springer Mountain in Chattahoochee National Forest in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Baxter State Park in Maine. Much of the AT is accessible within a two-hour drive of a population centre.
Generally hanging to the southern and eastern side of the Appalachian Mountains, the AT is divided into four separate sections (south-north): the Southern Mountains, the Virginia Highlands, the Mid-Atlantic Lowlands and New England.
Notable sections include: Clingmans Dome (2,025 m/ 6,643 ft), the AT’s highest point; Bear Mountain State Park, NY (38 m/ 124 ft), the AT’s lowest point; and a famous convenience store located halfway, where the AT tradition is for hikers to eat half a gallon of ice cream!
While thousands attempt the whole trail each year, only 1 in 4 succeed in becoming a true ‘thru-hiker’. Typically the AT is walked south-north from March/April to September. The toughest part is the northern section, so far fewer hikers complete the route north-south, probably discouraged by this difficult start.