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The Appalachian Trail is famous for its many hikers, some of whom, called thru-hikers, attempt to hike it in its entirety in a single season. Many books, memoirs, web sites and fan organizations are dedicated to this pursuit.
An unofficial extension known as the International Appalachian Trail continues north into Canada and to the end of the range, where it enters the Atlantic Ocean.
The Appalachian Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, and the Pacific Crest Trail form what is known as the Triple Crown of long distance hiking in the United States.
The trail was conceived by Benton MacKaye, a forester who wrote his original plan shortly after the death of his wife in 1921. MacKaye's idea detailed a grand trail that would connect a series of farms and wilderness work/study camps for city-dwellers. In 1922, at the suggestion of Major William A. Welch, director of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission, his idea was publicized by Raymond H. Torrey with a story in the New York Evening Post under a full-page banner headline reading "A Great Trail from Maine to Georgia!" The idea was quickly adopted by the new Palisades Interstate Park Trail Conference as their main project.
On October 7, 1923, the first section of the trail, from Bear Mountain west through Harriman State Park to Arden, New York, was opened. MacKaye then called for a two-day Appalachian Trail conference to be held in March 1925 in Washington, D.C. This resulted in the formation of the Appalachian Trail Conference (now called the Appalachian Trail Conservancy).
A retired judge named Arthur Perkins and his younger associate Myron Avery took up the cause. In 1929, Perkins, who was also a member of the Connecticut Forest and Park Association and its Blue Blazed Trails committee, found Ned Anderson, a farmer in Sherman, Connecticut, who took on the task of mapping and blazing the Connecticut leg of the trail (1929â€“1933). It ran from Dog Tail Corners in Webatuck, New York, which borders Kent, Connecticut, at Ashley Falls, 50 miles (80 km) through the northwest corner of the state, up to Bear Mountain at the Massachusetts border. (A portion of the Connecticut trail has since been rerouted [1979â€“83] to be more scenic, adhering less to highways and more to wilderness, and includes a Ned K. Anderson Memorial Bridge.)
Anderson's efforts helped spark renewed interest in the trail, and Avery (leading the charge since Perkinsâ€™ death in 1932) was able to bring other states on board. Upon taking over the ATC, Avery adopted the more practical goal of building a simple hiking trail. He and MacKaye clashed over the ATC's response to a major commercial development along the trail's path; MacKaye left the organization, while Avery was willing to simply reroute the trail. Avery reigned as Chairman of the ATC from 1932 to 1952 (he died that same year).
Avery became the first to walk the trail end-to-end, though not as a thru-hike, in 1936. In August 1937, the trail was completed to Sugarloaf Mountain in Maine, and the ATC shifted its focus toward protecting the trail lands and mapping the trail for hikers. From 1938 to the end of World War II, the trail suffered a series of natural and man-made setbacks. At the end of the war, the damage to the trail was repaired.
In 1948, Earl Shaffer of York, Pennsylvania, brought a great deal of attention to the project by completing the first documented thru-hike. Later Shaffer also completed the first north-to-south thru-hike, making him the first to do so in each direction. In 1998 Mr. Shaffer, nearly 80 years old, again hiked the entirety of the trail, making him the oldest person ever to complete a thru-hike.
In 1994, a story appeared in the Appalachian Trailway News describing a 121-day Maine to Georgia thru-hike in 1936 by six Boy Scouts from the Bronx. Although the story has been accepted by some members of ALDHA, a great deal of doubt has also been expressed and this earlier thru-hike has never been verified. Shaffer's 1948 journey is still generally recognized as the first A.T. thru-hike.
In the 1960s, the ATC made progress toward protecting the trail from development, thanks to efforts of politicians and officials. The National Trails System Act of 1968 designated the Pacific Crest Trail and Appalachian Trail as the first national scenic trails and paved the way for a series of National Scenic Trails within the National Park and National Forest systems. Trail volunteers worked with the National Park Service to map a permanent route for the trail, and by 1971 a permanent route had been marked (though minor changes continue to this day). By the close of the 20th century, the Park Service had completed the purchase of all but a few miles of the trail's span.
The International Appalachian Trail is a 1,900-mile (3,100 km) unofficial extension running north from Maine into New Brunswick and Quebec. It is a separate trail, not an official extension of the Appalachian Trail. A further extension to Newfoundland has recently been completed.
In 2010, a group of geologists representing the International Appalachian Trail began a push to extend the trail across the Atlantic Ocean, across Greenland and Iceland in the North Atlantic and into Northern Europe, then down to the Atlas Mountains of Morocco.
