The Best Of The Appalachian Trail
I Wish I Were Hiking The Trail ... Again
It just gets under your skin.
The fresh air.
The sheer physical exertion.
The camaraderie with others who walk with packs on their backs.
And the rain and the mud, the bugs and rocks, the lightning, the snakes and the bears. The sweat and the dirt, the cold and the heat, and the oh-so-lovely eau-de-hiker.
That 2,174-mile footpath, marked with 165,000 painted white blazes as it winds and climbs and descends through 14 states from Georgia to Maine, has this way of grabbing hold of your psyche and not letting go.
Not that I'm complaining. I enjoyed hiking portions of the Appalachian Trail for many years before I started walking at the beginning of the trail in Georgia, headed for Maine. And I have so many wonderful memories of my 178-day trek. In fact, despite the physical and sometime psychological challenges and discomforts, I loved every mile and moment of my journey. So, I also love to share those memories with anyone who'll read or listen, along with my suggestions for making your own trek the best it can be for you.
With that in mind, below you'll find some of the best A.T. resources as far as books, documentaries and websites. This certainly isn't an exhaustive list of Appalachian Trail memoirs, guides and films, but these are my selections and recommendations from the large number of options you'll find out there.
About that photo (above): Unfortunately, all of my A.T. slides, originally taken with disposable cameras, were scanned too small to use above, and I don't have a slide scanner right now to re-do all 1,500-or-so of them. So borrow a Katahdin pic I must. The rest of the photos on this page are all mine from my Appalachian Trail thru-hike.
The Appalachian Trail By State--From South To North, Springer Mountain To Mt. Katahdin
From Springer Mountain in Georgia...
...it's 75 miles to North Carolina
...then 88 miles to Tennessee
...then 293 miles to Virginia
...then 550 miles to West Virginia
...then 4 miles to Pennsylvania
...then 229 miles to Maryland
...then 41 miles to New Jersey
...then 72 miles to New York
...then 88 miles to Connecticut
...then 52 miles to Massachusetts
...then 90 miles to Vermont
...then 150 miles to New Hampshire
...then 161 miles to Maine
...then 281 miles to...
Mount Katahdin in Maine's Baxter State Park
At least, that's what the mileages were when I hiked, when the trail was a total of 2,179-point-something miles long. Since then, multiple relocations have occurred, changing the exact mileage by a few here and there. So, give or take, the distances can and will change from time to time.
YMMV (<--You know what that stands for, right?)
Appalachian Trail Memoirs, Documentaries and Websites
My "Best of" List
The Best of Appalachian Trail In Their Own Words
Firsthand Accounts by A.T. Hikers
If you're planning to thru- or section-hike the A.T., I highly recommend reading stories written by those who've been there, done that and walked a very long way with a pack on their back.
It may be the same long trail, but each person's experience on that infamous footpath is unique. No two people's hikes will be exactly the same -- the weather, the people they meet, the places they stay each night, the things they see, the way they feel about all of it -- it's different, at least to some degree, for everyone. So I never get tired of reading A.T. books by A.T. hikers.
Each of these memoirs allows you to vicariously step into the writers' hiking boots for more than 2,000 miles of peaks and valleys -- physical, mental and spiritual -- as they backpack from Georgia to Maine, or vice versa.
Before my own thru-hike, I'd read these and other firsthand stories, which really helped me get a feel for what life on the trail would be like for 5 or 6 months as I would walk north. Initially, I was a little intimidated by the thought of setting off for such a long hike, especially since I'd be doing it on my own, but reading these stories made me feel more at ease. And all my nerves went *poof* as soon as I took my first actual step on the trail on that particular April 1st.
Here are my favorite Appalachian Trail memoirs....
AWOL on the A.T.
One of the best Appalachian Trail memoirs out there....
While this book is chock full of introspection and perseverance, it also provides useful, ore pragmatic passages about hiker safety and gear. This is not only a travel guide but a beautifully written and highly personal view into one man's adventure and what it means to make a lifelong dream come true.
This firsthand account is a nice mix of everyday trail life, trail relationships (some good, some not so good), and various observations on life and the footpath itself.
The author, David Miller, describes his thru-hike from Georgia to Maine in great detail, making you feel like you really are on the trail with him, sharing the ups and downs of the journeys, literally and figuratively. The conditions of the trail, the interesting people that he met, the challenges both physical and psychological, and the beautiful scenery are all there for the reader to take in.
A Poetic Memoir of the First A.T. Thru-Hike
This is the first A.T. hiker memoir I ever read and one of my favorites.
