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Dreaming of the Appalachian Trail?

Posted: Thursday, February 20, 2020

Honestly, I can’t even remember when hiking the Appalachian Trail became my ‘dream’. At some point in my early childhood, someone told me what it was, how long it was and that you had to carry everything you needed to hike it.  Why that was appealing to me I have no idea but, the dream is still alive and I continue to pursue it – on a regular basis!

My name is Jan Latham and I have guided for AGC for the last 20 years. From the beginning I focused on the Appalachian Trail, developing our lightweight backpacking program and working with other guides to develop both backpacking and ‘slackpacking’ trips.  During the next few months, Julie Fast and I will work together to provide interesting and ‘dream’ inspiring articles to either kindle or perpetuate your dream. Julie also works for AGC as a Program Manager and she has the unique distinction of having hiked the entire Appalachian Trail - she’s a ‘thru-hiker’!

The journey of over 2,000 miles starts with a first step, so – let’s get started! 

The Appalachian National Scenic Trail, generally known as the Appalachian Trail or simply The A.T., is a marked hiking trail in the eastern United States extending along the eastern U.S. between Springer Mountain in Georgia and Mount Katahdin in Maine.  It is approximately 2,189 miles long. The majority of the trail crosses through state and federal forests, lands and wilderness, although some portions do traverse towns and roads. The trail was originally proposed by Benton MacKaye in 1921 and was first hiked in its entirety by Earl Shaffer of York, Pennsylvania in 1948.  Popularity for the “green tunnel” walk has skyrocketed since then, now the AT sees between 1,000 and 2,000 thru-hikers and approximately the same number of ‘section hikers’ every year.

How can you hike the AT? 

The traditional approach to hiking the AT has been to do a ‘thru-hike’ -  a backpacking trek beginning at either end of the trail (Georgia or Maine).  However, there are plenty of other ways to make this dream your reality.  You can . . . 

  • Section hike - single to multiple overnight backpacks.  
  • Slackpacking - multiple-day hikes, returning to the same lodging each night. 
  • Lodging to lodging - multiple-day hikes, staying at different lodgings each night. 
  • Day hikes - simply doing day hikes on accessible sections whenever your schedule allows.  

No matter how you choose to tackle this amazing hike, we are all out to enjoy a unique accomplishment made possible by the decades of dedicated work of other hiking enthusiasts, National Park support and volunteer efforts.  The AT goes through some of the most beautiful wilderness areas in the United States and gives us the solitude that is so often missing in our faster-paced 'real lives'.

How do I decide - backpacking, section hiking, Lodge to Lodge or day hikes?

For some this is the hardest question - it’s not the ‘wanting’ to do it but the ‘how’ to do it.  There is definitely no ‘wrong way’ to hike the AT! First - I always like to start with a little research - hopefully this article will provide some of that.  Another great resource is the Appalachian Trail Conservancy at http://www.appalachiantrail.org/   The ‘Explore’ tab gives you more insight on all the different approaches to hiking the AT.

 Second - honest self assessment!  

  • Thru-hike:  Be honest with yourself both in terms of time and reality.  Can you take the time (for example) to do a Thru-hike? This type of hike will take 4 - 6 months and involves backpacking on a continuous basis (not counting days spent in towns for occasional overnights and re-supplies) in all weather conditions.  
  • Section hikes:  These shorter backpacks present similar questions as Thru-hike except these backpacks are limited to shorter periods of time - our backpacking trips are 1 week in length.
  • Lodge to Lodge and Slackpacking:  These trips still contend with weather but the limiting factor is the day!  At the end of the day you either arrive at or return to a place with both a bed and a shower.  Another option available on Slackpacking trips is to decide to not hike on any given day. AGC’s Slackpacking and Lodge to Lodge trips are 1 week in length.  

Definitely not having any experience on the AT can make your decision more difficult which leads to the next question . . . 

How can AGC help with your dream?

This is the part I love - yes, we can help make this dream a reality and you can choose the one that is calling you!  

Backpacking! 

If you decide a traditional thru hike is your calling, we recommend taking our Introduction to Lightweight Backpacking trip.  This trip takes place in June beginning in the small town of Damascus, Virginia.  The section covers some of the most beautiful sections of the AT and includes plenty of those ‘sound of music’ moments, wild ponies and the infamous ‘Fat Man’s Squeeze’.  This is an excellent way to begin making your dream of a thru-hike a reality. Read about the trip and the itinerary...

Don’t want to lug all of your gear with you? Try slackpacking!

If you decide to slackpack the AT, we definitely have choices for you – all the way along the trail from Georgia to Maine.  Slackpacking gives you the best of both worlds – wonderful and challenging hiking during the day with only a daypack, and then at night, a soft bed and great shower!  

AGC offers Slackpacking trips in the following states - all jam packed with beautiful vistas, wonderful hiking and plenty of those famous AT ‘ups and downs’! You can find all of our slackpacking trips via the Calendar page of our website.

  • Georgia
  • Virginia (Slackpacking and Lodge to Lodge) 
  • Maryland
  • West Virginia
  • New Hampshire (Hut to Hut) 
  • Maine
  • New for 2021, Vermont 

Want the thru-hike experience, but with the comfort of 'lodging'?

Hiking Lodge to Lodge on the AT takes place in the Shenandoah National Park. This is the easiest option for hiking the AT with AGC. Enjoy 4-6 hours each day through Shenandoah National Park without having to carry a backpack. Evenings are spent in style at each of the park lodges. Read more about Hiking Lodge to Lodge on the Appalachian Trail.

The good news is that there is an ideal way for each and every woman to find out what the allure of the AT is all about! We hope to see you on the AT soon!

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