In 2008, the Pinhoti National Recreation Trail in Alabama and Georgia was connected to the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail via the Benton MacKaye Trail. Promoters of the Southern extension refer to MacKaye's statement at the 1925 conference that the Georgia to New Hampshire trail should, in the future, extend to Katahdin, and "then to Birmingham, Alabama". The Pinhoti Trail now terminates at Flagg Mountain, near Weogufka in Coosa County, 50 miles (80 km) east of Birmingham.
Flora and fauna
The Appalachian Trail is home to thousands of species of plants and animals, including 2,000 distinct rare, threatened, endangered, and sensitive plant and animal species.
The American black bear, among the largest animals along the Appalachian Trail, rarely confronts people. Bear sightings on the trail are uncommon, except in certain sections, especially Shenandoah National Park and the New Jersey section; confrontations are rarer still. Other hazards include venomous snakes, including the Eastern timber rattlesnake and copperhead, which are common along the trail. Both snakes are generally found in drier, rockier sections of the trail; the copperhead's range extends north to around the New Jersey-New York state line, while rattlesnakes are commonly found along the trail in Connecticut and have been reported, although rarely, as far north as New Hampshire. Other large mammals commonly sighted include deer; elk, reintroduced in the Smoky Mountains; and moose, which live as far south as Massachusetts but are more commonly seen in northern New England.
For most hikers, the most persistent pests along the trail are ticks, mosquitos, and black flies along with the mice that inhabit shelters.
Plant life along the trail is varied. The trail passes through several different biomes from south to north, and the climate changes significantly, particularly dependent upon elevation. In the south, lowland forests consist mainly of second-growth; nearly the entire trail has been logged at one time or another. There are, however, a few old growth locations along the trail, such as Sages Ravine straddling the Massachusetts-Connecticut border and atop higher peaks along the trail on either side of the same border, the Hopper (a glacial cirque westward of the trail as it traverses Mt. Greylock in Massachusetts), and "The Hermitage", near Gulf Hagas in Maine. In the south, the forest is dominated by hardwoods, including oak and tulip trees, also known as yellow poplar. Further north, tulip trees are gradually replaced by maples and birches. Oaks begin to disappear in Massachusetts. By Vermont, the lowland forest is made up of maples, birch and beech, which provide spectacular foliage displays for hikers in September and October. While the vast majority of lowland forest south of the White Mountains is hardwood, many areas have some coniferous trees as well, and in Maine, these often grow at low elevations.
There is a drastic change between the lowland and subalpine, evergreen forest, as well as another, higher break, at tree line, above which only hardy alpine plants grow. The sub-alpine region is far more prevalent along the trail than true alpine conditions. While it mainly exists in the north, a few mountains in the south have subalpine environments, which are typically coated in an ecosystem known as the Southern Appalachian spruce-fir forest. Southern ranges and mountains where sub-alpine environments occur include the Great Smoky Mountains, where sub-alpine environments only begin around 6,000 feet (1,800 m) in elevation, Roan Highlands on the North Carolina-Tennessee border, where sub-alpine growth descends below 6,000 feet (1,800 m), and Mount Rogers and the Grayson Highlands in Virginia, where there is some alpine growth above 5,000 feet (1,500 m). Appalachian balds are also found in the Southern highlands, and are believed to occur due to fires or grazing in recent centuries, or in some cases due to thin, sandy soils. Several balds are sprouting trees, and on some, the National Forest service actually mows the grasses periodically in order to keep the balds free of trees.
No sub-alpine regions exist between Mount Rogers in Virginia and Mount Greylock in Massachusetts, mainly because the trail stays below 3,000 feet (910 m) from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to Mount Greylock. Mount Greylock, however, has a large subalpine region, the only such forest in Massachusetts, extending down to 3,000 feet (910 m), which in the south would be far from the sub-alpine cutoff. This is especially low because Greylock is exposed to prevailing westerly winds, as the summits along its ridgeline rise approximately 200 feet (61 m) to 650 feet (200 m) higher than any other peak in Massachusetts. Further north, several peaks in Vermont reach into the sub-alpine zone, the bottom of which steadily descends as one proceeds northward, so that by the White Mountains in New Hampshire, it often occurs well below 3,000 feet (910 m). At Mount Moosilauke, which summits at 4,802 feet (1,464 m), the first alpine environment on the trail is reached, where only thin, sporadic flora is interspersed with bare rocks. Between the two regions is the krummholz region, where stunted trees grow with their branches oriented away from the winter's prevailing northwest wind, thus giving the appearance of flags (they are often called "flag trees"). This region resembles lowland terrain hundreds of miles north in Canada. It also contains many endangered and threatened species. The trail has been rerouted over New Hampshire's Presidential Range so the Appalachian Mountain Club can protect certain plant life. The alpine cutoff in the Whites is generally between 4,200 feet (1,300 m) and 4,800 feet (1,500 m). Mountains traversed by the AT above treeline include Mount Moosilauke, several miles along the Franconia Range and along the Presidential Range. In the Presidentials, the trail climbs as high as 6,288 feet (1,917 m) on Mount Washington and spends about 13 miles (21 km) continuously above treeline, in the largest alpine environment in the United States east of the Rocky Mountains.
