Ready When You Are

With Appalachian Trail demand rising, some hikers seek out the newer Great Eastern Trail.

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A hiker takes in the view of the Virginian Blue Ridge Mountains from the summit of The Priest along the Appalachian Trail.

The Appalachian Trail is trending. Hikers have flocked there in record numbers since 2020, “as people looked for safe ways to get exercise and just get out of the house,” says Kathryn Herndon-Powell, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s Central Virginia regional manager. Hiking, after all, doesn’t require a lot of special equipment, and the trails are ready when you are.

The Trail, also called the A.T., stretches 2,175 miles from Maine to Georgia and includes 550 miles in Virginia—the most of any state. In a typical year, 3 million visitors will lace up hiking boots to hit the A.T. But since the pandemic, the best-known hikes, such as McAfee Knob near Catawba, have been seeing record crowds. Still, the Trail belongs to everyone, and everyone belongs on the Trail.

For a hiking experience that enriches your soul, stick to weekdays, says Herndon-Powell, and if you must hike on weekends, look for alternate routes. “Find the hidden gems,” she advises. “Pick up a good map or guidebook and go exploring…you’re more likely to find solitude and a sense of adventure.”

Good stewards of the trail leave no trace. “Stay on marked trails, pack out your trash, and camp in designated areas—good campsites are found, not made,” says Herndon-Powell. Finally, find ways to give back: pick up litter or volunteer with a local Trail club.

For breathtaking hikes without the crowds, head west to the Great Eastern Trail, known as the G.E.T. This 1,800-milelong path connecting New York to Alabama, runs roughly parallel to the A.T. and includes both new and established hiking trails. About 275 miles of the G.E.T. are in Virginia or straddle its borders.

Under construction since 2007, mostly by volunteers, the G.E.T. is finally nearing completion. “We have defined trails in all of the northern half—with Hinton, West Virginia, at the midpoint—and about half of the southern half,” says G.E.T. board president Tim Hupp.

Why hike the G.E.T. instead of the A.T.? “It’s a great place for solitude,” says Hupp. “The G.E.T. is far less used in most places.” AppalachianTrail.org, GreatEasternTrail.net

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