The footpath is over 2,190 miles and spans across 14 states in the US. It is the longest hiking-only footpath in the world.
If a person were to walk the trail from beginning to end it would take anywhere from five to seven months. However, the fastest person to hike the trail took just over 41 days. In 2018, Belgian ultrarunner Karel Sabbe smashed the previous speed record of 45 days, 12 hours, and 15 minutes with a time of 41 days, 7 hours, and 39 minutes.
More than three million people visit the Appalachian Trail every year and over 3,000 people attempt to “thru-hike” the entire footpath in a single year.
The idea to walk the trail was first proposed in 1921 by Benton MacKaye, a forester, conservationist, and lifelong outdoorsman. His original plan, titled An Appalachian Trail: A Project in Regional Planning, outlined a stretch of several self-sustaining agricultural camps along the way. Many like-minded people started joining his cause, and the community eventually became known as the Appalachian Trail Conference.
The trail was not fully connected from Springer Mountain Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine until 1937. The path travels through Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine — hitting 10 out of the original 13 colonies.
Passing through the Appalachian Mountains, the Smoky Mountains, White Mountain National Forest, and more, the trail traverses about 450,000 feet of elevation changes. Clingmans Dome is the highest point of the entire trail at 6,644 feet, and is located on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The trail either passes over or provides close access to the tallest peaks in seven states.
It took another 10 years after being completed in 1947 for the first hiker, Earl Shaffer, to fully complete the journey in full from beginning to end. Currently, over 14,000 people have accomplished the goal.
In 1968, the trail was named one of the first national scenic trails and recognised it as federal land thanks to former President Lyndon B Johnson when he signed the National Trail Systems Act.
The entirety of the trail is currently maintained by an army of volunteers organised into 31 distinct maintenance clubs. Clubs do everything from maintaining existing trails and painting blazes to excavating trail reroutes and building new shelters. Each club is responsible for maintaining specific sections of trail as small as the Wilmington Trail Club’s 7.2 miles and as large as the Maine Appalachian Trail Club’s 266.8 miles.