The segments of the trail through Pennsylvania are so rocky that hikers refer to the region as "Rocksylvania". These small rocksâ€”the result of erosion that has worn away the dirt along the trailsâ€”can be tough to walk on for extended periods of time without proper hard-soled shoes.
In Maine, the trail extends into even harsher environments, and sub-alpine and alpine growth descends to lower elevations. Alpine growth in the state ranges from around 2,500 feet (760 m) in the Mahoosuc Range to below 1,000 feet (300 m) in parts of the Hundred-Mile Wilderness, where nearly every area higher than 1,000 feet (300 m) is evergreen forest. These forests include more species of evergreen, as well. In addition to the white pine, spruce and hemlock prevalent further south, Maine has many cedar trees along the trail. Near the northern terminus, there are even some tamarack (larch), a coniferous, pine-needled deciduous tree, which provides displays of yellow in the late fall after the birches and maples have gone bare. The hemlocks in Maine are also notable, as the woolly adelgid, which has ravaged populations further south, has not come into the state yet, and may be unable to make it so far north due to the cold climate.
Maine also has several alpine regions. In addition to several areas of the Mahoosuc Range, the Baldpates and Old Blue in southern Maine have alpine characteristics despite elevations below 4,000 feet (1,200 m). Saddleback Mountain and Mount Bigelow, further north, each only extend a bit above 4,000 feet (1,200 m), but have long alpine areas, with no tree growth on the summits and unobstructed views on clear days. From Mount Bigelow, the trail extends for 150 miles (240 km) with only a small area of alpine growth around 3,500 feet (1,100 m) on the summit of White Cap Mountain. Mount Katahdin, the second largest alpine environment in the eastern United States, has several square miles of alpine area on the flat "table land" summit as well as the cliffs and aretes leading up to it. Treeline on Mount Katahdin is only around 3,500 feet (1,100 m). This elevation in Massachusetts would barely be a sub-alpine region, and, south of Virginia, consists of lowland forest. This illustrates the drastic change in climate over 2,000 miles (3,200 km).
Despite the alpine environments well below 5,000 feet (1,500 m) in New Hampshire and Maine, some higher places further south are not alpine. Examples include Wayah Bald in North Carolina 5,342 feet (1,628 m) and Clingmans Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park 6,643 feet (2,025 m).
Hiking the trail
As the Appalachian Trail was explicitly designed to be hiked, it includes resources to facilitate hikers. Some are common to trails throughout North America, while some are unique to the Appalachian Trail. The trail is much more frequently hiked south to north (that is, Georgia to Maine) than vice versa. Hikers typically begin in March or April and finish in late summer or early to late fall of that particular year (or, in the case of southbound hikers, June to March).
Throughout its length, the AT is marked by 2 by 6 inches (5 by 15 cm) white paint blazes. Side trails to shelters, viewpoints and parking areas use similarly-shaped blue blazes. In past years, some sections of the trail also used metal diamond markers with the AT logo, few of which survive.
Lodging and camping
The trail has more than 250 shelters and campsites available for hikers. The shelters, sometimes called lean-tos (in Maine, Massachusetts, and Connecticut), huts (in Shenandoah National Park), or Adirondack shelters, are generally open, three-walled structures with a wooden floor, although some shelters are much more complex in structure. Shelters are usually spaced a day's hike or less apart, most often near a water source (which may be dry) and with a privy. They generally have spaces for tent sites in the vicinity. The Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) operates a system of eight huts along 56 miles (90 km) of New Hampshire's White Mountains. These huts are significantly larger than standard trail shelters and offer full-service lodging and meals during the summer months. The Fontana Dam Shelter in North Carolina, is more commonly referred to as the Fontana Hilton because of amenities (e.g. flush toilets) and its proximity to an all-you-can-eat buffet and post office. Several AMC huts have an extended self-service season during the fall, with two extending self-service seasons through the winter and spring. The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club maintains trail cabins, shelters, and huts throughout the Shenandoah region of Virginia.
