My hike on the Appalachian Trail was just long enough to get a feel for the incredibly rugged and beautiful area.
My guide, Elizabeth Pinion, Resource Manager and Park Ranger at Amicalola State Park & Falls, told us, “You’ve got to be able to survive on the trail—it’s not easy.”
Indeed, the Appalachian Trail or Appalachian National Scenic Trail (its official name), is approximately 2,181 miles long and runs through 14 states from Springer Mountain just outside Amicalola State Park in Georgia to Katahdin, Maine.
It’s located in the 750,000 acre Chattahoochee National Forest. Springer Mountain stands tall at 3,782 feet, dividing Georgia’s northern and southern Appalachian extensions—the northern branch veers off to the Cohuttas, while the southern turns toward Mount Oglethorpe.
The most popular access to Springer is the 8.5 mile trail from Amicalola State Park. Requiring a hiking permit to enter, the trail gives hikers a sample of some of the challenging terrain they’ll cross as they make their way through the Appalachians.
The trail begins at Amicalola Falls, where I spent most of my time, then, goes northeast to the Hike Inn Trail–Approach Trail junction.
Weekend hikers often use this trail as well as those planning to continue, staying at the eco-friendly Len Foote Hike Inn that’s about five miles in. Hikers who make it completely over the trail can join Amicalola Park’s Canyon Climbers Club.
Springer Trail, on Forest Service Road 42, provides hikers anxious to get started on the Appalachian Trail the shortest approach. While the 1.9 mile climb is never steep, the rocky ground makes it challenging especially in wet weather.
The Georgia Appalachian Trail Club (GATC) maintains the trail, and have built in steps in a few places to help keep it safe. While once marked with a wooden sign, two metal markers set in stone now show hikers the start of the Appalachian Trail.
This historic trail grew out of a proposal by Benton MacKaye, a former forester, government analyst and newspaper editor, to provide a refuge from the growing industrialization in the early 1920s. It took more than a decade and many dedicated individuals and organizations to get the trail to its launch on August 14, 1937.
Described as a continuous “wilderness” footpath, it traveled approximately 2,000 miles from Mt. Oglethorpe, Ga., to Baxter Peak on Katahdin in central Maine. The National Trails System Act (NTSA) provided further protection for the trail, designating it and the incomplete Pacific Crest Trail as the first national scenic trails on October 2, 1968.
Myron Avery, one of the men who worked hard on getting the trail established, was the first to hike it from end to end in 1936. He wasn’t, however, what’s referred to now as a thru-hiker, meaning that he didn’t hike it completely from end to end at one time. Earl Shaffer, of York, Pennsylvania, is the first documented hiker to do the thru-hike.
Shaffer also completed the first north to south thru-hike. Hiking the trail once again in 1974, when he was 79, Shaffer set a record that stood until 2004 for being the oldest thru-hiker.
Many start hiking the Appalachian Trail, but few actually make a thru-hike. As Pinion said, “It’s almost like a secret society because not everyone has shared their experience.” The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) has recorded 12,000 of these four to seven month walks since 1936, calling these hikers “2000 milers.”
The Appalachian Mountains still make an impressive footprint across North America, running for 1500 miles from Newfoundland in Canada, to Central Alabama in the United States.
Some geologists believe they once spit out enough lava to make them as high as the Alps, while at the same time raising the greenhouse gas levels to be 20 times higher than they are today. They’ve eroded over the millions of years since then, but still include some of the tallest mountains east of the Mississippi.
Numerous mountain ranges make up the Appalachians. In northeast Georgia, at Amicalola Falls, I was at the southern end of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which form the eastern front of the Appalachians. Here, their usually narrow ridge widens up to 60 miles in places.
It creates what meteorologists call a wedge or tunnel that often intensifies weather systems as they pass through. Temperatures are cooler in the summer and more rain falls, making the acres and acres of forest a veritable paradise.
It’s these forests of trees that give the Blue Ridge Mountains their famous blue haze. The many varieties of oak trees produce and emit isoprene, creating the atmospheric change.
In the fall, these oaks turn russet and maroon, becoming just one species that makes the leaf season popular! There are also dogwood, sourwood and blackgum that turn deep red, sun-yellow tuliptrees and hickories, orange sassafras and red maples. Sprinkled through this amazing fall color palate there are also Virginia pine, white pine, hemlock, spruce and fir that are evergreens.