Great Outdoors Month celebrates the joys of spending time outside. Summer is the perfect time of year to get outside and enjoy recreational activities, such as fishing, biking and hiking.

Each year, more than 2 million people visit one of the most famous — and longest — hiking trails in America: the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. Often referred to simply as the “Appalachian Trail” or just the “AT,” the Appalachian Trail extends from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine.

At approximately 2,181 miles long, the AT is the longest continuously marked footpath in the world. Hikers follow the AT by using maps and keeping an eye out for marks on trees called “paint blazes.”

As it follows the Appalachian mountain range, the trail passes through the states of Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. Virginia boasts the most miles of trail (about 550 miles), while West Virginia claims the least (only 4 miles).

Each year, about 2,000 people try to hike the entire length of the AT in a continuous journey. These people are called “thru-hikers,” and only about one out of every four successfully completes the challenge.

Most thru-hikers start in Georgia in the spring and finish in Maine in the fall, taking on average about six months to complete the journey. To help thru-hikers on their journey, the AT features more than 250 three-sided shelters, each usually spaced about a day’s hike away from the next.

Most shelters have special food hangers that hikers can use to hang their food bags out of the reach of rodents. Hikers call these contraptions “mouse trapezes.”

Completing a thru-hike is quite an accomplishment. The total elevation gain of hiking the entire length of the AT is about the same as climbing Mt. Everest (29,028 feet tall) 16 times!

The sheer length of the trail isn’t the only challenge, though. Hikers face rough terrain nearly the entire length of the trail, including steep climbs, rocky gorges and stream crossings. As it follows the ridgeline of the Appalachian Mountains, the AT runs mostly through wilderness.

Other dangers include unpredictable weather and wild animals. Although it’s possible to see black bears, poisonous snakes, elk and moose along the trail, the most common pests are mice and bugs, such as ticks, mosquitoes and black flies.

Much more common than thru-hikers, “section hikers” tackle the AT one section of trail at a time. Since the trail has hundreds of different access points and parts of the trail are within a few hours’ drive of millions of Americans, the AT is also a popular destination for day hikers.

The AT is maintained by a combination of federal, state and local organizations. Each year, thousands of volunteers spend up to 200,000 hours maintaining the trails and the shelters.

 

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  1. We aren’t learning about Appalachia as a class but I chose that as an independent study topic. Wonder #903 should help me even more though. THANKS AGAIN!
    :)

    • How awesome, Cassie, what a great topic for your independent study! We know you’ll do a WONDERful job on your project! Keep up the great work! :)

  2. Sorry to bother again but for a bibliography I have to know the author of anything I put in the study could you tell me who wrote this?

    • Hey there, Cassie! Sure thing! You can credit Wonderopolis by citing the Wonderopolis.org site. Thanks so much, Cassie! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • How long is the Appalachian Trail?
  • What states does the Appalachian Trail pass through?
  • Is it possible to hike the entire length of the Appalachian Trail?

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Try It Out

Ready to head outside for a little exercise? There’s no better way to celebrate Great Outdoors Month than going for a family hike. So lace up your hiking boots and hit the trail.

Whether you choose a wild trail in a state or national park or a walking trail in a local park, hiking together as a family can be a fun learning adventure. Not only will you get some great exercise, but you’ll also have time to talk and share together as a family.

To make your hike even more fun, try one or more of these hiking games:

I Spy
As you hike, pick out something that you think is interesting. Challenge your fellow hikers to guess what you see. Give them a few hints (is it animal, vegetable or mineral?), and allow them to ask you yes/no questions until someone guesses correctly. The winner gets to choose the next item.

Caught Up in Color
Choose a color to start this challenge, and then ask your fellow hikers to find at least 10 things that color. For example, if you choose blue, the first person to find 10 blue things wins and gets to choose the next color.

Five Senses Scavenger Hunt
Before you leave the house, create a list of sights, sounds, smells, tastes and feelings to watch for as you hike. Here are a few examples: See a bird, hear water flowing, smell a flower, taste a honeysuckle bloom and feel a rough tree bark. Award points as fellow hikers sense things on your list. Give extra points for collecting any trash you find!

Living Under a Log
As you hike, you might come across fallen logs. When you do, don’t just step over them in a hurry to move farther along the trail. Instead, take some time to explore the log with your senses. Give it a tap. Is it hollow or solid? What does it smell like? What does it feel like? Look for insect holes. Roll the log over and check on the bottom. Do you see any evidence that the log has become a home for any creatures or insects?

 

Still Wondering

Not only is hiking healthy exercise, it can also be educational. Find out how with ReadWriteThink’s fun Taking a Sound Hike lesson.

 

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