Shelters are generally maintained by local volunteers. Almost all shelters have one or more pre-hung food hangers (generally consisting of a short nylon cord with an upside-down tuna can suspended halfway down its length) where hikers can hang their food bags to keep them out of the reach of rodents. In hiker lingo, these are sometimes called "mouse trapezes."
In addition to official shelters, many people offer their homes, places of business, or inns to accommodate AT hikers. One example is the Little Lyford Pond camps maintained by the Appalachian Mountain Club. Inns are more common in sections of the trail that coincide with national parks, most notably Virginia's Shenandoah National Park.
The trail crosses many roads, thus providing ample opportunity for hikers to hitchhike into town for food and other supplies. Many trail towns are accustomed to hikers passing through, and thus many have hotels and hiker-oriented accommodations. Some of the most well-known trail towns are Hot Springs, North Carolina; Erwin, Tennessee; Damascus, Virginia; Harpers Ferry, West Virginia; Duncannon, Pennsylvania; Port Clinton, Pennsylvania; Hanover, New Hampshire; and Monson, Maine. In the areas of the trail closer to trail towns, many hikers have experienced what is sometimes called "trail magic," or assistance from strangers through kind actions, gifts, and other forms of encouragement. Trail magic is sometimes done anonymously. In other instances, persons have provided food and cooked for hikers at a campsite.
The Appalachian Trail is relatively safe. Most injuries or incidents are consistent with comparable outdoor activities. Most hazards are related to weather conditions, human error, plants, animals, diseases, and fellow humans encountered along the trail.
Many animals live around the trail, with bears, snakes, and wild boars posing the greatest threat to human safety. Several rodent- and bug-borne illnesses are also a potential hazard. In scattered instances, foxes, raccoons, and other small animals may bite hikers, posing risk of rabies and other diseases. There has been one reported case (in 1993) of hantavirus (HPS), a rare but dangerous rodent-borne disease affecting the lungs. The afflicted hiker recovered and hiked the trail the following year.
The section of the trail that runs through the Mid-Atlantic and New England states have a very high population of deer ticks carrying Lyme and other tick-borne diseases, and represents the highest density of reported Lyme Disease in the country. Hikers should understand the risks, and take appropriate precautions.
Plant life can create its own brand of problems. Poison ivy is common the length of the trail, and more plentiful in the South.
Hiking season of the trail generally starts in mid to late spring, when conditions are much more favorable in the South. However, this time may also be characterized by extreme heat, sometimes in excess of 100 Â°F (38 Â°C). Under such conditions, hydration is imperative. Light clothing and sunscreens are a must at high elevations and areas without foliage, even in relatively cool weather.
Further north and at higher elevations, the weather can be intensely cold, characterized by low temperatures, strong winds, hail or snow storms and reduced visibility. Prolonged rain, though not typically life-threatening, can undermine stamina and ruin supplies.
Violent crime, including murder, has occurred on the trail in a few instances. Most have been crimes by non-hikers who crossed paths relatively randomly with the AT hiker-victims. The official website of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy points out that the number of violent crimes is extremely low when compared against the number of people (3 to 4 million) who hike on the trail every year.
The first reported homicide on the trail was in 1974 in Georgia. In 1981, the issue of violence on the Appalachian Trail received national attention when Robert Mountford Jr. and Laura Susan Ramsay, both social workers in Ellsworth, Maine, were murdered by Randall Lee Smith. Another homicide occurred in May 1996, when two women were abducted, bound and murdered near the trail in Shenandoah National Park. The primary suspect was later discovered harassing a female bicycler in the vicinity, but charges against him were dropped, and the case remains unsolved.
Trail hikers who attempt to complete the entire trail in a single season are called "thru-hikers"; those who traverse the trail during a series of separate trips are known as "section-hikers". Rugged terrain, weather extremes, freedom from illness or injury, and the desire to commit the time and effort required make thru-hiking difficult to accomplish.
Traditionally, only about 10% to 15% of those who make the attempt report to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy that they completed it. However, since 2001, the number of people starting out in Georgia to do a thru-hike (or at least registering to do so) has dropped considerably, yet the number of people reporting that they have completed a thru-hike has remained approximately the same. This has resulted in an apparent increase in the completion rate to 29% (as of 2006).
