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The Appalachian Trail is easily the most famous hiking trail in America. Spanning 14 states, this iconic path passes through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for an extended section filled with spectacular natural beauty. Visit My Smokies did a little research to bring you five interesting facts about the Smoky Mountains Appalachian Trail.
1. The Appalachian Trail is the Nation’s Longest “Marked Footpath”
The entire Appalachian Trail is approximately 2,178 miles, stretching from the peak of Springer Mountain in Georgia to the summit of Maine’s Mount Katahdin. The trail runs through Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. It takes about 5 million footsteps to hike the whole trail!
The Appalachian Trail passes through the Great Smoky Mountains for more than 71 miles, entering the national park at Fontana Dam and exiting at Davenport Gap. The Smoky Mountains Appalachian Trail includes some of the park’s most famous destinations, including Clingmans Dome, Charlies Bunion, Rocky Top, and Mt. Cammerer.
2. The Highest Point Along the Appalachian Trail is in the Smokies
The Smoky Mountains have the distinction of claiming the highest point of elevation along the entire Appalachian Trail! At 6,625 feet, the section of the Appalachian Trail that traverses Clingmans Dome towers above the rest. The lowest point on the trail is in New York, when the elevation sinks to 124 feet.
3. The Idea for the Appalachian Trail Came from an Article in an Architecture Journal
In 1921, the Journal of the American Institute of Architects published an article entitled “An Appalachian Trail: A Project in Regional Planning”. In the piece, a regional planner from Massachusetts named Benton MacKaye laid out his vision for a trail that cuts through much of the eastern United States. McKaye hoped that the Appalachian Trail would provide a chance for people to escape from the city and enjoy nature.
It didn’t take long for McKaye’s idea to catch on among outdoor lovers. Two years later, the first part of the trail opened in New York, and the full Appalachian Trail was completed in 1937. The trail was designated as a National Scenic Trail by the federal government in 1968.
The development of the Smoky Mountains Appalachian Trail was spearheaded by Harvey Broome and Paul Fink. Broome was president of the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club for many years and hiked the 71 miles of the trail that ran through the Great Smoky Mountains in 1932, before the trail was even finished. Fink was a member of the Board of Managers of the Appalachian Trail and authored the camping memoir “Backpacking Was the Only Way”.
4. About 500 People Hike the Entire Appalachian Trail Each Year
While the Appalachian Trail is one of the most popular trails in the country, most people only hike a small section of the path. However, some determined hikers set out to conquer all 2,000 + miles of the trail. Roughly 500 people complete the trek through the entire Appalachian Trail each year. If you have hiked the whole Appalachian Trail, you’re part of an elite group, because about 80% of hikers who set out to complete the trail give up before finishing.
5. The Record for the Fastest Completion of the Appalachian Trail is 45 Days
Karl Meltzer, an “ultra runner”, hiked the entire Appalachian Trail in just 45 days, 22 hours, and 38 minutes. For reference, most people who hike the Appalachian Trail take five to seven months to finish the journey! The 71 miles of the Smoky Mountains Appalachian Trail usually take seven days to complete.
Meltzer’s impressive feat was fueled by an unconventional diet. Unlike Scott Jurek, the vegan athlete who previously held the record for completing the Appalachian Trail, Karl Meltzer indulged in beer, energy drinks, chocolate bars, and bacon as he made the trek across 14 states. Immediately after breaking the record, Meltzer celebrated with a pepperoni pizza!
For more information about hiking the Appalachian Trail during your vacation, check out our guide to the Top 5 Most Popular Hikes in the Smoky Mountains!