Bringing famed travel writer Bill Bryson's epic Appalachian Trail adventure to the big screen, A Walk in the Woods will be released in the UK on September 18th. Based on his bestselling memoir, it stars Robert Redford as Bryson, who decided to hike an 1,000-mile section of the trail after arriving back in the USA from 20 years' living in the UK.
The book inspired thousands of hikers to take to the trail upon its release in the 1990s; the film looks set to have a similar effect. But don't just take inspiration from the big screen - our guide will take you beyond Hollywood and into the heart of the route, from its history and highlights to inspirational stories and how you can have your very own Appalachian Trail adventure.
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The Appalachian Trail - at a glance
● It is approximately 2,180 miles long.
● It runs from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Katahdin in Maine.
● It goes through 14 states.
● The idea for the trail was conceived in the 1920s; it was finished in 1937.
● People who hike the entire trail achieve the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest 16 times.
● Most people hike shorter sections of the trail, such as by taking ten-day trips, but a few tackle the behemoth in its entirety; they are known as thru-hikers.
The history of the Appalachian Trail
The Appalachian Trail has a history stretching back almost one hundred years. In the early 20th century, the creation of a 'super-trail' had been a popular conversation topic not only among hikers, but also academics. In the autumn of 1921, these conversations took their first steps towards creating something tangible with the publication of 'An Appalachian Trail: A Project in Regional Planning'.
Interestingly, the trail didn't actually start its life with hiking as its focus. In fact, the initial proposal was for the trail to offer quiet camps along the ridges of the Appalachian Mountains, which could be used for work, study and farming - all of which would offer an escape from urban life. The hiking trail connecting these camps was almost incidental. While today hiking is the big attraction, this idea of it being not the true focus still resonates today; after all, for many people, as it was for Bryson, the appeal is not so much the hike itself, but the sense of challenge and adventure, and to connect with the country and landscape.
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Over the years, the idea of the trail gained support, and its creation began in earnest in the late 1920s. In August 1937, it was finally completed as a continuous footpath through the USA's wilderness; at last one of the world's greatest hiking experiences was born.
And of course, its history is still unfolding. Since its creation, it has fought off threats from urbanisation, coped with spikes in visitor numbers, and even has its own organisation in place to protect it - the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Approximately three million hike some portion of the trail each year, and thru-hikers have increased 10% each year since 2010. It has also set the scene for countless inspirational tales.
Inspirational tales from the trail
The trail's first-ever thru-hiker, Earl Shaffer paved the way for the scores of thru-hikers that have followed since. He began his journey on April 4th 1948, with the hope of getting his World War II experiences out of his system, and completed it four months later.
In 1955, Emma Gatewood became the first woman to complete a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail - and she did so at the age of 67. She also hiked the trail in 1960 and 1963, making her the first person to complete it three times.
In 2010, Mike Hanson achieved a world first by becoming the Appalachian Trail's first blind thru-hiker. Completing the trail in seven months, he did so with the aid of a special GPS receiver that helped guide him to campsites and other key points - a piece of kit he spent years testing before going ahead. The goal of his hike was to demonstrate just how valuable adaptive technology can be.
Scott Rogers lost his left leg above the knee in an accident in 1998 - but that didn't stop him completing the entire Appalachian Trail in 2004. This made him the first above-the-knee amputee to do so.
Highlights of the Appalachian Trail
As beautiful as it is challenging, the Appalachian Trail is packed with highlights - so much so that it's difficult to pick out what isn't a highlight. However, we have managed to put together a few absolute favourite spots:
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Located in the sublime White Mountains National Forest, Lonesome Lake offers an utterly arresting hiking experience. Your walk will take you to the southern end of Lonesome Lake, with the tree-covered trail offering welcome shade from the sun, not to mention an atmosphere imbued with adventure.
Franconia Ridge Hike
Also in the White Mountains, the Franconia Ridge Hike is one of the very best hikes in New England, taking walkers up three peaks - Little Haystack, Mount Lincoln and Mount Lafayette. A rocky, challenging hike, it rewards its visitors with captivating views from each mountain and a real sense of achievement.
Baxter State Park
This pristine park is a joy to discover, not least because it is is virtually untouched since the days of the first settlers, which gives each hike here a charming sense of discovery. In fact, this is the largest and most remote wilderness in the USA's east. It is also home to the finishing point of the Appalachian Trail, Mount Katahdin; the hike up it is strenuous and takes approximately 10 hours, but is immensely rewarding.
Acadia National Park
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Easily one of the most beautiful places in the USA, Acadia National Park is a hiker's paradise. Housing approximately 125 miles of walking trails for all abilities and a stunning mix of coastal and mountain landscapes, it is certain to be a highlight of your trip. The easy Ocean Path walking trail is a particular joy, running along the eastern shore of Mount Desert Island to Otter Point.
You don't need to complete an ambitious thru-hike to discover all of these stunning highlights; our 10-day tours give you the opportunity to have an authentic Appalachian Trail experience and gain the unique sense of achievement that hiking the AT offers.