Accessibility links

Discover America's Appalachian Trail

Hello, I’m Ashley Thompson with VOA Learning English and I’m here today in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. The historic town is the halfway point of the 3,400-kilometer-long Appalachian Trail, one of the longest and most famous footpaths in the world. The Appalachian Trail, also known as the AT, passes through 14 states in the eastern U.S.

Just down the street is the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the non-profit organization that takes care of the trail. Ron Tipton is the Executive Director.

“This trail is now 2,190 miles long and it is the longest continuous hiking trail in the world. Over 99 percent of the trail is permanently protected in public ownership.”

The trail takes hikers through the Appalachian Mountains. It offers a convenient escape from many major East Coast cities. Most hikers only walk a short section of the trail. But every year, about 750 hikers complete the entire trail. They are known as thru-hikers. Mr. Tipton is one of them; he hiked from Georgia to Maine in 1978.

“I said at the time it was the most rewarding and emotional moment of my life. Imagine walking almost five months through 14 states.”

Mr. Tipton shared some of his favorite sections of the trail, starting from the southern Appalachians and heading north.

“Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 70 miles across the top of that incredibly beautiful forest is another special place. And then certainly the Long Trail in Vermont. The White Mountains in New Hampshire a favorite of many of the hikers. And then that last 100 miles in Maine, they call it the Hundred-Mile Wilderness. And there’s nothing, there’re no public roads. There’s an incredible finish on top of Mt. Katahdin, which is an open summit over a mile high with an incredible view of probably 80, 90 miles on a clear day—all favorites.”

People from 34 different countries have completed the entire Appalachian Trail. Most of the thru-hikers are men in their twenties. The youngest person ever reported to complete the trail was Christian Thomas, also known as “Buddy Backpacker.” He was five years old when he completed the trail with his parents in 2013.

The first woman to hike the full trail alone was Emma Gatewood. She was 67 years old when she finished the trail in 1955.

Norma, who is from Germany, plans to hike the full Appalachian Trail by herself. Norma says she is ready for the challenges.

NORMA: “I think after two months or something, the mental part, so not getting homesick too much. Yeah I think this is even more difficult than the physical challenge.”

For some people, hiking the Appalachian Trail is a family affair. Meet the Nuckols family from Springfield, Massachusetts. Paul and Shelley and their daughter Emily are in the middle of hiking the entire AT.

PAUL NUCKOLS: “It just seemed like a great thing to bring family together and get some good exercise. None of us had had time up until now. And I don’t think I have too many more years left that that I’ll be able to do it. So if we were ever going to do it, this was the time.”

Early spring is a very popular time for hikers to begin their journeys. Most hikers on the AT begin in Georgia in the southern part of the United States and make their way through 14 states all the way up to Maine. Let’s go see if we can meet some of these adventurous hikers. Come on.

Adam Smith has been hiking for the past three days with his brother. Does he think he is ready for the challenge of hiking the full trail?

ADAM SMITH: “You have the thought of possibly doing that as, like…thinking it would be something that would be cool to say. But, no, this I think has confirmed it. I’m not as much of an outdoorsman as I thought I was. So, no, I think we’re good with just doing sections.”

A popular view near the midpoint of the trail is called Weverton Cliffs. Here, hikers get a beautiful view of the Potomac River.

And to my surprise, I met up with the Nuckols family again. They took a well-deserved break after a long day of hiking.

Well we’ve made it to Weverton Cliffs, where three states come together: Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia. And this is the end of our journey today. But for the Nuckols family, they’ve got about six and a half more months hiking the Appalachian Trail.

For VOA Learning English, I’m Ashley Thompson.

Ashley Thompson reported this story for VOA Learning English. Adam Brock wrote, filmed, and produced it.


Words in This Story

conservancyn. an organization that works to protect animals, plants, and natural resources especially by purchasing and caring for areas of land

permanentlyadv. lasting or continuing for a very long time or forever : not temporary or changing

homesickadj. sad because you are away from your family and home

adventurousadj. not afraid to do new and dangerous or exciting things

outdoorsmann. man who likes outdoor activities

Now it's your turn. Do you have any famous hiking trails in your country? Tell us about them in the comments seciton.

Show comments