Walking the Appalachian Way

Any hiking Dopers on board?

I possibly have the opportunity to spend a few weeks in South Carolina next summer, and whilst I will be based in the Columbia area mostly, I’d like to see what my options could be for taking off for a week and undertaking a hike along part of the Appalachian Way.

I won’t have any more than a week to spare, and probably more like 5 days or so of walking realistically, allowing for travel to and from the starting point of the hike. A preliminary look at this part of the route shows me it doesn’t quite stretch into SC, but begins in Georgia and heads north through North Carolina and / or Tennessee.

Basically, my question is this: What would be the best, most interesting and picturesque stretch of the trail that falls within easy reach of Columbia, SC? The trail within the Great Smoky Mountains National park looks a likely contender, but knowing just about exactly nothing at this stage about the geography of the area I’d appreciate any information or feedback you could offer. Also, I can’t tell much about the scale on that map, so unsure how far a good five days hike will take us along, as that will depend on terrain and gradient etc…

Early days yet, but any help / comments or information you can share about this portion of the trail or the local area would be greatly received; thanks.

First, it’s the Appalachian Trail, or AT.

Do you want to do a loop or will you have someone pick you up at the end point? With a single car you might want to consider a loop that includes part of the AT but also allows for easier logistics.

Rough guess for novice backpackers on rough terrain is 6-10 miles per day. You can go further but it forces you to push the pace and possibly get in late to camp. The Smokies are wonderful, but mid-summer you may be dealing with crowds and competition for the shelter space, so you’ll need to bring a tent. Bears are a serious problem in the Smokies, so know how to hang your food or better yet (IMO) take a bear canister.

If you are going to be hiking the AT in the high summer, you need to work up to it. I find it difficult to convey to people who are not from South Carolina or Georgia the exact nature of HOT when both the mercury and the humidity are in the high 90s.

If I were you, I’d reconsider. Instead of camping for several days along the AT, I’d find myself a lovely B&B or country inn in Upstate SC, and take advantage of the multitude of day hikes that we have up here. There are lots of places with beautiful waterfalls, lovely vistas, and even some pretty physically demanding sections that will leave you happily back at a trailhead by afternoon, so that you don’t DIE on the trail from heat exhaustion.

That also makes it much easier on the logistics - you only need water for the one day, not for a week (dear god that’s a lot of water) We’re in a drought here, and will likely still be in a drought next summer, so our trail streams aren’t running like they should. We’ve been advised that it’s really not good nature stewardship to drink the little water that the woods are still getting. (In addition to that, the slower flow-rate allows for the introduction of more nasty bugs in the water itself.)

So, that’s my advice: take your week off (that’s saturday through monday, so 9 days) and look into some little towns in the Upstate - Traveler’s Rest, Pumpkintown, Pendleton - that put you a close drive to the mountain trails, and still let you visit Greenville/Anderson/Spartanburg if you like. Then if you decide after a day or two of short hikes that you can handle the heat, that’s still plenty of time to get a section of the AT down in the remaining days.

If you’re even remotely considering the AT you need to read Bill Bryson’s book A Walk in the Woods. Most of the trail is by no means scenic - it’s trees and trees and trees. Not that you shouldn’t hike it, but you should know what it is. If you want scenic, there are tons of other places within a pretty short drive of Columbia that you may enjoy.

From Columbia you can head northwest to Caesar’s Head/Jones Gap State Parks, or there’s the Congaree National Forest (don’t be fooled - it’s a swamp) where you can see, at least if you’re willing to get in a canoe, some of the biggest trees still left on the eastern seaboard. Fantastic park that, and entirely, completely free! They even do free guided canoe trips! (Beware mosquito season.) And that one’s great because you can spend a very nice day trip there without much car time at all.

And it does definitely depend on where you’re from. Summer here is not like summer elsewhere.

While it’s a good read, it doesn’t reflect reality in any meaningful way. There are much better sources of actual information about hiking the AT.

Thanks guys.

The Appalachian Trail (oops!) may not the best and most beautiful walk - everyone will have their favourites - but it is well known and somewhat iconic, and has been on my bucket list for while now, so since I’ll be pretty much in the neighbourhood (globally speaking) I’d like to walk at least a few miles of it. I’d definitely prefer a straight A to B rather than a loop and I’m sure I could organise to be picked up someplace, as I’ll have other family over with me who won’t be up for walking.