A thru-hike generally requires five to seven months, although some have done it in three months, and several trail runners have completed the trail in less time. Trail runners typically tackle the AT with automobile support teams, without backpacks, and without camping in the woods.
The current speed record for thru-hiking the AT was set by Jennifer Pharr Davis in 2011, at 46 days, 11 hours, and 20 minutes. Pharr Davis made the trip southbound, from mid June to late July.
Thru-hikers are classified into many informal groups. "Purists" are hikers who stick to the official AT trail, follow the white blazes, except for side trips to shelters and camp sites. "Blue Blazers" cut miles from the full route by taking side trails marked by blue blazes. The generally pejorative name "Yellow Blazers," a reference to yellow road stripes, is given to those who hitchhike to move down the trail. There are also those who hike the entire trail in sections known as "section hikers" as opposed to those who hike the whole trail as one course.
Most thru-hikers walk northward from Georgia to Maine, and generally start out in early spring and follow the warm weather as it moves north. These "north-bounders" are also called NOBO (NOrthBOund) or GAME (Georgia(GA)-to-Maine(ME)), while those heading in the opposite direction are termed "south-bounders" (also SOBO or MEGA).
Part of hiker subculture includes making colorful entries in logbooks at trail shelters, signed using pseudonyms called trail names.
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy gives the name "2000 Miler" to anyone who completes the entire trail. The ATC's recognition policy for "2000 Milers" gives equal recognition to thru-hikers and section-hikers, operates on the honor system, and recognizes blue-blazed trails or officially required roadwalks as substitutes for the official, white-blazed route during an emergency such as a flood, forest fire, or impending storm on an exposed, high-elevation stretch. As of 2010, more than 11,000 people had reported completing the entire trail. About three-quarters of these are thru-hikers.
The Appalachian Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, and the Pacific Crest Trail form what is known as the Triple Crown of long distance hiking in the United States. In 2001, Brian Robinson became the first one to complete all three trails in a year.
The trail is currently protected along more than 99% of its course by federal or state ownership of the land or by right-of-way. The trail is maintained by a variety of citizen organizations, environmental advocacy groups, governmental agencies and individuals. Annually, more than 4,000 volunteers contribute over 175,000 hours of effort on the Appalachian Trail, an effort coordinated largely by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) organization. In total, the AT passes through eight national forests and two national parks.
In the course of its journey, the trail follows the ridge line of the Appalachian Mountains, crossing many of its highest peaks, and running, with only a few exceptions, almost continuously through wilderness. The trail used to traverse many hundreds of miles of private property; currently 99% of the trail is on public land.
Georgia has 75 miles (121 km) of the trail, including the southern terminus at Springer Mountain at an elevation of 3,280 feet (1,000 m). At 4,461 feet (1,360 m), Blood Mountain is the highest point on the trail in Georgia. The AT and approach trail, along with many miles of blue blazed side trails, are managed and maintained by the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club. See also: Georgia Peaks on the Appalachian Trail.
North Carolina has 88 miles (142 km) of the trail, not including more than 200 miles (320 km) along the Tennessee Border. Altitude ranges from 1,725 to 5,498 feet (526 to 1,676 m). The trail enters from Georgia at Bly Gap, ascending peaks such as Standing Indian Mountain, Mt. Albert, and Wayah Bald. It then goes by Nantahala Outdoor Center at the Nantahala River Gorge and the Nantahala River crossing. Up to this point, the trail is maintained by the Nantahala Hiking Club. Beyond this point, it is maintained by the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club. 30 miles (48 km) further north, Fontana Dam marks the entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Tennessee has 71 miles (114 km) of the trail, not including more than 200 miles (320 km) along or near the North Carolina Border. The section that runs just below the summit of Clingmans Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is along the North Carolina and Tennessee border and is the highest point on the trail at 6,643 feet (2,025 m). The Smoky Mountains Hiking Club (Knoxville, TN) maintains the trail throughout the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Davenport Gap. North of Davenport Gap, the Carolina Mountain Club (Asheville, NC) maintains the trail to Spivey Gap. Then the remaining Tennessee section is maintained by the Tennessee Eastman Hiking & Canoeing Club (Kingsport, TN).
Virginia has 550 miles (890 km) of the trail, including about 20 miles (32 km) along the West Virginia border. With the climate, and the timing of northbound hikers, this section is wet and challenging because of the spring thaw and heavy spring rainfall. Substantial portions closely parallel the Blue Ridge Parkway and, in Shenandoah National Park, the Skyline Drive. Parts of the trail near the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Skyline Drive are often considered the best for beginner hikers. In the southwestern portion of the state, the trail goes within one half mile of the highest point in Virginia, Mount Rogers, which is a short side-hike from the AT.
