The 2,190 miles of world famous Appalachian Trail that stretches from Georgia to Maine offers beautiful day hikes and weekend backpacking opportunities aplenty. The A.T. is incredibly accessible for hikers of every age and skill level, and provides unique mountain experiences for an estimated two to three million visitors a year.
For many of us, a leisurely day hike will be the extent of our experience on the A.T. However, there is a different breed of hiker that you’ll occasionally run into on the trail.
A dedicated few, who attempt to complete the entire 2,190 miles of the A.T. in one mammoth trip. These brave souls are referred to as thru-hikers.
A typical thru-hiker spends five to seven months on the A.T. and, of the thousands who attempt the rare feet, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy estimates only one-in-four make it all the way.
Thru-hiking requires great physical and mental strength. In fact, many suggest more of the latter is the most important ingredient for success.
The most common northern route for thru-hikers starts at Springer Mountain in Georgia between March 1 and April 15. During this peak starting period, the southern end of the A.T. becomes a continuous stream of hikers during the day, with dozens of hikers clustered around campsites at night.
By June, many thru-hikers are beginning to hike the sections of trail that Virginia’s Blue Ridge locals are very familiar with. A true jewel of our mountain region, more of the A.T. passes through Virginia than any other state. 554 miles of A.T. pass through the Commonwealth, ranging in elevation of 265’ – 5,500’.
In Virginia’s Blue Ridge, the Appalachian Trail winds through portions of the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests, and features well-known sections and iconic overlooks, such as McAfee Knob.
The Roanoke Valley and surrounding region has a number of main entry points from north to south on the A.T., including Black Horse Gap at Blue Ridge Parkway milepost 90, Troutville off Route 11, Tinker Mountain Road accessed by U.S. 220, Catawba Mountain along Virginia Route 311, and Dragon’s Tooth further along Rt. 311.
In addition to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy maintaining its Central and Southwest Virginia Regional Office in Roanoke, surrounding towns such as Buena Vista and Troutville are also highly involved in the promotion and upkeep of the A.T. through their rare designations as official Appalachian Trail Communities.
A.T. Communities promote and protect the Trail, as well as support thru-hikers on their long journey in Virginia’s Blue Ridge. Appalachian Trail Communities are considered assets by all that use the A.T. and the program serves to assist communities with sustainable economic development through tourism and outdoor recreation while preserving and protecting the A.T.
The Roanoke Valley was named "Best Trail Town" by Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine for its amazing selection of trails.
Of the hundreds of miles of trails traversing the region, there are five popular A.T. hikes that thru-hikers will remember fondly all the way to Maine! Click here to see all five and discover more about the A.T. in Virginia’s Blue Ridge.
And don’t forget to sign-up to receive our e-newsletter for all the latest Appalachian Trail news in Virginia’s Blue Ridge!