Ms. LeGuin, you hit the nail on the head. Although I wanted to enjoy my adventure run on the AT by learning and having
fun along the way, my original goal was to do it much faster than I managed.
Gosh, if I had gone faster, I would have missed even more than I did
by taking over four months to
travel from Georgia to Maine. It didn't take very long for me to succumb to the
lure of the Trail. I soon learned to value the journey as much as, or even more
than, the end goal of reaching Mt. Katahdin.
I really enjoyed many of the landmarks along the Appalachian
Trail, not only because they signified forward progress, but also because Jim and I learned a lot about the bio-diversity,
culture, and history along this vast, ancient chain of mountains during our
The AT Conservancy has done a great job educating hikers through their web site,
guide books, maps, and signage along the Trail. In this essay I will highlight
signs and plaques that identify some of the many historical sites, towns, view
points, parks, rivers, swamps, summits, gaps, shelters, huts, elevations, road
crossings, and side trails with other destinations.
If you have hiked or run all or part of the AT, I hope these signs bring back
great memories of places you enjoyed. If they are new to you, I hope they pique
your interest in getting out on the Trail soon!
EXAMPLE OF A GOOD IDENTIFYING SIGN
The easy-to-read painted wooden sign in North Carolina (Day 23)
that is shown below has most of the information I can think of that I'd want in
the middle of the woods.
It identifies Spivey Gap and its elevation, tells me I'm going north on the
Appalachian Trail, and gives the distances to five different locations ahead of
me. It also includes two logos.
The only things missing on this sign are the two shelters that are in this
section. Usually that information is included on signs like this.
PERSONALLY SIGNIFICANT A.T. LANDMARKS
There are many landmarks along the AT that have varying degrees of
significance for different hikers/runners.
Some of the most important ones for me marked my progress, such as entering
each new state, reaching Damascus, and getting to the halfway mark. Some hikers
look forward to various hostels, towns, or other landmarks that weren't on my
While Neel's Gap in northern Georgia is a significant stop for some
backpackers who are laboring under too-heavy loads (the outfitter there has
saved more than a few hikers from quitting within the first week), my first big landmark going northbound was the Great Smoky Mountains
Jim took this photo of me on
11, a rest day when I unexpectedly ran the one-point-five mile paved
road over Fontana Dam and up to the Smokies trail head (that's why I'm not in
running clothes). See Day 11 for photos of
the lake and dam and
16 for photos of the AT through the park.
Awesome experience, and
another place Jim has to see! I think the Smokies are significant to most
AT hikers and much of the Trail is runnable there.
Hot Springs, North Carolina, 269 miles from Springer Mountain, is the
first popular trail town for north-bound hikers. The little town has an
interesting history and lots of services for hikers.
I arrived too late on
18 to see the interesting visitor's center, housed in a red caboose.
This is one of the helpful signs out front (the commemorative plaque at
the top of the page is also located here):
The next big landmark for me was Damascus, Virginia, the psychological
"quarter-way" point for me although it isn't that far mileage-wise. I'd never
been there but had heard good things about "the friendliest town on the
AT." And I was now in my new home state!
This is the welcome sign at the south end
of town, where Cody and I entered Damascus on
Damascus was our favorite trail town and we spent several days camping
31 for information about the area).
It's also very popular with backpackers,
cyclists, and equestrians for its good restaurants and other services,
hospitality to visitors, and the Virginia Creeper Trail, the
rails-to-trails path which the AT follows
for a mile or two. I like the little train-motif signs:
I was happy to reach Shenandoah National Park in northern Virginia, but for some
reason I didn't take a photo of the sign there.
The next place that held a lot
of significance for me was Harper's Ferry, West Virginia, the
psychological halfway point on the AT. Here is the first sign I saw for the historical area, which
encompasses so many acres that it lies on both sides of the Shenandoah River in Virginia and West Virginia:
Harper's Ferry is steeped in history. We loved it! There are also numerous
services for hikers.
A visit to the national Appalachian Trail Conservancy headquarters is a must,
especially for thru-hikers. You can spend hours looking at all the maps, books,
and hiker notebooks. The staff will take your photo and add it to the current
notebook, as well as tell you how many other thru-hikers have passed through
town (on June 27, I was the 476th thru-hiker to reach the office from Georgia in
Days 59 and
60 for more photos and information about
Harper's Ferry. If you haven't hiked the Trail yet, a visit here just might
tempt you into doing a section-hike or thru-hike!
The photo below is NOT one of my better ones (see my reflection?), but reaching Pine Grove Furnace
State Park in Pennsylvania was one of my biggest milestones. I'd
finally reached the REAL halfway point on my way to Katahdin!! When I began the
trek, I had no way of knowing how far I would get. It was a definite "high
point" (at a low elevation) for me on
63 to reach that mark.
For some other thru-hikers, the tradition of eating one-half gallon of ice cream
at the park store to celebrate their accomplishment might be the "high point!"
It's definitely a "treat" in more ways than one.
From that point on, I gained confidence that I could finish this thing.