West Virginia has 4 miles (6.4 km) of the trail, not including about 20 miles (32 km) along the Virginia border. Here the trail passes through the town of Harpers Ferry, headquarters of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Harpers Ferry is considered the "psychological midpoint" of the AT.
Maryland has 41 miles (66 km) of the trail, with elevations ranging from 230 to 1,880 feet (70 to 570 m). Hikers are required to stay at designated shelters and campsites. The trail runs through the eastern edge of Greenbrier State Park. This can serve as a luxurious stop point for a hot shower and a visit to the camp store. The trail runs along the C&O Canal Towpath route for 3 miles (4.8 km). Hikers will also pass Highpoint Rock, the highest elevation in the state, for amazing views across Maryland farmland. The section ends at Pen Mar Park, which sits on the border of Maryland and Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania has 229 miles (369 km) of the trail. The trail extends from the Pennsylvania â€“ Maryland line at Pen Mar, a tiny town straddling the state line, to the Delaware Water Gap, at the Pennsylvania â€“ New Jersey border. The Susquehanna River is generally considered the dividing line between the northern and southern sections of the Pennsylvania AT, and Pine Grove Furnace State Park the halfway point of the entire AT.
The AT passes through St. Anthony's Wilderness, which is the second largest roadless area in Pennsylvania and home to several coal mining ghost towns, such as Yellow Springs and Rausch Gap.
Sunfish Pond on the Appalachian trail in New Jersey
New Jersey is home to 72 miles (116 km) of the trail. The trail enters New Jersey from the south on a pedestrian walkway along the Interstate 80 bridge over the Delaware River, ascends from the Delaware Water Gap to the top of Kittatinny Ridge in Worthington State Forest, passes Sunfish Pond (right), continues through Stokes State Forest and eventually reaches High Point State Park, the highest peak in New Jersey (a side trail is required to reach the actual peak). It then turns in a southeastern direction along the New York border for about 30 miles (48 km), passing over long sections of boardwalk bridges over marshy land, then entering Wawayanda State Park and then the Abram S. Hewitt State Forest just before entering New York near Greenwood Lake. In New Jersey the New York - New Jersey Trail Conference maintains and updates the Appalachian Trail.
Black bear activity along the trail in New Jersey increased rapidly starting in 2001. Hence, metal bear-proof trash boxes are in place at all New Jersey shelters.
Island Pond, Harriman State Park
New York's 88 miles (142 km) of trail contain very little elevation change compared to other states. From south to north, the trail summits many small mountains under 1,400 feet (430 m) in elevation, its highest point in New York being Prospect Rock at 1,433 feet (437 m), and only 3,000 feet (910 m) from the border with New Jersey. The trail continues north, climbing near Fitzgerald Falls, passing through Sterling Forest, and then entering Harriman State Park and Bear Mountain State Park. The lowest point on the entire Appalachian Trail is in the Bear Mountain Zoo 124 feet (38 m). It crosses the Hudson River on the Bear Mountain Bridge It then passes through Fahnestock State Park, and continues northeast and crosses the Metro-North Railroad's Harlem Line. This track crossing is the site of the only train station along the trail's length. It enters Connecticut via the Pawling Nature Reserve. The section of the trail that passes through Harriman and Bear Mountain State Parks is the oldest section of the trail, completed in 1923. A portion of this section was paved by 700 volunteers with 800 granite-slab steps followed by over a mile of walkway supported by stone crib walls with boulders lining the path. The project took four years, cost roughly $1 million, and was officially opened in June 2010. The project was done by the New York - New Jersey Trail Conference. The New York - New Jersey Trail Conference maintains and updates the Appalachian Trail in New York.
Connecticut's 52 miles (84 km) of trail lie almost entirely along the ridges to the west above the Housatonic River valley.
The state line is also the western boundary of a 480 acres (190 ha) Connecticut reservation inhabited by Schaghticoke Indians. Inside it, the AT roughly parallels its northern boundary, crossing back outside it after 2,000 feet (610 m). The trail proceeds northward through the Housatonic River valley and hills to its west, veering northwesterly and, at Salisbury, ascending the southern Taconic mountains, at Lion's Head affording a view northeasterly towards Mt. Greylock and other points in Massachusetts, and at Bear Mountain, reaching over 2,000 feet (610 m) in elevation for the first time since Pennsylvania and yielding views across the Hudson River valley to the Catskills and across the broad expanse of the Housatonic valley and the Berkshire and Litchfield Hills to the east. Just north of Bear, the trail, as it crosses into Massachusetts, descends into Sages Ravine, a deep gorge in the eastern Taconic ridgeline which is home to a fragile old growth forest. As the trail crosses the brook in the ravine, it leaves the area maintained by the Connecticut section of the Appalachian Mountain Club.