Hiking legend Earl Shaffer came home from the South Pacific in 1948 and set out to prove the then little-known Appalachian Trail, its maintenance neglected during the war, could be walked in a single continuous journey. This is his lyrical account of that walk, also undertaken to try to shake off the psychological effects of WWII combat, during which he lost his best friend.
Illustrated with his photographs taken during the hike, this book has inspired thousands to attempt thru-hikes. In 1965, Earl walked the A.T. in the other direction, and, in 1998 at age 79, he did it again ... on a trail far different from the one he had rediscovered after the war -- a trail that was more difficult than he preferred as he neared his eighth decade.
I had the pleasure of meeting Earl in 1999, a year after his final thru-hike, at the Trail Days festival in Damascus, VA, and the year before my own GA>ME hike.
Earl Shaffer's story has served as an inspiration for thousands of men and women who have successfully followed in his footsteps ... and many thousands more who have tried.
Appalachian Trail Essays
This is another informative and fun book to read before you hit the trail. Various topics are covered, each written by a different hiker.--some well known (in A.T. circles anyway) and some not, some funny and some touching.
I kept this book on my bedside table and read a chapter each night--before AND after my thru-hike. It was fun to re-read these essays with the experience of the trail behind me and relating to them in a whole new way.
This compilation of essays contains vivid accounts of famous (ie. Grandma Gatewood) and not-so-famous thru hikes of the past, some funny and some touching, and offers a variety of views on enjoying and living life for months on the trail.
A Walk In The Woods
You've probably heard of this one!
This book by travel writer Bill Bryson created a big spike in the number of people setting out to hike the A.T., especially in the year I happened to hike (2000 when thru-hikes were also known as 2KY2K) though I'd been dreaming of it for more than a decade. As far as I know, however, the percentage of those who actually completed their thru-hikes that year was about the same as most every other year before that since thru-hiking had become "a thing": roughly 12%.
This is a fun, entertaining and informative read ... even if some of it IS fiction. There were quite a few hikers I ran into on the trail who said it was this book that had inspired them to come out and give long-distance A.T. hiking a try.
(By the way -- not that you asked -- but I liked this book much better than the 2015 movie with Robert Redford as Bryson and Nick Nolte as Katz, which was loosely based on it.)
If you're expecting to read a book about an end-to-end thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, think again. While that was Bryson's initial intention, he and his sidekick Katz eventually decide to do a lot of yellow-blazing, roughly traveling alongside the A.T. by vehicle, visiting some of the towns and other locations hikers will stop or pass through along the way. And some they won't. Still, there's a lot of A.T. in the book and a lot of laughs.
After all, when yet another person asks you, "Hey, have you read 'A Walk in the Woods,' you'll be able to roll your eyes, groan under your breath and say yes.
Watch Some of the Best of Those Five Million Steps
This video is a composite of more than 4,000 slides taken by 2005 thru-hiker Kevin Gallagher, condensed and reinterpreted into five minutes of "long green tunnel" viewing pleasure.
The Best of the Appalachian Trail Guides
Sure, you can hike the trail without a guidebook, but it's so much nicer to know where that next water source or shelter or resupply is located.
These guidebooks provide information on trail towns and services, significant mileages, elevations and more. They're helpful in deciding just how much food to buy for the next section, where you'll do your next load of laundry and take a long, hot shower, and where you'll stop for the night.
These are the guides I recommend....
The Data Book: Trail, Water and Resupply Information at a Glance
Don't leave for the trail without it.
For trail info at your fingertips (ie. in a pocket), with water sources, shelters, campsites, road crossings, resupply and more, this is the guide you'll want to have within reach on the trail, because you'll probably refer it throughout the day.
On my own thru-hike (and other shorter multi-day trips) I would always keep the most current pages of the Data Book for the area where I was in my hip pouch, dry in a small baggie, and look at it multiple times between the time I woke up and went to sleep in a new place.
An updated version of the Data Book is published each year, although changes, if any, are usually minor.
Sometimes termed the bible of A.T. hiking, each year's Data Book consolidates the most basic information from 11 detailed guidebooks into one lightweight table of distances between major trail shelters and campsites, road-crossings and other notable features.
It's divided according to the guidebook volumes (one state or two or, for Virginia, parts of a state) and updated each December to account for Trail relocations, new (or removed) shelters and other changes.
In addition to codes for lodging, food, water and other essentials, the Data Book is keyed to both the individual guidebook sections and to the separate maps. Day-hikers and long-distance hikers alike rely on this volume for armchair planning as well as on-the-trail orientation.
