The Appalachian Trail: The People’s Trail

“Remote for detachment, narrow for chosen company, winding for leisure, lonely for contemplation, the Appalachian Trail beckons not merely north and south, but upward to the body, mind, and soul of man” [Harold Allen, 1936]

We observed during a recent backpacking trip that the Appalachian Trail (AT) is, at heart, the People’s Trail.

The AT, except for possibly northern New England, is not truly wilderness. And in 2018, a sense of loneliness is found in pockets of typically off-season hiking.

But it is a trail that is accessible to millions of people be it for a weekend or months at a time. Permit issues are almost nonexistent. Logistics are easy. And there are many resources available to plan out a trip of any length on this storied footpath.

The trailheads are generally accessible by any standard 2WD passenger vehicle, within a few hours drive for many and are within striking distance of airports if you need to fly in to hike a section.

The skill set needed to hike means being comfortable in different weather, managing layers, and eating adequately. A person can walk, follow the blazes, and not have to worry (much) about getting lost or hiking something require technical skill sets.

As I wrote earlier

[The AT] is… a wildness experience. A refuge where hikers can experience ,if not wilderness, at least a wild, beautiful and inspiring area. Being on Franconia Ridge on a gorgeous crisp day? Seeing the first wildflowers of Spring? Hearing the loons on a quiet lake in Maine? The AT may not be wilderness, but it has wildness in spades.

A chance to see beauty, experience the woods for a few days and leave the pressures of daily life behind for a little bit, and to experience nature up close.

A trail accessible to many. A trail where the joys of it can be experienced by most.

The AT may not have the majesty of the Sierra, the mystique of canyon country, or the remoteness of Alaska but it does give people an appreciation and love of our public and wild lands.

With each step on the Appalachian Trail, there is another step to creating an advocate who will appreciate our wild spaces a bit more.

Benton MacKaye, the founder of the Appalachian Trail, perhaps put it best why we need something accessible that provides wildness to many:

However useful may be the National Parks and Forests of the West for those affording the Pullman fare to reach them, what is needed by the bulk of the American population is something nearer home.

The AT is nearer home for quite literally millions of people. An easy day’s drive and a person can walk along a wooded ridge, see early spring wildflowers, or admire the intense Fall color.

The Appalachian Trail is indeed the People’s Trail. A trail celebrated by many. The white blazes just don’t lead north or south, but also to experiences that won’t be forgotten.

And all that is mostly needed? Pack some food. Hoist a pack. Put one foot in front of another. And follow those white blazes.

Why is the Appalachian Trail the People’s Trail? Because it is a trail for the people that can be walked by most of the people out there.

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Andrew Cook
Andrew Cook
5 years ago

Love the summary, and and that trail did teach me to treasure our parks east and west.

Chris Hillier
5 years ago

Congrats on a well-written and enjoyable essay. I’ve thru-hiked the AT twice and I agree with all of what you wrote except for the statement “Permit issues are almost nonexistent.” They are a minor distraction for now, but becoming worse.

Another Kevin
5 years ago
Reply to  Paul Mags

Cars cross for free because the highway predates the park, and keeping the highway open was one of the terms of the agreement that created the park in the first place.

Isn’t there a fee for all overnight-use permits in GSMNP?

Another Kevin
5 years ago

Yeah, the People’s Trail is about right (except that it’ll make the righ Bit-wing conspiracy nuts run screaming, since anything People’s is Godless Communism). Just Bill has called it the recruiting office for future conservationists. With the present emphasis on capacity control, I don’t know how much longer that happy situation can last. Since I don’t want to contribute to the problem, and since it would be wasted on me (I’m already on board with the program!), I’ve resolved not to hike anywhere that people are turned away for being too numerous. No Grand Canyon rafting for me – people… Read more »

Jim Fetig
5 years ago

The challenge is that we, the people, are loving the trail to death. The concentration of hikers in the spring – that’s northbound thru hikers, spring break hikers, and others – is overwhelming the infrastructure. Places in Maryland see more than 300 hikers daily at peak. The Whites are overwhelmed. The 100-mile Wilderness can seem like a traffic jam at times. The ATC is doing a lot to encourage hikers to disperse, to bolster the infra structure such as the new campground near the Hawk Mountain shelter, and to add helpful caretakers and ridgerunners to supplement the Georgia Appalachian Trail… Read more »