Massachusetts has 90 miles (140 km) of trail. The entire section of trail is in western Massachusetts' Berkshire County. It summits the highest peak in the southern Taconic Range, Mount Everett (2,602 feet (793 m), then descends to the Housatonic River valley and skirts the town of Great Barrington. The trail passes through the towns of Dalton and Cheshire, and summits the highest point in the state at 3,491 feet (1,064 m), Mount Greylock. It then quickly descends to the valley within 2 miles (3.2 km) of North Adams and Williamstown, before ascending again to the Vermont state line. The trail throughout Massachusetts is maintained by the Berkshire Chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club.
Vermont has 150 miles (240 km) of the trail. Upon entering Vermont, the trail coincides with the southernmost sections of the generally north/south-oriented Long Trail (which is subject to a request by its maintainers to protect it in its most vulnerable part of the year by forgoing spring hiking). It follows the ridge of the southern Green Mountains, summitting such notable peaks as Stratton Mountain, Glastenbury Mountain, and Killington Peak. After parting ways with the Long Trail at Maine Junction, the AT turns in a more eastward direction, crossing the White River, passing through Norwich, and entering Hanover, New Hampshire, as it crosses the Connecticut River. The Green Mountain Club maintains the AT from the Massachusetts state border to Route 12. The Dartmouth Outing Club maintains the trail from VT Route 12 Woodstock to the New Hampshire state line.
New Hampshire has 161 miles (259 km) of the trail. The New Hampshire AT is nearly all within the White Mountain National Forest. For northbound thru-hikers, it is the beginning of the main challenges that go beyond enduring distance and time: in New Hampshire and Maine, rough or steep ground are more frequent and alpine conditions are found near summits and along ridges. The trail reaches 17 of the 48 four-thousand footers of New Hampshire, including 6,288-foot (1,917 m) Mount Washington, the highest point of the AT north of Tennessee. The Dartmouth Outing Club maintains the AT from the Vermont border past Mount Moosilauke to Kinsman Notch, Woodstock New Hampshire, with the AMC maintaining the remaining miles through the state.
Maine has 281 miles (452 km) of the trail. The northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail is on Mount Katahdin's Baxter Peak in Baxter State Park.
In some parts of the trail in Maine, such as the Mahoosuc Notch, even the strongest hikers may only average 1 mile per hour (1.6 km/h). There are other parts in which hikers must hold on to tree limbs and roots to climb and descend, which are especially dangerous and hazardous in wet weather conditions.
The western section includes a mile-long (1.6 km) stretch of boulders, some of which hikers must pass under, at Mahoosuc Notch, sometimes called the trail's hardest mile. Although there are dozens of river and stream fords on the Maine section of the trail, the Kennebec River is the only one on the trail that requires a boat crossing. The most isolated portion of the Appalachian Trail, known as the "Hundred-Mile Wilderness", occurs in Maine. It heads east-northeast from the town of Monson and ends outside Baxter State Park just south of Abol Bridge.
Park management strongly discourages thru-hiking within the park before May 15 or after October 15.
The AMC maintains the AT from the New Hampshire border to Grafton Notch, with the Maine Appalachian Trail Club responsible for maintaining the remaining miles to Mt. Katahdin.
Listed from south to north.