This also is the source for the ever-changing official answer to, "How long is the trail?" (In 2015, it's 2,184 miles.)
Carry "The Companion"
In the "Thru Hiker's' Companion" guide (which is great for section- and "weekend" hikers too), you'll find information about trail towns, hostels, points of interest, addresses and phone numbers for businesses and services, and other details that the Data Book doesn't provide. Most long-distance A.T. hikers use both.
This book gives long-distance A.T. hikers the basic information they need for a five- to six-month trek but also leaves "space" for the adventure of finding out the extras for themselves.
This basic information concentrates on services and food in towns and shelter and water locations on the trail, with a little history slipped in here and there. With research by more than three dozen thru-hiker volunteers in 14 states, backed by first-hand information from the Trail's volunteer and staff maintainers and managers, the "Companion" includes extensive tabular information from the "A.T. Data Book."
Some long-distance hikers split the Companion into sections (or photocopy portions of the book) and, if using maildrops for resupply, send those sections to themselves along the way.
This book is conveniently sized for easy packing in a quart-sized resealable baggie. Purchased mainly by current thru-hikers, it is also frequently used by section-hikers.
The Best of the Appalachian Trail On Film
When you can't be out on the trail, you can slip in a disc and watch it on your TV. Just boil up some Ramen noodles or mac-n-cheese and eat it with a spork with dirt under your fingernails, and you'll feel like you're really out there.
Watch "2000 Miles to Maine"
Inspired by Bill Bryson's book A Walk in the Woods, the director and producer of this documentary film traveled to the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail at Springer Mountain in Georgia, wanting to record the stories of those who had planned their treks for months, left families and jobs, and set aside half a year for the walk to Maine ... only to then quit the trail after, at most, their first week out. Hundreds of them. Some after one day.
2000 Miles to Maine is a great film for trail lovers and those planning thru hikes, as well as for the armchair trekkers who want to get a fascinating glimpse of A.T. life and culture. This video also includes a lot of information on trip planning, gear and the daily realities of life on the trail.
Check out the "2000 Miles to Maine" Trailer
Visit GrandfatherFilms.com for more information on "2000 Miles to Maine" or to purchase the film.
TREK: Follow Four A.T. Journeys at Once
The focus of this documentary is on four young men on their own thru-hikes, interviewed extensively throughout their adventures. They talk about topics like food, terrain, trail towns, fatigue, thirst and other aspects of the journey.
TREK runs an hour and forty minutes and is widely regarded as one of the most accurate portrayals of the life of a thru hiker and the Appalachian Trail as it is today. I agree!
Watch the TREK film trailer
From the Contributor, Strider (A.T. 2001):
"This documentary gives amazing insight into thru hiker life, and gives a great feel to the essence of the Appalachian Trail. I've shown this film to hikers and non-hikers, and everyone is moved and inspired by the intensity of this film."
From me, Ramkitten (A.T. 2000): I agree!
Going the "Other Way"?
If you're planning to hike the trail from south to north, or are curious about what the experience is like going "against the tide," check out this film.
Southbounders follows a young-lady named Olivia who's taking time off from college to backpack the Appalachian Trail. She is obviously going against the flow, as flashback scenes show her parents as being completely unsupportive of her adventurous trek. She goes against the flow even more by choosing to hike southbound, whereas the most popular way of hiking is north.
Visit the Southbounders website for more information and to rent or order the film.
The Best of the Appalachian Trail All Over The Web
These are some of the A.T. sites I like and recommend for anyone who's planning to hike the trail, has hiked part or all of it, or just loves the trail from afar. These are great resources for Appalachian Trail information, planning and, in some cases, interacting with the A.T. community.
- The Appalachian Trail Conservancy
Their Mission: "The Appalachian Trail Conservancy is a volunteer-based organization dedicated to the preservation and management of the natural, scenic, historic, and cultural resources associated with the Appalachian National Scenic Trail."
- Trailplace--An Appalachian Trail Resource Website
Hiking information, A.T. guidebooks, forums and Appalachian Trail news
- Appalachian Trail Services
See what services are available and accessible from A.T. road crossings by state.
- White Blaze
A community of Appalachian Trail enthusiasts having LOTS of discussions on all things trail or backpacking (and some other topics too)
Read personal journals by long-distance backpackers, including Appalachian Trail thru-hikers and section-hikers and hikers on other long trails all around the globe.
- Backpacker.com's Appalachian Trail Database
This database is used to find mileage and information about the shelters along the Appalachian Trail. You can also browse by state.
© 2009 Deb Kingsbury