Mileage-wise, it was all "down hill." In reality, of course, the most difficult
parts of the Trail were ahead of me. I looked forward to getting back to higher
elevations in New England, so reaching the first glacial pond, pictured
below, was significant to me - even if it was in New Jersey and not New England.
This is the sign for the gorgeous Sunfish Pond, which captivated me with
its beauty on
I continued to see many more beautiful ponds and lakes on my journey north, but
Sunfish Pond remains my favorite because of what it signified to me.
I was excited to reach sub-alpine terrain again in Massachusetts (Mt. Greylock)
and Vermont, but what I was really looking forward to were the White
Mountains of New Hampshire. They are legendary! Hikers who have done them
love to regale newbies with tales of the mountain chain's grandeur and perils. I
approached them with equal optimism and dread.
Could I make it through?
Did I have what it takes to survive the Whites - and have fun doing it??
Yes, yes, and yes!!! Well, most of it was fun. Sunny days were fun. Rainy days
The Whites are everything other hikers tell you they are - and more. They were
exhilarating, gorgeous, and scary at the same time. I want to go back, and I
want Jim to experience much more of the Whites than he did last summer.
This is the first sign Jim and I saw going up Mt. Moosilauke. We were
going southbound on
Day 118 so I could go up the very steep slope
instead of down it:
It was foggy and some of the rocks and precarious wooden steps on the steep
slope were wet, making our ascent and descent
Another challenge was the strong wind and fog on top, which
obscured the great views:
Mt. Washington, in the Presidential Range of the White
Mountains, was another
I've heard about this mountain for many years. There is a seven-mile
up the road to the peak which has intrigued me, as well as the severe weather it
has - the highest wind speed in the world was recorded here!!
I saw the sign below near Crawford Notch on
Day 120 as I began the section north to Mt.
This sign is
full of useful information. It includes the names and distances of several peaks,
huts, campsites, and even Mt. Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Trail. It
has elevations of all the summits and a little blurb about the AT at the bottom.
This was one of my favorite days on the Trail, a sunny August day with awesome
Crossing into Maine on
Day 127 was
significant, as it represented the final link, the last state, of my adventure
It also meant climbing and crawling through the infamous Mahoosuc Notch.
I don't have any signs for it, but if you've been there, I hope you have happy
memories. I'm mostly happy I survived it and did 20+ miles through those rugged
mountains that day! It's another one of those places I have to take Jim
Then, of course, there is Mt. Katahdin, the goal destination I'd been
dreaming of for thirty-six years. The sign at the top is legendary.
You'll find it on every thru-hiker's web or journal page, including this one (Day
Photos 17, and every Post and Photos page in
the top left corner).
Katahdin: The goal. The end of the
Trail, for that season at least.
OTHER INTERESTING LANDMARKS
Here is a variety of signs marking interesting places along the Appalachian
Trail that should bring back happy memories to readers or spark new goals:
This side trail in North Carolina brought a smile to me on
Many hikers spend a night or two at the popular Kincora Hostel near
Dennis Cove, Tennessee (see
28). I met the proprietor out working on a
Trail relocation with a group of hikers, but I didn't go to the hostel
since I was crewed. You can't beat $4.00 a night!
Following is a sign for a nearby rival, with the emphasis that this
hostel is "less than 1 mile down hill!!!!"
Yeah, but what about the one mile UP HILL the hikers have to go the next
morning?? (Maybe he has a shuttle service, too.)
We saw this horse-and-buggy sign not in Pennsylvania Dutch country where you'd
most expect it, but in
southern Virginia on
38 near the Lickskillet Hollow trail head:
Here's an appropriately-named little road the AT followed for a bit soon after a
railroad track crossing in Pennsylvania on
Remember High Point State Park in New Jersey with its numerous rock walls
and tall spire on the state's "high point?" (Day
Then there are the beautiful Harriman and Bear Mountain state parks
in New York, full of fun things like the Lemon Squeezer rock formation and a zoo to hike
Now here's an important landmark if you gotta go! This is the sign on the
privy near the shelter on Killington Peak in Vermont (Day
I'll show you several other unique privies in a later photo essay . . .
Two more great shelter signs are on Moose Mountain in New Hampshire
The next photo shows one of my favorite signs on the whole AT. The original sign,
pointing out a remote scenic view on a rugged mountain, is comical (since the
place is virtually deserted), but the graffiti is even funnier to me. This one
is south of Glencliff, New Hampshire,
This bronze plaque on Spaulding Mountain in Maine (Day
134) commemorates the construction of
the final two miles of the AT back in 1937 by the CCC. It indicates the Trail
was 2054 miles long then (21 miles shorter than in 2005):
I'll end this essay with a smile.
Someone, probably a hiker, stuck this
cheerful little smiley face on a simple wooden AT marker along a remote logging road
trail head in Maine's Hundred Mile Wilderness (Day
You never know where you'll find hospitality and humor on the AT. Signs like
these make the adventure run more fun.
Next up: Welcome to Our State! [signs at the state lines
and the northern and southern termini (my dictionary says "terminuses" is also
correct, but that sounds funny)]. These were all major goals for me, indicating