By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
The Appalachian Trail is one of the best-known hiking trails in the United States. It spans 14 states and nearly 2,200 miles, from Georgia to Maine. In a new series, Wondrium reveals its highlights.
The United States is home to a number of grand hiking trails, many of which must be seen to be believed: the Pacific Crest Trail; the Continental Divide Trail; and, of course, the Appalachian Trail. Starting in Springer Mountain, Georgia, and running northeast all the way to Mount Katahdin, Maine, the Appalachian Trail runs 2,194 miles. Approximately 3,000 hikers per year attempt to hike it end to end. These brave souls are known as thru-hikers.
Wondrium’s new series, America’s Great Trails, reveals the most beautiful, historic, and scenic locations along thousands of miles of U.S. hiking paths, with Emmy® award-winning documentarian Michael “Mick” Davie. Whether intending to stay at home or to lace up a pair of boots to enjoy the majesty of the Appalachian Trail, viewers can expect to find much in Davie’s visual storytelling.
A Sight to See in the Mid-Atlantic
The Appalachian Trail was first proposed in 1921. It was completed in 1937 and designated as a national scenic trail in 1968. Although just 3,000 people per year attempt to hike the trail in its entirety, it’s estimated that 3 million people per year hike just a section of it, in a practice known aptly as section hiking. One section Davie visited is called the Rollercoaster and is centered in Virginia.
“Dense forest, rock-strewn trails, cliffs and inclines—this is an undulating landscape,” he said. “[This] hike will take me through what many hikers consider the most unique, historic, and scenically varied section of the trail. It’s a 25-mile stretch from the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains in [the] northern [part of] Virginia, to the historic town of Harpers Ferry in West Virginia, at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, and then onward into Maryland.”
Reaching the Rollercoaster is another matter entirely. If a hiker were to begin at the southernmost tip of the trail, they would have to hike nearly 1,000 miles before standing on the same spot as Davie. This would include crossing mountains in North Carolina and Tennessee, as well as the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, which sits on the border between those states.
Three Directions to Hike the Trail—No, Really
“You could hike southbound—the trail’s motto since 1923 has been ‘Maine to Georgia’—but we’re going south to north in deference to the direction taken by the vast majority of thru-hikers who ‘walk with spring’ to reach certain points on the trail during optimal weather conditions,” Davie said. “And there is actually a third way to do it, as it happens: It’s called the Flip Flop.”
In recent years, an increasing number of hikers begin their journey at Harpers Ferry, which is about the midway point of the journey, then proceed either north or south to the end of the Trail. When they reach the end, they return to Harpers Ferry and head the opposite direction. This practice has become popular for a surprising reason.
“The Appalachian Trail Conservancy encourages this to prevent congestion,” Davie said. “Congestion on a nature hike? It’s hard to believe, I know; then again, attracting city dwellers to nature and fresh mountain air was the exact vision of the AT’s founder.”
The founder, Benton Mackaye, was a Harvard-educated forester who cofounded The Wilderness Society. He saw the Appalachian Trail as an antidote to city life, a respite from urbanization. He enlisted a Maine native named Myron Avery to push the idea through Congress—and to be the first person to hike it. The 2,200-mile trip took Avery 16 years total.
America’s Great Trails is now available to stream on Wondrium.