The Appalachian Trail isn't for everyone... but it could be. As it turns out, what makes a thru-hiker goes so far beyond the notion of hiking for months straight, only showering once every couple of weeks, and living on a steady diet of granola bars and water. It's also more than just knowing the trail and hiking unless you believe the myths about hiking the AT.
Many of them are made-up, old wives ' tales or are just common misconceptions by those who have heard stories or read about unfortunate events. While there are some truths to the things everyone knows - or thinks they know - about the AT, most of them are nothing but a bit of malarkey.
Updated by Gabriel Kirellos, November 7th, 2021: The Appalachian Trail is a popular destination that many people love to hike while enjoying the scenic views in the region. However, due to its growing popularity, the trail is victim to several myths detailed in this article. The list was updated to include some new emerging myths relating to the crowdedness of the Appalachian Trail and who can exactly hike it.
Bears And Rattlesnakes Are Something To Watch Out For
Granted, you wouldn't want to attempt to do something crazy like hugging a bear or search for rattlesnakes in between rock crevices. With that being said, neither of these accounts for the threats one might face when hiking the AT. It's more likely that a hiker would happen to see a flash of black or brown fur as a bear is running away from them than it is that a bear would outwardly go after a hiker - they're thoroughly skittish animals who want nothing more than to be left to their own devices.
Rattlesnakes are more of a threat due to their naturally concealed nature, but that's also why nature provided them with a warning system: a rattling tail. A hiker will likely hear one of these before having the chance to step on one and, in that event, simply exit the area, giving as much distance between you and the snake as possible. The biggest takeaway from this myth is this: be alert and pay attention.
It Must Be Hiked In One Shot, Over The Course Of Six Months
One of the most common myths about hiking the AT is that to have completed the trail, one must commit to walking it for an entire five to six months out of the year, consecutively. This is far from the truth. If necessary, this 2,100+ mile trail can be made in sections for years, which is what many people do, and they're called 'section-hikers.'
The Appalachian Trail Isn't Always Wet
It's believed by some that the Appalachian Trail has its moments when the trail gets a break from being soggy and moist. Contrary to this belief, it's not often true.
The AT takes hikers through an environment that's generally pretty wet, and even with the right gear, it's often not enough to keep some moisture from penetrating the most waterproof layers.
The Virginia Section Is Flat And Viewless
It's wildly untrue that any part of the trail is viewless, although some parts of it are relatively flat in comparison. However, it's a common myth that the Southern states, including Virginia, offer minor vantage points to get spectacular views.
This likely stems from the latter half of the trail - which ends in New England - consisting of rocky, mountainous terrain.
Compasses, Maps, And A GPS Are Unneeded With Such Clearly-Marked Blazes
There is some truth to this, but there's also some common sense to consider. The AT is marked very clearly and is, indeed, full of blazes, along with well-trodden trails that point hikers in the right direction. This doesn't mean that a compass, GPS, and/or map are things to leave at home, though. Each year, some hikers get easily turned around or simply aren't paying attention and wander off-course.
All Of Pennsylvania Is Rock-Ridden
Pennsylvania is a unique state because it is home to multiple terrains that are somewhat different.
Southern Pennsylvania tends to be a bit less rocky with paths that vary in elevation but aren't as shaky as the steeper northern Pennsylvania trail. Hikers can expect more meadows and farms in the state's southern half, with more rocky terrain in the north.
Hiking The AT Alone Is Dangerous, Especially As A Woman
This has been debunked time and time again. According to The Trek, hiking the AT is a relatively safe thing for women - or anyone - to do individually. The trail is incredibly popular now for starters and is usually filled with thru-hikers, section hikers, and even day-hikers.
Therefore, there's always someone around. Those who complete a thru-hike usually go hiking with a group that eventually becomes a trail family, thus decreasing the chances of someone being alone for an extended period.
It's Unbelievably Remote And Isolated
The trail might feel as though it's remote and isolated, but this is pretty far from the truth. There are actually many locations along the path in which dirt roads can make it to the trail fairly quickly, and no place is so remote that a rescue or emergency team couldn't reach a hiker in need. Not to mention, the track also cuts right by some major towns, so civilization is never really that far away.
Only uber-fit athletes can hike the Appalachian Trail
A lot of hikers undergo a rigorous training before hiking the trail. However, they still feel wholly tired after several days of hiking. This is because the Appalachian Trail is mountainous and has several ups and downs. What matters is perseverance and not athleticism when it comes to succeeding in the hike. That means that people must still possess the will to go through mental stress, severe weather conditions, and physical effort. Moreover, it suffices to love going outdoors and hiking, in general, to succeed in walking the Appalachian Trail.
The Appalachian Trail Is Too Crowded
The myth states that since the book A Walk In The Woods was written by Bill Bryson and Robert Redford produced the movie for the book, the Appalachian Trail became too crowded. While it is true that the trail can become crowded at certain times, since it is a popular destination, however, the numbers of hikers go down by a lot after the end of April.