An Ode to the Appalachian Trail

photo by Robert McCaw

photo by Robert McCaw

What I wanted for my birthday in mid-April was to take a hike on the Appalachian Trail with my husband and son.  So that’s what we did.   And with most of the trees still bare, it was the wildflowers along this southern Virginia portion of the Trail that stole the show that day.   They were taking full advantage of that brief period during which it is they–not the leafy tree tops–who are getting most of the sunshine.  Soon most of the wildflowers would be in shade.  Now was their time.

The most prominent of the wildflowers we saw that day was bloodroot.  Scores of the white flowers poked out of the leaf litter along the Trail.  The many-petaled flower gets its name from its red-colored sap, that can be seen by tearing a leaf, and from its red-colored root.

As we walked, I found myself musing about how dearly I love the Appalachian Trail.  Over the last 40+ years, I have savored many day hikes on short sections of the Trail–mostly in Virginia, but also in Tennessee, Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and New Hampshire.  And wouldn’t I love to sometime hike the entire 2,200 miles of the AT, all the way from Springer Mountain, Georgia, to Mount Katahdin, Maine!

In fact, I vividly remember the moment I first learned of the Trail’s existence.  I was a high school junior, and one day in English class, the subject of the AT arose.  How, I don’t know, nor do I remember what was said.   But I clearly remember the thrill of suddenly knowing that such a trail exists.   Immediately, I longed to get out there in the forest, to hike on that trail for day after day after day, to live in the forest for the time it would take me to hike the 2,000 mile long trail.

Years later, I moved to Washington, DC from Florida, and  I had ample opportunity to get out onto the AT for short hikes with friends, along portions of the Trail that ran near DC–through Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland.

My great love for the AT must come, in part, from how it feels to stride along, deep in the forest and far from cities.  My ego self recedes, freeing my spirit to merge with the natural world around me.  And when a thru-hiker–one of those individuals who is hiking the entire Trail–approaches, loaded down and grimy-looking, I feel I am in the presence of a rock star.    Sometimes I ask questions about what the hike has been like so far;  other times I’m too shy for more than pleasantries.  But as I continue on, I pretend that I too am hiking the whole Trail.  Even though it is unlikely that I ever will.

I am grateful to the many people who brought the Trail into existence and to those who and tend to its ongoing care.  ’A super trail along the mountain crests of the eastern wilderness’ was the dream of forester Benton MacKaye in 1921.  And by 1937, the Trail had been completed, all through the efforts of private citizens!

Today’s Appalachian Trail is different from the original version.   In 1937 the Trail went straight up and down mountain sides, making hiking difficult and erosion severe.  Over the decades, Appalachian Trail Club crews and volunteers have relocated and improved many miles of trail.  Changes and improvements are still being made.

The Trail is managed by the National Park Service, the US Forest Service, numerous state agencies, and by the non-profit Appalachian Trail Conservancy.  But most of the care and maintenance of the Trail is done by volunteer members of the more than 30 chapters of the Appalachian Trail Club, in communities along the Trail.

It was not until 1968 when Congress passed the National Trails System Act that the AT received federal protection from development.  The Act established the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail (a newer, 2,650 mile trail from California’s southern border to Washington’s northern border) as the nation’s first National Scenic Trails and paved the way for the establishment of more National Scenic Trails within the National Parks and National Forests system.

The majority of land through which the AT passes is forest or wild lands, although portions traverse farms, towns, and roads.  And 14 states are host to a piece of the Trail: Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.  The longest stretch is in Virginia, about 550 miles of trail.

Every year, three to four million people hike some portion of the AT.  About 12,000 individuals are believed to have hiked the entire Trail.  Most of them do so in one stretch, which typically takes 5-7 months.  Others, called section hikers, complete the Trail, section by section, perhaps over a course of years, according to the time hikers have available.

I know the Appalachian Trail is cherished by many.  I gather, from what I have read and heard, that hiking the entire Trail can be life-changing, that it can help in healing after a major life loss, that it can be an inspiring and confidence-building way to move from one phase of life to another.

With gratitude, I look forward to my next day hike on the Appalachian Trail, probably a summer hike in the Shenandoah National Park.–April Moore

ap map






4 Responses to “An Ode to the Appalachian Trail”

  1. E. Says:

    Happy trails to you.
    Until we meet again …

  2. James Says:

    … and people are enthused and yearning to experience the views in a sterile environment, far removed from the trail.

  3. Jim Cummings Says:

    Ah, yes, the joys of springtime woods! My favorite season is the month or so of the “spring tinge”, all the colors of autumn, in subtler tones and amazing variety of textures (flowers, seeds, young leaves). One of my great hopes is to spend a few weeks one spring in the NC-VA-MD mountains. Always good to read your reflections, glad to be subscribed!

  4. Larry Scott Says:

    Thank you so much for this, April Moore! You have reminded me of many backpacking trips on parts of the Appalachian Trail along parts from Pennsylvania to Vermont and on the Green Trail in Vermont.

    much love to you and Andy and your family,


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