I’m not novice hiker, I’ve been at it for over 20 years and have trekked many trails all over the world - Mont Blanc, Inca trail, Torres del Paine, Kilimanjaro, Great Wall of China, Mýrdalsjökull in Iceland, Everest Base Camp etc… not to mention the many, many of trips to Wales / Scotland / Lake District / Mournes etc… in my native UK. The summer heat will no doubt be my biggest enemy with my generally useless celtic skin, but I’ve been in plenty of hot places and would be confident I can cope okay. (ignorance is bliss) I did spend a full summer in SC / Myrtle beach / Kiawah Island as a kid, and do remember it being silly hot on occasions, but I’ll tough it out. :slight_smile:

I have read Bryson’s A walk in the woods, and enjoyed it, but understand that it’s not exactly a guide book and not necessarily indicitive of the actual trail experience.

Which doesn’t prevent certain philanderers from walking it.

Yeah. Although my ancestors would glare at me, my first thought was “Walking the Appalachian Way is kind of a bowlegged shuffle.” :wink:

Given your experience you probably can do 10-15 miles per day if so inclined. The weather may dictate what you want to accomplish. I still like the idea of the Smokies, but also consider the Pisgah/Cherokee National Forest area.

I just read through a friend’s trail journal from her 2010 thru-hike and the sections in North Carolina look wonderful. I’ve done most of my AT hiking up here in New England where the AT designation isn’t as important to the character of the trail. But I did a few days in VA and I loved the ridge walking.

Depends on what you mean by “picturesque”. I’ve hiked part of the AT within the GSMNP and it indeed has wonderful mountain views. However, that’s not my favorite scenery. I prefer tiny waterfalls and streams, and since the AT is largely along the ridge, including during its stay in the GSMNP, you won’t get a lot of that along the AT. (At least in the South: I’ve never done any of the AT in the North, but by judging from the topo maps, once you get past Pennsylvania you’ll start to get more streams.)

The only other part of the AT I’ve walked is just south of Damascus near Virginia. It is not only on a ridge but like the others have said the view consisted of trees, trees, and yet more trees. But I did run into picturesque weather for that scenery: it was foggy about half the time when I was there and so the pine trees and fog made it pretty atmospheric. (The literally 8 inches of rain we received one night was decidedly not cool, however, for those who hadn’t completely sealed our tents.)

A friend and I completed a 5 1/2 day, 5 night trek in June, 2010, starting at Springer Mountain and finishing at Tray Mountain Gap. We stayed at a log cabin hostel not far from Dahlonega the night before and the night after the hike. The hostel owner dropped us off at Springer and picked us up at Tray Mountain Gap for a modest fee. We are fit, but not super hard core hikers. We brought no tent, sleeping at the nearly empty shelters each night. This will show you the mileage we did each day:

Georgia AT

As long as you are reasonably fit, you could stay where we stayed each night, and reach Unicoi Gap at mile 50.5 on the 5th day.

The woods were beautiful, and water was plentiful and easy to find. But even in early June the heat and humidity were taxing. You won’t get many far off views because of all the trees persistent low clouds (Smoky Mountains.)

Lots of good info on theGeorgia AT website.

I see what you did there.

OP, you have to tell your friends you are hiking the Appalachian Trail. Then fly off to Buenas Aires instead.

Whiteblaze is your friend.

If you decide to hike the segment of the AT that runs through the Smokies, you may need to look into getting backcountry camping permits. Check with the Park Service first before you plan your trip.

I knew there would be a :smiley: here…

Re: being in shape

An old lady with a duffel bag and shower curtain for a tent walked the entire thing. Ditto for an 6 year-old with his parents. Ditto for a blind guy. And some folks have done it barefoot. It’s walking. You can do it.

Go as light and small as you can comfortably afford for gear - as in stay under 35lbs - towns to resupply are never more than 3 to 4 days away (with one exception in Maine). Wear broken in footwear whether you opt for old school hikers or light trail runners. Have clean dry socks and pack moleskin to use on hot spots to prevent blisters. Water - choose a filtration or purification system. Water is harder to find in south in the summer vs the spring.

Everything is else is walking.

RE: scenic

It’s called the long green tunnel for a reason. But there’s plenty of highlights. The Grayson Highlands north of the Smokies are quite scenic (there’s ponies). You should know that you’re restricted to designated campsites on the AT in the Smokies, unless you want to skirt the law and stealth camp. Depending on the time of the year, they can be packed with hikers and mice.

Roan Highlands in Tennessee are nice too.

It might be too much of a drive, but Shenandoah National Park has a great stretch of the AT. Also, further south, McAfee Knob is about as scenic as you can get short of Katahdin.