People who enjoy traveling the Appalachian Trail, and new hikers who haven't tried it yet, may want to join one of the various Appalachian Trail hiking groups. Hiking with a group is a safer way to travel since it can be easy for a solo hiker to get lost or injured. Also, it can be a more enjoyable experience since the Trail is much better when shared.
About the Appalachian Trail
The Appalachian Trail is a 2,175 mile hiking path that spans the East Coast of the United States, from Georgia to Maine. While around 1,000 people attempt to hike the entire trail each year, also known as through hiking, most hike only small sections of it at a time. There are numerous campsites along the trail. Some require permits or fees, so it is best to call ahead instead of just showing up with tent and sleeping bag in hand.
Hiking the Trail, even only sections of it, requires a special brand of hiker since many sections have rough terrain and some are frequently visited by extreme weather. However, it can also be very rewarding. Hikers can receive patches for completing certain sections of the Trail, even if it takes them several years to hike them bit by bit. Also, every once in a while a hiker will spy some "trail magic," such as a bit of food lovingly left at an overnight shelter or a stranger living nearby offering a night's lodging and a shower.
It's best to know as much as possible about the trail before beginning a trip, which is where a hiking group can really come in handy.
About Appalachian Trail Hiking Groups
Since the Appalachian Trail is so long, there are dozens of Trail hiking groups in several states. These groups don't just go on group hikes. They also help to maintain the Trail in what they consider their jurisdictions.
For example, the Maine Appalachian Trail Club is responsible for the 266.8 miles from the north end of the trail at Katahdin to Grafton Notch. The Appalachian Mountain Club takes care of the rest of the trail in Maine.
Besides Maine, there are 13 additional states that have Trail hiking groups. Not coincidentally, these are the remaining states that contain sections of the Trail:
- North Carolina
- West Virginia
- New Jersey
- New York
- New Hampshire
A full list of Appalachian Trail hiking Groups is available on the Appalachian Trail Conservancy's website.
Maintenance includes clearing brush; building walls, stairs and bridges; moving rocks and felled trees; and making sure appropriate drainage is in place to prevent soil erosion and protect natural areas that surround the Trail.
Joining a Trail Hiking Group
In most cases, joining a group is as simple as showing up at a meeting or contacting the organization and offering to volunteer. The groups are overwhelmingly delighted to have a new set of hands to help with trail maintenance. Note that many clubs charge a modest fee in the form of membership dues.
Individuals only interested in hiking and not in trail preservation may do better to join a hiking club that is not solely centered around the Appalachian Trail, such as one of the groups listed on HikingAndBackpacking.com. Members of Trail specific clubs tend to believe that since they use the Trail they need to give back.
Even though maintenance is key, hiking and camping is also a part of the deal. For example, the Natural Bridge Appalachian Trail Club, which maintains an area of the trail in Virginia, had over 20 scheduled group hikes in April and May of 2009 alone.