Thursday, December 7, 2023

The Appalachian Trail

By Michelle Shocklee

Are there any hikers in the house?

Hubby and I enjoy the great outdoors, especially the mountains, but hiking -- real hiking -- isn't something we've attempted. We like a nice, fairly easy hike of a couple miles there and back at most. A bottle of water, a snack, and a pair of comfortable shoes is all we need to have a grand time basking in the beauty of God's creation. 

But there are those who enjoy a challenge when they go hiking. Hundreds of trails wind through national forests and parks all across the country, taking anyone brave enough to gorgeous waterfalls, rock formations, and mountaintop views that can't be seen unless you're willing to go the distance. 

Panoramic image of the Catawba Valley from the McAfee Knob overlook on the Appalachian Trail. Photo:

One of THE most challenging trails, however, has got to be the Appalachian Trail. Friends of ours own property in East Tennessee that backs up to the trail, so I can say I have officially been ON the trail, but I can also honestly say I have no desire to hike it from one end to the other.

The Appalachian Trail is a 2,190+ mile long public footpath in the Eastern United States, beginning in Springer Mountain in Georgia and ending in Mount Katahdin in Maine. The trail passes through 14 states and traverses the scenic, wooded, pastoral, wild, and culturally diverse lands of the Appalachian Mountains. 

The idea was first proposed in 1921 by Benton MacKaye, a forester who wrote his original plan—called "An Appalachian Trail, A Project in Regional Planning"—shortly after the death of his wife. He shared his idea with several politicians, and an article was even written about it in the Saturday Evening Post. People became interested in the project and money was raised. Things took off from there. 

On October 7, 1923, the first section of the trail, from Bear Mountain west through Harriman State Park to Arden, New York, was opened. MacKaye then called for a two-day Appalachian Trail conference to be held in March 1925 in Washington, D.C. This meeting inspired the formation of the Appalachian Trail Conference (now called the Appalachian Trail Conservancy). Arthur Perkins, a retired judge, and his younger associate Myron Avery took up the cause. Built by private citizens, and completed in 1937, today the trail is managed by the National Park Service, US Forest Service, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, numerous state agencies and thousands of volunteers.

Most of the trail is exclusively for foot-travel. A few short sections allow biking, horses, and ATVs, but those are mainly near towns. Throughout its length, the AT, as it's known, is marked by white paint blazes that are 2 by 6 inches. Side trails to shelters, viewpoints, and parking areas use similarly shaped blue blazes. In past years, some sections of the trail also used metal diamond markers with the AT logo, but unfortunately many were taken as souvenirs.

Most hikers carry a lightweight tent, tent hammock, or tarp. The trail has more than 250 shelters and campsites available for hikers who prefer more solid accommodations. Public restrooms and showers are very limited throughout the trail.

"Unofficial registries", which are known as shelter logs, can be found at all campsites, but signing them is strictly voluntary. These logs give hikers a way to leave day-to-day messages while they are on the trail to document where they have been, where they are going, and who/what they have seen. Shelter logs can also provide proof of who summits certain mountains and can warn about dangerous animals or unfriendly people in the area. Hikers may cite when a certain water source is dried up, providing crucial information to other hikers. In the case of an emergency or missing person, the logs can be an invaluable source of information to emergency personnel. 

Although I doubt I'll ever traverse the Appalachian Trail, I'm glad it exists. Getting outside in God's beautiful world is always a great idea!

Your turn: Have you hiked any part of the Appalachian Trail? Is it on your bucket list? Tell  me about it!

Michelle Shocklee is the author of several historical novels, including Count the Nights by Stars, winner of the 2023 Christianity Today Book Award, and Under the Tulip Tree, a Christy Awards and Selah Awards finalist. Her work has been included in numerous Chicken Soup for the Soul books, magazines, and blogs. Married to her college sweetheart and the mother of two grown sons, she makes her home in Tennessee, not far from the historical sites she writes about. Visit her online at

                             APPALACHIAN SONG

Forever within the memories of my heart.
Always remember, you are perfectly loved.

Bertie Jenkins has spent forty years serving as a midwife for her community in the Great Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee. Out of all the mothers she’s tended, none affects her more than the young teenager who shows up on her doorstep, injured, afraid, and expecting, one warm June day in 1943. As Bertie and her four sisters tenderly nurture Songbird back to health, the bond between the childless midwife and the motherless teen grows strong. But soon Songbird is forced to make a heartbreaking decision that will tear this little family apart.

Thirty years later, the day after his father’s funeral, Walker Wylie is stunned to learn he was adopted as an infant. The famous country singer enlists the help of adoption advocate Reese Chandler in the hopes of learning why he was abandoned by his birth parents. With the only clue he has in hand, Walker and Reese head deep into the Appalachian Mountains to track down Bertie Jenkins, the midwife who holds the secrets to Walker’s past.


  1. Thank you for posting today. Like you, I have no desire to hike the AT. I'm not really a hiker, I like to get in a daily walk. And on this day in Maine, when it was 8 degrees when I got up at 630, I have even less desire!!

    1. Wow! 8 degrees! I don't blame you one bit for not wanting to get out in that. Stay warm!!