Southern Terminus: Springer Mountain, Georgia
US 76.svg U.S. Highway 76 in northeast Georgia
US 64.svg U.S. Highway 64 near Nantahala River, North Carolina
US 19.svg US 74.svg U.S. Highway 19/U.S. Highway 74 near Fontana Lake, North Carolina
US 441.svg U.S. Highway 441 at North Carolina/Tennessee border
I-40.svg Interstate 40 at North Carolina/Tennessee border
US 25.svg US 70.svg U.S. Highway 25/U.S. Highway 70 in Hot Springs, North Carolina
I-26.svg US 23.svg Interstate 26/U.S. Highway 23 at North Carolina/Tennessee border
US 19W.svg U.S. Highway 19W at North Carolina/Tennessee border
US 19E.svg U.S. Highway 19E near Roan Mountain, Tennessee
US 321.svg U.S. Highway 321 at South Holston Lake, Tennessee
US 421.svg U.S. Highway 421 near South Holston Lake, Tennessee
US 58.svg U.S. Highway 58 in Damascus, Virginia
I-81.svg Interstate 81 near Marion, Virginia
I-77.svg US 52.svg Interstate 77/U.S. Highway 52 near Wytheville, Virginia
US 460.svg U.S. Highway 460 in Pearisburg, Virginia
I-81.svg Interstate 81 near Roanoke, Virginia
US 501.svg U.S. Highway 501 at James River, Virginia
US 60.svg U.S. Highway 60 near Buena Vista, Virginia
I-64.svg Interstate 64 near Waynesboro, Virginia
US 250.svg U.S. Highway 250 near Waynesboro, Virginia
US 33.svg U.S. Highway 33 in Shenandoah National Park
US 211.svg U.S. Highway 211 near Luray, Virginia
US 522.svg U.S. Highway 522 near Front Royal, Virginia
I-66.svg Interstate 66 in Front Royal, Virginia
US 17.svg US 50.svg U.S. Highway 17/U.S. Highway 50 near Waterloo, Virginia
US 340.svg U.S. Highway 340 in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia
US 340.svg U.S. Highway 340 in Sandy Hook, Maryland
I-70.svg US 40.svg Interstate 70/U.S. Highway 40 near Hagerstown, Maryland
US 30.svg U.S. Highway 30 near Fayetteville, Pennsylvania
I-76.svg Interstate 76 near Middlesex Township, Pennsylvania
US 11.svg U.S. Highway 11 near Middlesex Township, Pennsylvania
I-81.svg Interstate 81 near Middlesex Township, Pennsylvania
US 11.svg US 15.svg U.S. Highway 11/U.S. Highway 15 in Duncannon, Pennsylvania
US 22.svg US 322.svg U.S. Highway 22/U.S. Highway 322 in Duncannon, Pennsylvania
I-81.svg Interstate 81 near Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania
I-476.svg Interstate 476 near Slatington, Pennsylvania
I-80.svg Interstate 80 at Pennsylvania/New Jersey border
US 206.svg U.S. Highway 206 near Frankford, New Jersey
I-87.svg Interstate 87 near Harriman, New York
US 6.svg US 9W.svg US 202.svg U.S. Highway 6/U.S. Highway 9W/U.S. Highway 202 near Fort Montgomery, New York
US 9.svg U.S. Highway 9 near Garrison, New York
Taconic State Pkwy Shield.svg Taconic State Parkway near Shenandoah, New York
I-84.svg Interstate 84 near Whaley Lake, New York
US 7.svg U.S. Highway 7 near Falls Village, Connecticut
US 44.svg U.S. Highway 44 near Salisbury, Connecticut
US 7.svg U.S. Highway 7 near Great Barrington, Massachusetts
I-90.svg Interstate 90 near Lee, Massachusetts
US 20.svg U.S. Highway 20 near Lee, Massachusetts
US 4.svg U.S. Highway 4 near Rutland, Vermont
I-89.svg Interstate 89 near West Hartford, Vermont
US 5.svg U.S. Highway 5 near Hanover, New Hampshire (US-5 is in Vermont)
I-91.svg Interstate 91 near Hanover, New Hampshire (I-91 is in Vermont)
I-93.svg US 3.svg Interstate 93/U.S. Highway 3 near Franconia, New Hampshire
US 302.svg U.S. Highway 302 in White Mountain National Forest
US 2.svg U.S. Highway 2 near Berlin, New Hampshire
US 201.svg U.S. Highway 201 near Bingham, Maine
Northern terminus: Mt. Katahdin, Maine
Use in research
The Appalachian Trail has been a resource for researchers in a variety of disciplines. Portions of the trail in Tennessee were used on a study on trail maintenance for the Trail's "uniform environmental conditions and design attributes and substantial gradient in visitor use." Beginning in 2007, various citizen groups, including the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the American Hiking Society, began a study to monitor environmental changes that have resulted from higher ozone levels, acid rain, smog, and other air quality factors. Such research has been supported by the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, Cornell University, the National Geographic Society, and Aveda Corporation.
Behavioral studies have also been conducted on hikers themselves. A 2007 study on hikers found that most persons hike the trail "for fun and enjoyment of life and for warm relationships with others" and that "that environmental awareness, physical challenge, camaraderie, exercise, and solitude" were chief results among hikers. Since the highest single demographic of thru-hikers are males between the ages of 18â€“29, one informal study sought to find the correlation between this group and male college drop-outs.
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